As Bogota‘s colonial Candelaria district becomes a major tourist attraction, its business owners are working to bring the profits straight to the people.
Hostel operators and business owners in the Candelaria, the oldest and most historically important area in Colombia’s capital city, have created a strategic tourism plan with the long-term goal of locals, rather than foreign investors, providing services to and profiting from visitors.
Hostel owner and head of the Candelaria’s hostel/hotel association (ASACAN) Oscar Payan told Colombia Reports that “the Candelaria has a bright future with more tourists and investment coming in,” pointing out that 12 new hostels have been opened just in the last year.
Local business owners and residents are thinking carefully about the future as they witness the rapid growth of their locality with hopes of preventing a wealth gap like that which resulted from Cartagena‘s tourism boom. According to Payan, who has owned Hostel Sue for six years, when Cartagena became a major tourist attraction, wealthy investors jumped on the opportunities with no social planning. Now it has some of the highest levels of income inequality, poverty and unemployment in Colombia.
Candelaria’s many restaurants, hostels, hotels, artisanal stores, jewelers, and other businesses work together in a group called the Tourism Cluster of the Candelaria with the long-term aim of self-sufficency. It plans to address the issues that the Candelaria faces primarily through education. This working-up-from-the-roots-up approach involves starting off small by providing workshops and collaborating with already existing educational programs, with the eventual goal of opening a school with the support of local government.
The cluster’s social program will give local children skills such as languages, tour guiding, cooking, baking, photography, and “whatever else people can offer” tourists so that local businesses will be able to hire them later in life. The group also hopes to change the local attitudes towards tourists in general. “We want to promote a long-term mentality versus the small-cell mentality that exists today,” said the hostel owner, referring to the fact many locals view tourists as rich foreigners to be taken advantage of.
Business owners are also working on the security and cleanliness issues caused in part by the area’s high homeless population and the poverty of the surrounding neighborhoods. Measures like hiring private security and businesses staying open later have made drastic improvements, said Payan, though safety remained a “Colombian problem that must be addressed country-wide.”