Although Bogota was awarded South America’s Leading Business Travel Destination 2014 by World Travel Awards, the city hasn’t always been top of mind for tourists. The work of the Bogota District Tourism Institute aims to change that for good, with a huge focus on widening the city’s tourism offer and getting the message out to the world about what this dynamic city has to offer. Tatiana Piñeros Laverde, who heads the city’s district tourism institute, explained to The Report Company what is being done.
The Report Company: How is the IDT promoting tourism in Bogota?
Tatiana Piñeros Laverde: One of our top goals is the international promotion of Bogota as a city of endless possibilities, as our slogan says. We want people to get to know Bogota for what it is today, not for what it used to be many years ago.
Colombia has overcome its past, and things will hopefully move forward even more significantly with the signing of the peace agreement. Bogota’s security level is at its highest in over 30 years and this creates a new reality, which in turn allows us to develop strategies to rank Bogota as a tourist destination.
Bogota is a dynamic city of over eight million people with a lot to offer in terms of business, culture, gastronomy, society, shopping, the environment, health services, nightlife, and more. This is what we want to offer to the world. We already have more than a million visitors a year. Our first focus, therefore, is on updating the world about our new reality.
TRC: Is the infrastructure there to support an influx of tourism?
TPL: Bogota has over 400 sites considered to be of interest for tourists; it is considered a center of investment with 3,600 touristic enterprises, 400 hotels, 96 museums and many options on offer from scientific entertainment to leisure time. There is something for everyone, and we are drafting a comprehensive list of destinations that will serve as a basis to improve our network of tourist-oriented street signs, lighting and other supporting infrastructure. Bogota is already Colombia’s first city, a mandatory stop for the major airlines and one of the top cities in Latin America, so what we need to do now is to make it more tourist-friendly.
TRC: What can tourists expect to find in Bogota?
TPL: We are focusing on linking together various fields of interest for tourists in order to offer them a more comprehensive stay. Bogota offers ecotourism and the richest gastronomy. It is a city that has a story to tell through its architecture, and based on that we are strong in historical tourism. Bogota also stands out in the field of cosmetic and medical surgery, where we have top professionals at top medical centers providing top services, all at very affordable prices. American citizens may come to receive treatment here at more affordable prices than they will find back home.
We also have over 50 shopping centers carrying international brands as well as creations by Colombian designers, all of whom have their own stores here. And then there is language tourism: people can come here to learn what is often described as the most neutral Spanish in the world. We are trying to make Bogota an epicenter for all these activities.
“Bogota is no longer the backward city it was 15 or 20 years ago, but an avant-garde urban center.”Tweet This
TRC: What kind of tourists currently travel to Bogota?
TPL: Today, 75 percent of visitors to Colombia are business travelers. In fact, we were recently named South America’s Leading Business Travel Destination 2014 by World Travel Awards. People come here because we offer the infrastructure and the connectivity. Most multinationals have set up their South American headquarters here. Taking into account the domestic market is also managed from Bogota, most national enterprises have factories and administrative centers here. The city’s altitude is also optimal for golf courses.
However, this means that hotel occupancy rates drop as much as 20 percent on weekends, so this is clearly our challenge: how to enlist the private sector and other agents to ensure that people will want to stay here on weekends. Some people leave on Friday and return on Monday, and it’s not because of family obligations but because they feel that there is nothing to do in Bogota over the weekend. But the truth is there is a lot to do.
We have an initiative called “Bogota Despierta” [Awake Bogota], which promotes late closing hours for businesses and leisure time destinations. These are the kinds of strategies we are working on to ensure that these business travelers will stay and try other kinds of tourism.
TRC: What potential is there to attract more American visitors to Bogota?
TPL: Around 29 percent of our international tourists come from the U.S. This is around 300,000 people. But the population of the US is over 300 million, and they are just a few hours away by plane. We want to work on this potential through more bilateral action, and not just in large cities like New York or Washington but also elsewhere. The U.S. market is vital to us and we need a joint effort by the chamber of commerce, the district tourism offices, Invest in Bogota and other actors so we can go out there and talk about tourism, economic development and other issues together, creating a strong brand for Bogota.
“Bogota is a dynamic city of over eight million people with a lot to offer in terms of business, culture, gastronomy, society, shopping, the environment, health services, nightlife, and more. Our first focus is on updating the world about our new reality.”Tweet This
TRC: What specific programs is Bogota implementing as a participant in the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development?
TPL: Our agri-tourism routes were planned as sustainable tourist products according to the criteria of the World Tourism Organization. We worked with local communities in Ciudad Bolivar and Usme, getting families organized on estates to offer tours of specific local activities such as work with wool, farming, shawl-making and so on. This kind of activity respects the local culture and brings economic development to the area. We are getting local communities to make a living off tourism, and this ensures that they will spread their culture and turn daily activities into cultural jobs in Bogota.
Rio +20 participants were very impressed by our experience because these communities were seeing a successful experiment of this nature involving government participation. Typically, when the government is involved it says things like “let’s build a subway here,” and that of course destroys the local culture. But that is not what happened in our case. Instead, we asked communities what it is that they do well, and we helped them develop that and turn it into a tourist attraction so they could maintain their lifestyle while improving their conditions.
TRC: What are you doing to promote ecotourism?
TPL: We are working on environmental projects that will simultaneously encourage other forms of tourism. Bogota has seven natural sites that have been awarded national treasure status: Paramo de Sumapaz, the Botanical Garden, Quebrada La Vieja, Quebrada Las Delicias, Laguna Alar, Parque Entre Nubes and Parque Mirador de los Nevados.
At Parque Entre Nubes in San Cristobal you can practically see the clouds come down. The city has rich biodiversity in wetlands and forest, especially in bird species. We are also working with schools so children can start getting to know their own natural spaces.
Zipaquira, located just 48 km from Bogota, ties in with regional tourism but also with religious tourism because of its Salt Cathedral, which is located inside a salt mine. We have more than 28 religious temples in or near Bogota, including the basilica of Monserrate at an altitude of over 3,000 meters.
“Bogota is a city of endless possibilities. Where do businesspeople go to do business? To places that provide the necessary infrastructure, development and safety conditions. Bogota has all of that.”Tweet This
TRC: What do initiatives like Theatron, a huge LGBT nightclub in Bogota, do to promote diversity in tourism?
TPL: Bogota has a public policy in place since 2007 guaranteeing full rights for the LGBT community, and Colombia has enacted national anti-discrimination legislation. Discrimination is not allowed.
Our Institute is sending out the message that Bogota is no longer the backward city it was 15 or 20 years ago, but an avant-garde urban center. LGBT tourism is definitely something that we are focusing on, just like other global cities like Buenos Aires, San Francisco or Barcelona. The characteristics of this target group are interesting from a tourism point of view of because they travel on average three times a year instead of one, and they often have higher income. We are currently running an awareness campaign among all tourism agents, from museums to hotels to taxi drivers, to ensure that gay couples can go anywhere and feel comfortable. In short, we are trying to make the entire city gay-friendly. I think that this would be a great achievement: to see a gay couple and a straight couple dining inside the same restaurant, with the same public displays of affection in both cases, safe in the knowledge that they are not going to be discriminated against in any way.
TRC: What image would you like people to have of Bogota?
TPL: We want people to know that Bogota is a city of endless possibilities. Where do businesspeople go to do business? To places that provide the necessary infrastructure, development and safety conditions. Bogota has all of that.
We are asking people to come visit us because we have something for everyone, from well-organized, globally certified youth hostels for backpackers to top-of-the-line, five-star luxury hotels. Because we are working together with the country to guarantee a positive experience and because of its geostrategic location, just five or six hours away by plane from New York, Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires, and Colombia being a gateway to South America, it is perfectly possible to come here to Bogota on a long weekend.
We want people to know that in Colombia you will find endless possibilities in nature, history, gastronomy, business, entertainment and nightlife. Bogota is the center of that.