By Maria Claudia Lacouture, President, Proexport Colombia
From 2004 to 2012, 15,245 new hotel rooms were built in Colombia. It is expected that 6,964 additional hotel rooms will be available by the close of 2014. With this sustained growth, the presence of hotel chains in the country is increasing, with current chains including Radisson Hotels, Sonesta Collection, Melia Hotels International, Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, Ibis, Hyatt Hotels, TRYP Hotels and W Hotels.
A major driver of this growth is the increase of business travel to the country. In fact, the number of business travelers that visited Colombia in 2013 increased over 51 percent from 2012. What's more is that the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), which measures the number of events organized by international associations, ranked Colombia 28th in its yearly classifications for meetings destinations by country. In this ranking, Colombia climbed 21 places from 2006 to 2012. In 2013 alone, Colombia hosted 139 congresses. Examples of events being hosted in Colombia from the U.S. include Successful Meetings, Global Interact, La Praire and The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association.
So what makes Colombia an ideal destination for business travel, and what does this mean for hotel owners, operators and developers? When comparing costs in Colombia to those in the United States, food and beverage costs are roughly 60 percent lower and audio visual service costs are roughly 80 percent lower. Additional benefits include that Colombia does not require a VISA, it is located in the Eastern Time Zone (ET) and flights from the United States are relatively short, with a flight from Miami to Cartagena taking two and a half hours and a flight from New York to Bogota taking five and a half hours. With all of these positive attributes, it is projected that business travel will continue to be an important aspect of Colombia's tourism industry, providing rich opportunity for the hotel industry as well.
In total, 132,545 business travelers and 165,122 event travelers visited Colombia in 2013. In comparison, 1,128,306 leisure travelers visited the country in 2013, representing 61.6 percent of total foreign travelers. With this number continuing to grow year-over-year, and Colombia on track to meet its 2014 goal of four million tourists, the country is increasingly being seen as an ideal place to visit. It is a diverse destination with a lot of variety in activities, culture and experiences. For example, it has stunning beaches, beautiful snow peaks and 31 natural parks. With temperate year-round weather, visitors can enjoy Cartagena's summer, Medellin's spring and Bogota's fall at any time. Unique activities across the country include exploring the Amazon rainforest, going on a whale watching adventure, hiking across the Cocuy landscape, discovering a lost city and tasting the culture of a coffee-making nation.
With something for everyone, in terms of both business and leisure travel, it is no wonder the country is experiencing a tourism boom and that the hotel industry is following.
What's more is that Colombia offers attractive incentives for investment in the hotel industry. For example, benefits include income tax exemption for 30 years valid from the start of operations for hotel services offered in new hotels or hotels that are renovated or extended in the period from 2003 to December 2017. Investment opportunities include the following sectors: wellness, nature, sun and beach, city hotels and entertainment. With both urban sprawl and an unparalleled natural setting, the development opportunities for the hotel industry are diverse and expansive. Whether developing a spa-wellness center, eco-luxury hotel, golf resort, convention center or entertainment venue, Colombia's stable economy provides an attractive platform for investment and future growth.