Tourism in Colombia has experienced an exponential growth during the last years to become one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy. This fact presents challenges for the conservation and use of natural resources and makes imperative the creation of alternatives of sustainable tourism in Colombia.
It is noteworthy that only from 2010 to 2016 the number of visitors has increased by 95% from 2.6 to 5.1 million tourists, the income of foreign exchange from tourism has raised by 52% from US $ 3,440 to US $ 5,835 million and the tourist industry has generated 1.8 million jobs. In fact, tourism in Colombia is the second sector generating foreign exchange and is growing faster than other sectors.
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This remarkable growth of tourism has the potential to expand due to multiple factors including improvements in the image of Colombia, progress in peace processes and territorial development, advances in infrastructure and especially diversity in tourist attractions of the country.
The performance of tourism is good news for our country but also generates different challenges for both governments and tourism service providers such as sustainability.
The challenge of sustainable tourism in Colombia
With more than five million tourists well informed traveling to Colombia every year, a planet that has already reached the limit of what it could offer us, a prodigious geographic wealth and a range of tourist destinations that seek to make way in the global offer, Sustainable Tourism ceased to be an option and became a peremptory need for Colombia.
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In this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development , it is even more imperative to consider the current and future ecological, social, and economic impacts of tourism for travelers, industry, communities and the environment in general, in order to ensure the protection of resources, integrity of local life, quality of service and the viability of economic activity.
This is why the Government, tour operators and the society in general must work hand in hand to generate a planned and inclusive sustainable tourism development that goes beyond the traditional model focused on the number of tourists or hotel occupancy.
Sustainability is first and foremost a paradigm
Despite the fact that sustainable tourism is a relatively new model in Colombia, there are already Technical Sectoral Standards that support sustainable practices for tourist destinations and companies and by June 2017 there are already at least 10 destinations and about 1,000 certified tourism service providers.
Although the number of destinations and certified operators increases, it is advisable that certification should not be perceived as a cumbersome and expensive process, but rather as an opportunity that should be accompanied by awareness-raising, discounts on tax matters, promotion incentives and other benefits that serve as motivation for the agents and tour operators.
Sustainable tourism must first and foremost be a paradigm that should guide public and private activity, inspire policy coordination at the national, departmental, local and sectoral levels, as well as articulate all stakeholders who believe tourism can be a catalyst for development and conservation of economic, social and environmental capital in all regions of the country.
It is necessary to achieve a reengineering of thought and action, and that governments, entities, tourism promoters, universities, community organizations, as well as social leaders work together on inclusive sustainable tourism projects in order to get the most out of the tourist activity, assure the highest quality standards and prevent the unwanted consequences that tourism may bring such as the exclusion of the less favored and the monopolization of the tourist capital of the regions.
Moreover, it is imperative to provide a more responsible education that must start from our homes and schools, inculcating to children and adolescents values and skills for the conservation and responsible use of the resources of our nature as well as for the protection, promotion and respect of cultural diversity.
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Colombia at the moment is considered an emerging tourist destination, which in my opinion allows advantages such as learning the good practices and lessons from mature or world-known tourism destinations such as Spain.
Facts such as recent acts of “Tourismphobia” in Barcelona raises several questions and reflections on what kind of tourism we want to attract, what goals we are aiming at and how prepared we are for the 21st century tourism.
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