For once, in Bogota, it appeared the shoe was on the other foot.
Colombia during the past several years has focused on reducing its violent crime rate and improving security through an increased military presence in the country. That approach seems to have benefitted Bogota, as the city’s murder rate declined, according to the country’s marketing arm, Proexport Colombia. During 2009, Bogota’s murder rate per 100,000 people was 18.2, nearly half that of Washington, D.C. (34 homicides per 100,000 people.)
Increased security has coincided, perhaps not coincidentally, with more international tourism. Colombia’s growth rate for international tourism was 10.4% between 2000 and 2009, compared to 2.9% for the rest of the world. The country attracted nearly 1.4 million international tourists in 2009, according to an analysis by Colombia’s Administrative Security Department and the World Trade Organization.
And the number of cruise ships visiting Colombia increased by 35.4% to 218 in 2009, further illustrating Colombia’s growing presence on the international tourism stage, according to the country’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.
The increased tourism has brought with it increased interest from hotels. The Colombian capital could add as many as 3,000 hotel rooms during the next few years, Jose Bayona, hotelier and the president of Bogota’s hotel association, told me for a recent Bogota market report I wrote.
The general managers I spoke with for my story were unanimous that in order to keep the tourist money flowing, the country would have to continue to rehab its image. Pablo Escobar is not easily forgotten, after all.
“The country has suffered from a wrong global perception of insecurity and lack of infrastructure, however Bogota has succeeded in making itself a prime location for foreign investment and its future shows a bright panorama,” Cristiano Goncalves, Hilton Worldwide’s VP of development—South America, said in an e-mail to me.
And then the other shoe dropped.
Just as it appeared Bogota was ready for a tourism breakthrough, tragedy struck. A car bomb exploded in downtown Bogota 12 August, injuring nine and sending a message, accurate or not, about the current security situation in Bogota and Colombia. Through a spokeswoman, Goncalves declined to comment on what the car bomb attack might mean for Bogota hotels.
The other sources I spoke with for my Bogota market profile did not respond to requests for comment by deadline today.
It will be interesting to see if Colombian hoteliers have more to say about the issue during the South American Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference that will be held 27-28 September in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. I’ll be covering the conference for HotelNewsNow.com, so be sure to check back with us for more SAHIC news.