The tourism sector is an important contributor to Colombia’s economy. In 2019, tourism directly contributed 2.6% to Colombia’s GVA, or COP 25.3 billion. This fell to just 1.6% in 2021 as the tourism GVA fell to COP 16.7 billion. Tourism industries employed 489 588 people in 2021, a decline of 300 794 jobs compared to 2019 according with the Tourism Satellite Account.

Tourism has become the primary services export in Colombia and the second-highest overall export behind the oil industry. In 2021, export services in tourism amounted to USD 3 239 million, a 47.7% decrease with respect to 2019 (USD 6 784 million). However, the first semester of 2022 saw a total recovery with tourism exports at USD 3 207 million (compared to USD 3 170 million in the same period of 2019).

The country received 2.1 million international visitors in 2021, a 56% increase with respect to 2020. Between January and September 2022, with 3.2 million visitors, there was a 97% recovery compared to the same period of 2019. During that period, visitors increased from the United States (up 23.7%), Mexico (up 17.1%), Peru (up 3.9%) and Ecuador (up 36.0%).

In terms of recovery, tourism is expected to be at 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

The guidelines for tourism are based on the National Development Plan (NDP), which changes every four years with the President. Under the NDP, the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MINCIT) creates the Sectoral Plan for Tourism. An Integrated Destination Management Strategy allows for cross governmental co-ordination in the planning and management of activities, resources and stakeholders involved in tourism development.

At the national level, MINCIT works with three main organisations:

  • FONTUR: the National Tourism Fund affiliated with the Ministry.

  • PROCOLOMBIA: the agency charged with international promotion; expansion of Colombian companies; attraction of foreign direct investment; positioning of the country as a tourism destination; and the country’s brand.

  • Colombia Productiva: helps industry and companies produce better quality services and greater added value to increase productivity and competitiveness.

MINCIT works with other ministries (e.g. Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Ministry of Culture, National Planning Department) and consults stakeholders and representatives from the private sector on all policies and strategies. At the regional level, activities are decentralised, and implementation is co-ordinated with regional authorities and local communities. Local authorities for tourism promote the tourism industry in each territory.

Funding for the tourism sector comes from the general budget, compulsory contributions from tourism service providers, income from tourism properties and brands owned by the government, and a USD 15 tourism tax on international arrivals by air. The tourism sector had a total budget of COP 288.3 million in 2021, 25% more than in 2020. The Vice-Ministry of Tourism received over COP 169 million (60% of the general budget) in 2021, 28% more than in 2020 and 124% more than in 2019.

In recent years, and more so during the pandemic, Colombia considers sustainable tourism a responsibility and an opportunity. It has developed the Sustainable Tourism Policy “Together with Nature” as a long-term strategic vision for the sector. The Policy seeks to unite all industry stakeholders towards the goal of developing sustainable tourism and consists of a strategic plan for 2030 comprised of six strategies consistent with the global Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Under the Policy, Colombia developed the strategy “Colombia Sustainable Tourism: Training for Tourism Entrepreneurs and Businesses”. The Strategy has three fundamental activities:

  • An e-learning platform, with practical, digital and interactive content to acquire knowledge and skills and learn from successful sustainability case studies. More than 2 000 entrepreneurs have registered on the platform and are undertaking the modules.

  • A manual of good practices in sustainability for tourism entrepreneurs has also been developed with tools to identify the environmental impacts of tourism and the actions to take for mitigation and compensation.

  • 50 virtual and in-person workshops are being run in the 32 departments of the country to disseminate the main components of the strategy.

Colombia’s main federal policy priorities for tourism are sustainability, reactivation of the economy, and developing a long-term integrated strategy. Due to COVID-19, Colombia prioritised supporting the recovery and strengthening the resilience of the tourism economy. The new General Law of Tourism, created in 2020, aims to help economic recovery through short, medium and long-term measures (see box below).

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted the gap between formal and informal workers in the sector and the government’s capacity to react and adapt when different support mechanisms are required to support vulnerable communities. Colombia aims to increase the percentage of workers in the formal sector to advance programmes that can benefit them.

Colombia has begun a transition to reduce the negative impacts of tourism and protect its ecosystems, communities and diversity to develop a sustainable, responsible and peaceful sector. This policy is being guided by the many local communities in the country. This includes worked with indigenous representatives to develop the first Indigenous Tourism Policy. This aims to increase participation and improve social and economic development of indigenous communities, while enhancing the protection of their heritage, culture and traditions.

Colombia is also working with the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Wildlife Fund to design a practical training course on sustainable gastronomy for the tourism sector, with a corresponding guide for restaurants and lodgings. This course promotes the sustainable use of food procurement and production, the continuous monitoring of food waste and its proper disposal, and the strengthening if the local production chain of organic products. There are over 1 710 participants on the platform.

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