Oil companies face three challenges: exaggerated expectations of employment from local communities because they lack any other lucrative pursuits; demobilized Farc and perhaps ELN foot-soldiers who have to find something to do or they may return to their former activities; exaggerated expectations about how long a field will operate and so continue to generate local employment.
The answer for all three challenges is to help with the economic diversification of Colombia’s countryside. Agriculture is the usual candidate industry but, here, ex-Minister of Mines and Energy Amylkar Acosta makes the case for tourism.
Colombia is a country, in addition to being sui generis, unique, the most biodiverse of the planet per square kilometer, crossed by three mountain ranges, has all the thermal levels and micro climates. While it has deserts like the Tatacoa in the Huila and the one of the High Guajira, it is also home to the greatest number of páramos of the world (high mountain tundra). And what about its geographical location, which makes it what Lopez de Mesa called the oceanic corner of America. If something characterizes our country and distinguishes it in the concert of nations is its enormous ethnic, cultural and folkloric diversity, each one of its regions has its typology and its own attractions for its own and for foreign visitors, that stop being ‘foreigners’ as soon as they penetrate deep into Colombia, where its residents make the visitor feel as if he were in his own house.
And a detail that attracts attention: Colombia is more and better known by those who come from abroad captivated by the magic of its Magic Realism, brought to literature by our Nobel laureate García Márquez, than by the natives of this land of singers. This is one of those underlying paradoxes that prevent us from being happier than we already are.
From Colombia it had always been said that it was a rough diamond that had not been able to exploit its potential in terms of tourism, but that is a thing of the past, since in the last two decades a sustained effort has been made to position itself as one of the best destinations. And to the faith that has achieved it, with a specific weight in the GDP of 6.1%, with a growth last year of 6%, already it is in league with other countries with more trajectory, like Thailand or the United Kingdom and has become the second largest generator of foreign exchange after oil, above coal, bananas and flowers, with US $ 5.2 billion in 2015.
The necessary reflection is that if Colombia has been able to develop this non-smoke-stack industry with such success in the midst of the logistical precariousness that has only been surpassed in the last years, with the limitations imposed by an armed conflict that now we are overcoming and the stigma we had because of drug trafficking, what we will not be able to accomplish now when we are overcoming such a nightmare. In this regard, it is very telling that, in a recent edition, the prestigious British magazine The Economist, selecting Colombia as the country of the year, among many other nominees, justified the choice saying that after "being on the verge of being considered as a failed state now, after many years, this is inconceivable. " And this, thanks to what the magazine does not hesitate to catalog as the "colossal achievement" of achieving peace!
The President of the Association of Travel and Tourism Agency (ANATO) Paula Cortes said: "What is coming in 2017 will be wonderful, above all for the signing of peace and for investments in tourist infrastructure and roads." This coincides with one of the most experienced and experienced tour operators in Colombia, such as Jean Claude Bessudo, who maintains that "with the signing of the peace agreements we expect a growth of tourism of passengers who are not businessmen; but people whose main purpose is to discover the national territory”. Yes, because many areas of the country that were closed for tourism by the presence of the guerrillas now open to explore them, to know them and to enjoy them, of course with respect to the environment and the Aboriginal communities settled in its confines. But none of this will be given by spontaneous generation, hence the commitment made by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (MCIT) María Claudia Lacouture to enhance and take advantage of this window of opportunity.
From the regions there is an enviable tourist offer, to attract both domestic and foreign tourists and the package they offer is charming, as it offers attractions for those who prefer nature and ecotourism, ethnotourism, bird watching, golf, surfing, extreme sports, rally, among others. But the region's rich gastronomy, its folklore expressions and the proliferation of festivals and festivals are also part of this value chain, many of them considered intangible heritage of humanity, such as the Barranquilla Carnival, Pasto’s Black and White Carnival and even religious celebrations as famous as the Easter in Popayán, the one of San Francisco de Asís in Quibdó or the Patron Saint of the Virgin of Remedies in Riohacha.
Colombia and its regions should not miss this promising quarter of an hour without taking advantage of it, especially when its extractive-industry-based economy is experiencing one of its greatest crises, which imposes the need for diversification, to recover growth and reduce vulnerability to exogenous factors that are beyond their control. This is what has been called the New Economy, in which tourism is called to be one of its pivots. Karl Popper that the future is not predetermined. In Colombia, we all contribute to determine the future of tourism, let's get to work!
Medellín, december 21 of 2016
Bottom-Line: We agree completely that tourism is and will be a key source of employment and hard currency for the country. However, Acosta is a good salesman and he may be over-optimistic suggesting that Colombia already has what it takes to attract a significant inflow of tourists.
That may be right for Cartagena jetsetter or an extreme kind of eco-tourist but we still think there is a lot of investment needed. Priorities range from hotels that are often little more than hostels to restaurant-industry training. That “rich gastronomy” is not always prepared with the highest quality or presented in the most appealing manner.
This means there is a huge opportunity for oil and gas companies to invest in helping with this diversification. Obviously, local communities have to participate in the prioritization but they should be encouraged to expand non-oil-sector employment and tourism could be one of the stars.