No More "Risky Business" in Colombia

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“Basically, it’s what you see on our website and some of that will be represented in the brochure, but we’re taking a cautionary step because as much as we’d like to offer more product, it won’t fly off the shelf immediately,” explains Don Forster, Latin America adventures product manager for Goway Travel. “So we’re just going with the obvious choices—Bogota, Tayrona, Cartagena, Villa de Leyva and the Coffee Triangle. We’ll sort of test the waters with that, but we’re pretty confident it will work and as interest increases, we’ll start bringing in the more exotic and expanding on the product range.”

Goway currently offers 10 separate itineraries to Colombia: two packages in Bogota—one for one night and the other for two visiting all the Bogota sites mentioned above, plus a cable car ride up Cerro Monserrate for a breathtaking view of the city. Urge clients to take the half-day Excursion to the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, a monumental salt cathedral sculptured inside a salt mine. They can also take either 2- or 3-night Cafe Colombia packages that take them to coffee country for a stay in a romantic coffee farm, trekking or horseback riding in the stunning and beautiful Cocora Valley and a visit to a charming and picturesque village.

There are two packages to Cartagena—the 2-night Jewel in the Stone or the 1-night Pirates of the Caribbean—where clients tour all the colonial sites, plus a special visit to see the convent of San Pedro Claver and the artisan center in Las Bovedas. The 2-night package to Tayrona National Park includes a 2-night eco-hab or hotel stay, plus an opportunity to either trek or take a horse to Pueblito, a pre-Columbian site unique for its advanced architecture and cities. The Villa de Leyva package includes an in-depth visit to this beautiful colonial city close to Bogota dating back to the 16th century, where clients will also have the opportunity to visit the old towns of Raquira and Zipaquira. Finally, there’s the 4-night Trek to the Lost City where clients travel to the fishing village of Taganga near Santa Marta. From there, they’ll trek to the mystical Ciudad Perdida, the ruins of the pre-Columbian capital of the Tayrona people, hiking through dense jungle, crossing hanging bridges and waist-deep rivers, and climbing 1,260 steps at the entrance to the ruins. Call for pricing on all packages.

On the promotional side, Forster says, Goway is going to be working with Colombia tourism on a big advertising campaign that will involve some webinars and press advertising. “They bought into a 4-page spread in our Globetrotter magazine,” he adds, which Recommend will be distributing, “basically preaching all the beauties of Colombia, using their tag line as an introduction—‘The Only Risk Is Not Wanting To Leave’—touching on the fact that it was a dangerous spot but it’s cleaned itself up and that it’s fantastic with all kinds of good things to see and do.”

The Globetrotter, Forster points out, is the company’s biggest marketing tool and giving them a full page and feeding up product into their website is a reflection of the confidence the company has in Colombia as a destination product. “At least for now, we think that’s the perfect way to show everyone that we endorse Colombia as a destination, we believe it’s safe and we’ve got product to get people in there.”

There’s little doubt cruising has had an impact on overall Colombia tourism, just as it did in the Mediterranean and the Baltic. According to Camilo Duque, leisure tourism director at Proexport Colombia – USA, the country’s tourism arm in Miami, “In 2003, we had 23 calls from cruises. This week the cruise season began and we expect 208 calls, which will bring more than half a million visitors to the Colombian ports. Flights have increased as well, with new service from American Airlines and Colombian carriers to several cities in the country, with more than 208 weekly frequencies, and the number keeps on growing as the demand increases.”

Goway’s Forster somewhat unenthusiastically agrees that cruising does bring attention to less-visited destinations and can increase tour sales as a result. “Cruising, we’ve noticed across the board for Chile and Argentina, is bringing more and more people to at least the peripheries of those countries—we’ve had a lot of requests from cruise clients looking for 1- or 2-day stopover packages with us. Cartagena sadly, I think, will be inundated with that.” Still, he adds, “From the overall point of view, I definitely think people will see Cartagena as Colombia, which will then hopefully entice people into Bogota, St. Agustin and other destinations that might be considered more remote destinations.”