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Colombia Saw Record Number of Tourists in 2023


Colombia saw a record number of tourists in 2023
Colombia saw a record number of tourists in 2023. Credit Reg Natarajan. CC BY 2.0 flickr

Colombia saw a record number of tourists visiting the country in 2023, with almost six million non-residents reported; but how will the country face the pressures of increasing tourism in the years to come?

Last year 5.86 million people visited Colombia, according to the most recent report from the Economic Studies Office of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, based on data from Migration Colombia and the ports of Santa Marta and Cartagena.

The number of tourists who visited Colombia in 2023 exceeds the number who travelled to the country in the previous four years (adjusting for the Covid pandemic), translating to an increase of 24.3 percent compared to 2022, 173.6 percent compared to 2021, and roughly 30 percent on 2019. Last year can be seen as a recovery period for an important, economy-building industry.

The report shows that, of the total non-resident visitors, more than 3.8 million were from foreign countries (official records do not count Venezuelan migrants), with around 1.5 million made up of Colombians living abroad coming back home for a visit, and 345,000 being passengers on international cruises.

“This result reaffirms once again that we are one of the preferred destinations in Latin America for tourism…..(Colombia) offers not only coastal, marine and nature tourism, but also gastronomic, cultural and community experiences,” minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Germán Umaña told El Espectador.

The number of visitors on cruise ships increased by more than 100 percent in 2023, while tourists from foreign countries rose by 24.3 percent, and natives of Colombia living abroad who came home for vacation increased by 13.7 percent; all of this, according to the Directorate of Sectoral Analysis and Promotion of the Vice Ministry of Tourism, exceeded the sector’s projections for the year.

Factors affecting tourist numbers in Colombia

Despite this positive outlook for the country’s tourism sector, there have been difficult times along the way.

Ivan Duarte, director of Unique Colombia, an operating agency that works in Santa Marta and La Guajira, told El Espectador in December last year that there were a number of things that may have slowed down the recovery of tourist numbers in 2022 and 2023. He listed inflation, which may have reduced the purchasing power of households and thus rendered them less likely to spend on leisure and tourism, the increase in gasoline prices and the withdrawal from the market of the Colombian airlines Viva and Ultra Air.

Viva Air Boeing 737-300
“Viva Air Boeing 737-300. Credit: Aero Icarus. CC BY 2.0/flickr

Viva stopped its operations in February 2023, and a month later Ultra Air also decided to ground its planes. Both airlines announced that their decision was made because of the economic crisis brought on by the increase in fuel prices and the devaluation of the peso against the dollar, among other things.

These withdrawals resulted in an 11 percent drop in passenger arrivals on domestic flights between January and August, compared to the same period in 2022. The largest decrease was seen in San Andres, with 38.3 percent, according to the Economic Studies Office of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism.

Highlighting the importance of these airlines to El Espectador, Duarte said, “other airlines have not been able to meet the demand and maintain favorable prices, which has increased the price of tours in the area and has affected the competitiveness of the sector.”
Looking forward, experts suggest that the first half of 2024 may be challenging, but recovery of the sector is expected to pick up later in the year.

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