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Monday, December 4, 2023

Colombia: Boosting tourism to create jobs

Colombia plans to use part of the peace dividend to boost its tourism sector, which has suffered during decades of conflict.

The self-proclaimed salsa capital of the world, Cali moves to the lively rhythm of the music heard on every street corner, in every bar and in every cab. For music and dance enthusiasts, it's a major attraction of Colombia's third-largest city.

Now that the peace process has put an end to half a century of armed conflict, Cali is looking to boost its tourism potential to create much-needed jobs and economic development. According to an ILO study study analyzing the city's prospects for creating decent jobs in the tourism sector, salsa has an important role to play in this endeavor.
The main challenge is to strengthen Cali's tourism value chain, which means improving competitiveness.

"Tourism is a dynamic sector ... which provides jobs for the most vulnerable sections of society, such as young people and women." John Bliek, ILO specialist

The study indicates that natural and cultural attractions, such as salsa, art and food - the region is famous for its chicken soup, sancocho de gallina - parks and lices rural landscapes, sports and adventure activities, can be the pillars of Cali's development as a tourist destination.

The report recommends capitalizing on salsa as a tourism icon, but also points out that enhanced security and active promotion of tourism are essential to attracting more visitors to Cali, which is also a well-known starting point for visits to the coffee plantations and picturesque villages nearby in the Valle del Cauca region.

"The ILO report draws very clear conclusions on how to promote tourism in this city," says Julián Felipe Franco, Secretary of Tourism for the department of Valle del Cauca, of which Cali is the capital.

Mr. Franco points out that the Colombian peace process has led to a 10% to 12% increase in the number of tourists visiting Cali in recent years, including 200,000 tourists from abroad per year. He says the authorities hope to double the number of foreign visitors over the next two years, although he agrees with the ILO report that more needs to be done to put the city on the international tourism map.

ILO specialist John Bliek, who coordinated the study, argues that tourism holds great potential for creating more and better jobs in Cali and the rest of the department. Job creation, especially for young people and in rural areas, is seen as an important step in healing the wounds caused by decades of conflict.

"Tourism is a dynamic sector that is booming in many parts of the world, providing jobs for the most vulnerable sections of society, such as young people and women. It is also a solution for families in rural areas, an important secondary activity that represents an additional income alongside agricultural activities," adds Mr. Bliek.

The report reiterates the importance of ensuring that people working in the sector have access to adequate training: tourism businesses with a skilled workforce will be in a better position to innovate and improve their offering - which in turn will attract more visitors. He also points to a shortage of guides able to share their knowledge of the region's natural and cultural riches.

The ILO study also highlighted the need for concerted action by all stakeholders to promote Cali as a tourist destination, through joint activities and with the participation of local communities.

For his part, private tour operator Mauricio Novoa believes that Cali should extol its virtues. "Salsa, for example, expresses a rhythm and a lifestyle that are an integral part of the culture and economic dynamism that we breathe here. We need to use it to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world."