Colombia’s resort city Cartagena is becoming a growing attraction for everyone from Bill Clinton to Ivanka Trump.
BY CHRONICLE STAFF
Ivanka Trump does. So does Bill Clinton. No, we’re not talking about living in New York, but visiting Cartagena, the popular resort city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
”I just spent some time in Cartagena,” Ivanka Trump, executive vice president of development and acquisitions at U.S.-based Trump Organization, tells Latin Business Chronicle. “Increasingly my friends are going down to Cartagena for New Year’s. I think it’s stunning [and] beautiful. It’s a great city.”
The Trump Organization has looked at developing property there many times, but has no concrete plans to do so for now, she adds.
Last month, President Bill Clinton toured the city as if he was an ordinary tourist (except for those bulky Secret Service guards). It was his fourth visit to the city.
Last year, Cartagena received 141,337 foreign visitors, an increase of 6.1 percent from 2007, according to official data. That also made Cartagena the second-most popular destination in Colombia after capital Bogota. However, the numbers for Bogota are likely dominated by business travelers rather than typical tourists.
All in all, Colombia received 1.5 million visitors last year, according to Colombia’s Commerce, Industry and Tourism Minister Luis Guillermo Plata. By comparison in 2007, the country registered 1.2 million tourists. Plata did not provide figures for tourism receipts last year, but in 2007 they reached $1.7 billion, 7.4 percent increase from 2006.
The trend is continuing this year. In the first quarter, Colombia registered 7.1 percent more international visitors compared to the same period last year, the Commerce Ministry announced yesterday. Cruise arrivals in Cartagena during Easter were 75 percent higher than last year.
While Plata is content with the fact that tourism is growing, he acknowledges that the figures are still far below the potential. In 2007, for example, Colombia received fewer tourists than countries like El Salvador and Chile, while its tourism receipts were less than those of Peru and Costa Rica, according to Latin Business Chronicle rankings.
Colombian officials are therefore aggressively promoting the country. One slogan used in several campaigns says “Colombia: The only risk is that you want to stay.”
U.S. tourists are by far the key visitor group to Colombia, accounting for 22 percent of arrivals last year. However, again most of these are likely business travelers. Venezuela comes in second, accounting for 20 percent. This is also likely a group that is heavy with business travelers.
A new trend is that cruise tourism is returning to Colombia and Cartagena. Last year, the number of cruises to Colombia grew by a whopping 63 percent to 161. Royal Caribbean returned in April 2007 after a five-year hiatus, while other cruise companies have also included the Colombian city among its destinations. “We lost the cruise ships in 2002 and [now] they [have] returned,” Plata says. “Royal Caribbean made Cartagena their port of entry.”
Cartagena has long attracted convention tourism and major events. The Cartagena convention center, for example, has a capacity for 1,500 people and is also home to major exhibits. Meanwhile, hotels like the Cartagena Hilton, the Sofitel Santa Clara and Hotel Las Americas also boast well-developed conference facilities.
Soon they’ll be getting some competition. The InterContinental Hotels Group plans to open a 32-story hotel next year that will be part of a mixed-use complex located in the center of the modern downtown. The Holiday Inn Express Cartagena, with 118 guestrooms and 32 suites, will offer six boardroom size meeting rooms with occupancy for 20 people each, a swimming pool, a fitness center and ample parking.
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