And Netflix’s TV-show Narcos – as well done and entertaining it might be – really did not help the country’s efforts in (re)building its reputation for the past 20 years. I was aware of this stereotype. And still, on my recent – and first – visit I was surprised by many aspects the country has to offer. Colombia made it to the top of my list for headquartering our planned activities in Latin America.
The reality is that this country is as beautiful as it can get. And the attractiveness of its market is substantial. Whether you’re culturally interested, a nature lover or an outdoor sports afficionado. From the impressive gold museum (Museo del Oro) to the longest cycling climb with 3700m ascent (Alto de Letras). From stunning diving sites (the third largest coral reef on Earth) and the breathtaking wilderness in national parks to beautiful colonial cities such as Cartagena. Colombia has a lot to offer for every taste. No wonder tourism grew by over 30% in the first half year of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.
Honestly, I’m not sure this is only good news. The magic of that beautiful country might be at risk if Colombia follows the rather daunting examples of other, once beautiful, destinations around the world that succumbed to a rampant tourism concept in exchange for quick economic stimuli. Notwithstanding Colombia’s exceptional offering, tourism should not be looked at as panacea. It should be rather recognized as one of the elements of a long-term, inclusive growth strategy that encompasses all people, regions and sectors. Medellin, the country’s second largest city, serves as great example. Having been a headquarter to drugs and crime until a few years ago, Medellin was reborn as a role model. Its economy is among the fastest growing ones in Latin America and it recently even won the title of the world’s most innovative city!
But let’s look at some numbers. The IMF expects the Colombian economy to grow by 2.7% in 2018 and 3.3% next year. This makes Colombia one of the top growing economies in Latin America. Ahead of Brazil, Argentina and Mexico with 1.8%, 2.0% and 2.3% respectively. Inflation has continued to decline for four consecutive years now and reached 3.4% in 2018 which is within the target rate set by the Colombian National Bank. Over the past decade, a remarkable reduction in poverty has been achieved. From 50% to 26%. Of course, this is still much too high. But nevertheless a remarkable achievement. At the same time, the middle class doubled from 16% to 32% pointing to the opportunity of the local 50 million people market alone. On top, Colombia is easy to reach from most North- and South American metropoles. It is a member of the Pacific Alliance and is the Latin American country with the most free trade zones. This, combined with a massive $70 billion infrastructure investment program and the highest tertiary education enrolment rates in Latin America of nearly 60% make Colombia very attractive.
Unemployment remained stable in the single digit percentage rate for six years now. High single digits though. Plus, the unemployment rate is just an average and remains very high for disadvantaged regions and people. Also, informal street jobs – without health, pension or any other benefits – continue to be the go-to option for (too) many Colombians. So, there is still much to do. It was precisely the initiatives addressing these challenges and the focus on inclusiveness that impressed me the most.
If you’re talking about inclusiveness, one of the most important challenges is obviously making jobs accessible for all. Easier said than done if large parts of your population face a two to three hours commute because of the lack of infrastructure. Bogota’s answer, the noteworthy public transportation system, TransMilenio and TransMicable, impressed me. This smart bus and cable car system reduces hours of commuting time dramatically. At the same time, this public transportation system moves more people per hour than most of the world’s capitals do with their subway systems. At a fraction of the cost. The multi-dimensional efficiency of that system is fascinating. As was the fact that I witnessed it being used at full capacity at 6 a.m. every day in the morning by thousands of motivated and eager people. If you want to feel the incredible boom of this city, step into TransMilenio early in the morning!
But public transportation is not the only example of the courageous and farsighted urban planning and infrastructure projects. Hundreds of schools and recreation areas are being built. Not to mention the myriad of housing constructions and their building cranes characterising the city’s current appearance. Bogota is also home to some exceptional street art from the world’s most-loved artists after graffitis were decriminalized a few years ago. Regretfully, I can’t mention all of the great initiatives and projects I had the privilege of visiting in person. The list would be too long for this post. But there is always time for a Thank You. And my special thank you goes to the wonderful people of Colombia. The exceptional friendliness and hospitality of everyone I met as well as their dedication and entrepreneurial drive is inspiring. I simply love it!
No wonder the country’s longstanding efforts to join the OECD were recently rewarded and Colombia became the 37th member country. This is great news for the expected standards of Colombia’s institutions. It points to economic stability, transparency and government discipline and will lead to increased (foreign) investors’ confidence. Looks like we’re going to settle there in the pretty near future. If you got curious why don’t you come visit us there soon 🙂
P.S. for the coffee lovers: I probably had the best coffee ever in Colombia. Every single day!