Can Colombia enjoy the revenues left by flocks of tourists visiting its wonderful destinations despite the news media opinion of this beautiful country?


A few weeks ago, I watched an MSNBC program about Libya’s intent to enter the world of international tourism. The administration of Colonel Gadhafi, that since the late ‘90s has been working on, what the article calls, an effort to re-brand Libya, has a mid-term plan to develop its 1,242 miles of Mediterranean coast. The goal is to build 100,000 beds by 2010 and attract an expected 10 million visitors to their brand new resorts, yacht clubs and golf courses.

As I was watching the segment, I couldn’t stop thinking about how once obscure countries are now fiercely fighting in the same arena with Cancun, Italy, Spain and the rest of the world hot spots.

Can a country like Libya, run by one of the western world’s biggest archenemy, re-brand itself to attract wealthy tourists to its beautiful beaches?

Colombia, my country of birth, has had a long history of struggling between perception and reality. Colombia is a country blessed by nature, with a wide array of unique destinations, from the well-known Cartagena on the Atlantic, to the virgin and secluded beaches of Bahia Solano in the Pacific; a fisherman’s paradise.  I have never in my life seen so many shades of green as the ones you can enjoy in the Coffee Growers region where “Haciendas” await eagerly for visitors who will be pampered by the most hospitable staff. Colombian people are warm and welcoming. Bogota is a cosmopolitan city where dining and partying reach, literally, a unique altitude (Bogota is located on the top of a mountain, 2,640 meters above sea level) . The hospitality industry is renowned for its quality. But I haven’t been able to convince my British or American friends, or my Austrian family to come down for a visit. They are afraid!

Their perception of my country has changed, from being a jungle back in the ‘80s when I went to college in Boston (and I was often asked if I lived in a Tiki Hut) to being nothing more than a drug emporium (I still get requests for a pound of white coffee). And lately, it is being described as the most dangerous place after Baghdad and Mogadishu.

Colombia has made an interesting case of re-branding itself. About a decade ago, whether it was intended or not, Colombia started to change the perception from within. Once always badmouthing Colombians started to feel pride in their country. Somehow, and as a result of civic administrations and internal media and advertising campaigns we all became ambassadors. Speaking derisively about Colombia wasn’t cool anymore.

Lately Colombia has been featured in the pages of the most prestigious newspapers of the world.

Like my country, Libya plans to invest millions to be perceived as a paradise destination. And like my country, it will only succeed if the efforts have a structured strategy that transcends the very expensive seconds of paid international media.

In some cases, not to say in all, the branding efforts start by finding the inner soul that makes your product, service or destination unique, and then building it from within. (Colombia es Pasion You Tube, transcends the physical realm, it’s about energy…it’s about the people more than the country itself). In the case of destinations, remember that the 24/7 editorial content of CNN International plays a bigger role than the strength of you budget.

Meanwhile, I hope to see all my readers in one of the many restaurants on the G-zone in Bogota. You won’t regret it. Guaranteed!


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July 14th, 2009 19 Comments Branding / Branding Politics / Branding Strategy / Destinations Branding