Outbound tourism is the daily bread of tour operators in Colombia, with the United States being the main destination. Yet for most US cities beyond Miami, this is still a largely untapped source market.
More than three million Colombians traveled abroad in 2021, about half of them to the United States. That’s a 136% increase from 2020, and just 33% below 2019 highs, according to Colombia’s Ministerio de Comercio.
Indeed, Skift Research identified Colombia in its “Global Travel Economics 2019-2029” as one of nine countries that could be the largest source of outbound travellers, adding 200 million new visitors collectively, by 2029. Skift Research senior analyst Seth Borko wrote: “We have identified nine countries that are expected to approach or cross this threshold over the next decade: China, Iran, Mexico, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. These countries are worth looking at because collectively we expect them to attract just over 200 million new international travelers over the next decade, representing 40% of departures growth. in the world.
The Asociación Colombiana de Agencias de Viajes y Turismo (ANATO), which represents travel agencies in the country, said travel to the United States was up 10% from pre-pandemic levels in 2021 and showed another 6% jump last January, compared to the same month in 2019.
It’s no wonder, then, that in February, the US International Trade Administration ranked Colombians fifth among countries whose citizens travel to the United States.
US Travel Association surveys show that 42% of Colombian international travelers are very interested in visiting the United States in the next two years. He believes Florida is likely to remain a top destination due to access and airline interests, while New York and Washington DC are also attractive.
“Destinations like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago could easily be promoted in Colombia, where they currently lack connectivity and could be of great interest to local travelers,” said Paula Cortés Calle, President executive of the tour operator. ANATO group.
US cities are realizing Colombia’s potential
Some American cities are very active in targeting Colombians. NYC & Company, New York City’s Official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), is currently launching its new “It’s Time for New York” campaign in Colombia.
The San Francisco Travel Association has a country manager for Colombia and Mexico, another of its main source markets in the region. “Our marketing efforts in Colombia currently encompass public relations as well as product knowledge sharing with our travel partners. We look forward to growing the market in the coming years for San Francisco,” a spokesperson for the association told Skift.
Destination DC, Washington’s DMO, was working with Copa Airlines and Aviatur in February 2020 to launch a promotion for the Colombian market, an initiative discontinued due to the pandemic. Now they have confirmed that they are coordinating their efforts with airport authorities – in some cases to support flights – organizing so-called familiarization tours with the best travel agents and tour operators in Colombia, providing agents with training opportunities and actively participating in events aimed at meeting planners in Colombia. the South American country, as they see Colombia as a growth market for the meetings and events segment.
Destination DC CEO Elliott Ferguson added that the value of Colombian tourists is tied to the fact that international travelers generally spend more time in the city and have a greater economic impact on the local community. “Our data tells us that Colombians also travel out of season, the shoulder months which are key times for hotels. Increasing air travel from daily connections to DC will allow us to welcome more Colombians to our city,” he said.
In the first two months of 2022, Colombians were among the top 5 foreign visitors to the district. In these first two months, DC has gained market share from Colombia to the whole of the United States “We are talking about very small percentages but the message is positive,” sources said with Destination DC
The US Travel Association confirmed a 13% increase in visits by Colombians between 2019 and 2021. “For most months, relative visits to the same month in 2019 were the highest of any country,” its report says. .
Cortés Calle sees many other airlines offering routes to the United States, especially on low-cost carriers. “But there are also other aspects, such as the proximity between the two countries and the current flexibility to enter the territory,” she said.
Not a one-shot wonder
Historical data from the Colombian Department of Commerce suggests that six out of 10 Colombians who visit the United States come for leisure and vacation, and about 20-30% to visit family and friends.
But when you dig deeper, you will notice that most Colombians only enter the United States in Florida, but only visit that state, especially Miami. The South Atlantic Area was the place chosen by 77% of them in 2020, but also 70% in 2019, before the pandemic.
In this past year of record “normalcy”, 38% of Colombian visitors entered through Miami, 14% through Fort Lauderdale and 12% through Orlando. Cortés Calle attributed this to the fact that 68% of flight frequencies between Colombia and the United States are concentrated in Florida.
But even so, the Mid-Atlantic region (NY and NJ) only received 18% of Colombian visits in 2020; California accounted for about 10% and the South Atlantic 69% (Miami got 48% and Orlando nearly 30%).
Marysol Castillo Palacio, director of the tourism program at Universidad Javeriana de Cali, explained to Skift that there are several causes for this preference, such as psychological proximity to the natural scene, weather, Latin communities and Spanish speakers. . “Colombians”. she said, “still prefer beach vacations to places like Miami, and they like to take family trips, a segment well supported by Orlando.”
Finally, she mentioned that destinations in Latin America are still emerging compared to the well-developed value for money that Miami offers.
The US Travel Association confirmed that “in the past, New York and Washington DC were also the main destinations visited (by Colombians), which corresponds to their interest in tourism in large cities, visiting monuments, attractions and iconic American historic sites, including outdoor recreation and adventure.
On whether further exploration of Colombia as a source market on behalf of U.S. cities would bring more business to local travel agents, Castillo Palacio cautioned that while it could be a benefit for agencies dealing with emissive tourism, it would also mean losing business for those selling local destinations.