Business tourism: Capital eyes big events

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Bogotá business tourism
Miguel Durán Prieto, Bogotá’s secretary for economic development, speaking on the need to increase business tourism in the capital.

Public-private partnership announced in bid to promote Bogotá as a prime destination for business tourism.


With international travel to the city increasing dramatically over recent years, Bogotá has set its sights on becoming a top destination for business tourism.

According to Juan Miguel Durán Prieto, the Bogotá secretary for economic development, “On average a business traveller spends USD$345 per day when they come to Bogotá for an event.” He goes on to explain that 78% arrive before the event, 77% stay in 4 or 5 star hotels and 86% bring a partner. Moreover, 40% come back with their families, which starts to explain why Bogotá is so serious about attracting this type of visitor.

The city has just launched a public-private partnership aiming promote the capital as a prime destination for business and events. The District Secretariat for Economic Development, the District Institute of Tourism, the Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá and the Bogotá and Cundinamarca Conventions Bureau all plan to work together to capitalise on what they see as a huge opportunity for the capital.

Speaking at a recent event to launch the initiative, Durán explained, “Today we want to present you a great alliance to strengthen and create major events in the city so that Bogotá becomes a major international business tourism destination. In addition to strengthening our trade, it also produces something that is very important to us, that is creating new jobs.”

Since 2010, the city has hosted over major international events 280 events – with 190,000 foreign travellers and an economic impact of about COP$700 billion. Durán spelled out the knock on effects: “These types of events help Bogotá not only by positioning it as a city of international events and business, they also bring a chain that strengthens our trade. This links the hotel sector, bars, restaurants and tourism in general, also the logistics and transportation industry.”

There’s little doubt that the country is experiencing a boom in tourism – visitor numbers have almost doubled since 2010, up from 2.6 million to 5.1 million last year. The industry provides work for 1.8 million Colombians and the government is investing heavily in both tourism infrastructure and training for the tourism industry.

But does Bogotá really have what it takes to compete with cities like Paris or Berlin on the international event hosting stage?

Sandra García, executive director of Greater Bogotá Convention Bureau, explained that it is a competitive international field, and one that the city has come to comparatively recently.

“Because this is an industry that generates so much money and so much development, the destinations have developed strategies to compete for the events,” she said.

There’s little doubt that the country is experiencing a boom in tourism – visitor numbers have almost doubled since 2010, up from 2.6 million to 5.1 million last year.

She illustrated the potential benefits of business tourism with examples from other countries, pointing out that one aspect of the new partnership would be to measure the economic impact in Colombia: “In Mexico, events generate about 1 million direct jobs and 1.5% of GDP contributions and in a similar figure, events generate 2% of GDP contributions in the UK.”

Thirteen years ago, about 130 private companies came together and started to form some tentative strategies to put Bogotá on the map. García says at that point there wasn’t the political will to attract international events, and they made slow progress to start with. However, she stressed that now the city is at a completely different point and is gaining momentum.

Their work has paid off as Bogotá is already building a reputation for itself – the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) puts Bogotá 59th in the world and 14th in Latin and North America (just behind Rio de Janeiro), hosting 45 major international meetings in 2016 alone. It will host the World Congress of Neurosurgery in 2021 and the World Youth Summit this October.

On top of annual events such as the Feria Internacional del Libro de Bogotá (FILBo), ARTBO, the Bogotá Audiovisual Market (BAM) and Bogotá Music Market (BOmm), the city is well known for its series of free festivals in Parque Simón Bolívar and is increasingly able to attract big names on the international music scene.

Last year the city also hosted a number of one-off events, such as the 16th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the World Green Infrastructure Congress, the World Business Forum and the UCLG World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders.

According to an OECD report published earlier this year entitled ‘Major events as a catalyst for business tourism’, there are four main categories of events that drive international tourism. Niche events such as Glastonbury music festival; participatory sports events such as World Masters Games or Ironman events; signature cultural events such as South by South West in Texas and international sports events such as the Tour de France or International World Championships.

With respect to sporting events, Bogotá faces competition not just from outside the country but from inside it too. While the capital lays claim to 40% of the events that take place in Colombia, it is Medellín and Cali that are establishing themselves as international sports event hosts. Medellín put itself on the sporting map with the 2010 South American Games and has hosted 17 international sporting events in the past five years. Cali hosted the IAAF World Youth Championships in 2015 and the World Games in 2013.

However, in terms of niche and signature cultural events, the city can build on its experience with the likes of FILBo and the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro, which should stand it in good stead. And the good news is that the ICCA identify a growing number of events for cities to compete for.

Another factor identified by the OECD report is the need to adopt an integrated approach to event and tourism strategies. Each event that the city bids for costs money, so it is important to focus on the right events, gain the right funding and be clear about desired legacies.

In theory, that’s exactly what the new public-private alliance with the Greater Bogotá and Cundinamarca Convention Bureau is going to do. While it may not be smooth sailing, it is clear that there’s a lot of economic potential for the city if they can deliver.


By Emily Hastings

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