Colombia offers an array of diverse investment possibilities across different regions and sectors that the global business community is increasingly waking up to, yet as the economy reactivates following the global pandemic and investors show increasing interest in the country, some of the biggest opportunities will still be found in two of the country’s most well-known cities, writes Craig Dempsey, co-founder and CEO of Biz Latin Hub.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and millions of people around the world continue to battle the disease, while yet more deal with the aftermath of losing family, friends, and livelihoods. However, with early vaccinations now being dispensed in some countries, and many governments announcing their plans to begin inoculations in the coming months, a welcome glimmer of something like normalcy can be seen on the horizon.
As the world looks to recover and reactivate the global economy, reinvigorating business and commerce will be critical. Investment across Latin America has seen considerable growth over the past decade, with venture capital investments in startups doubling year-over-year from 2016 to 2019 across the region. This generated the highest levels of investment the region has ever seen in a single year, with nearly $5 billion in venture capital investments in 2019 alone. Latin America’s biggest economies played a major role in attracting these investments.
Among the top performing economies and most popular investment destinations is Colombia. In seeking to overcome a history of violence, political unrest, economic instability, and all of the bad press that comes with those things, the country has reinvented itself as a promising investment option and lucrative business environment.
Investments in the country have increased dramatically over recent years, with foreign direct investment (FDI) from the US increasing 25 percent in the third trimester of 2019 alone.
One of the country’s greatest strengths is the diversity of investment opportunities it offers, with numerous sectors, regions, and cities ripe for investment. Nevertheless, a few staple destinations are paving the way for new investments and a more lucrative future in Colombia.
The coastal city of Cartagena and the nation’s capital, Bogotá, present many opportunities for investment in the country. Both cities are some of the most promising cities in Latin America promising considerable growth in the future. While Bogotá has already seen a handful of major international investment deals, Cartagena is following in its footsteps and priming itself for an even more prosperous future.
Insight into new investment opportunities in these forward-thinking cities can be found below.
Bogotá’s budding economy
Geographically positioned at the heart of the country, Bogotá is also the center of Colombia’s economic life, with an incredibly diverse and dynamic economy. Business deals, emerging markets, and international and political activity attract investors and tourists of all types.
In 2019, the city had a gross domestic product (GDP) of $102.05 billion, representing 31.5 percent of the national total, and dwarfing the economies of entire countries in the region, such as Panama and Costa Rica.
This impressive figure can be attributed to the diversity of the city in terms of population, industry opportunity, and investment options. Power, wealth, and opportunity congregate in this sprawling city, with over half of Colombia’s medium and large businesses headquartered there. Moreover, nearly 40 percent of Colombia’s international trade occurs in Bogotá.
Internationalization has become a staple for the capital city, and is key to its success. Through multiple free trade agreements and trade deals, companies headquartered in Bogotá have access to markets otherwise off limits. In total, this amounts to more than $51 trillion more in market opportunity.
With this privileged position, it’s no wonder Bogotá’s GDP growth far outstrips the Latin American average, which in 2019 hovered at around 1 percent, while in Bogotá it was 4 percent.
Best industries for new investment in Bogotá
Economic activity across Bogotá is thriving and investors are seeking out new ways in which they can be involved in the success of the city. The following are just a few of Bogotá’s strongest sectors. All of which offer excellent opportunities for new investment in Colombia.
As an emerging business model in the country, venture builders are a great new investment opportunity in Colombia. Venture builders are similar to startup incubators, however they differ in that all resources to support a startup are kept in house, with the parent company sharing resources among ventures.
The industry is growing steadily as the number of venture builders increases, with three in particular commanding attention among investors looking at Colombia.
The StartupVC, Polymath Ventures, and Rubik Ventures are Colombia’s strongest players and harness great potential for the future. Together, they seek out business opportunities in both B2B and B2C markets, including technology, digital marketing, logistics, manufacturing, and much more.
Venture builders within Bogotá specifically pose great potential for new investment opportunities. Firstly, as mentioned previously, Bogotá is the startup capital of Colombia, with over 50 percent of Colombian startups headquartered in the city.
Moreover, key incubators, accelerators, and venture capital initiatives are located in Bogotá as well. As the venture builder industry grows, it will become a staple not only of Bogotá’s startup ecosystem, but also of its wider economy.
The tech industry in Bogotá is home to a tremendous array of opportunity. Already, the city is home to 55 percent of the country’s digital animation and video game companies. Moreover, the city is prioritizing the IT industry as one of its focus industries for investment, according to Invest in Bogotá.
Invest in Bogotá is a public-private investment initiative between the Bogotá Chamber of Commerce and the Bogotá City Government and was ranked by the World Bank as the top non-OECD investment promotion agency in the world. The organization’s executive director, Adriana Suarez, says that the city will soon become Latin America’s hub for the rendering of IT services.
Already, the experts working within the industry in Bogotá have developed services for remote infrastructure management, software development, and maintenance of software applications for companies of diverse industries. Continual investment in traditional and innovative tech endeavors in Bogotá will position the city to be a major hub for technology in the region.
Real estate in Bogotá continues to be a strong and viable investment option for those interested. Over the past thirteen years, Colombia’s real estate market overall has seen rising prices and impressive growth.
For most of the country, this growth slowed after 2018. However, for Bogotá rates continue to rise. By the end of Q3 in 2019, property prices rose 8.2 percent year-over-year (4.2 percent inflation adjusted) in Bogotá.
Not only does the market offer investors favorable deals with high returns, but it also protects those who invest in it. Colombia overall has a BAA2 rating on Moody’s rating scale for investment protection. This means that buying property in Colombia is a protected investment with moderate risk. As the market grows and strengthens, this rating should increase, thereby further protecting investors and attracting many more.
Economic landscape of Cartagena
Colombia is fortunate enough to have two successful, prominent cities with blossoming investment potential right now. Cartagena, like Bogotá, thrives off of its deep history and rich culture, while encouraging a culture of innovation.
However, beyond those similarities, the two very different cities. Their geography, lifestyles, key industries, and overall economies are starkly different in comparison.
Cartagena, a colorful and vibrant city sitting on the Atlantic coast of Colombia, is one of the most well-known vacation destinations in the world. It is the second-most popular tourist destination in all of Colombia, falling only behind Bogotá.
The city comes from a history of wealth and prosperity, as it was the most lucrative port city in the entire Spanish Empire. Hundreds of years later, Cartagena remains a major port, both for import/export activities and for cruises. Cartagena’s cruise ship terminal services 30 different cruise lines and receives 97 percent of all tourists arriving to the country by sea. Overall, the booming cruise industry in Cartagena generates around $40 million for the national economy every year.
But that cruise traffic represents only a fraction of Cartagena’s booming tourism and hospitality industry. Thousands of tourists fill the historic city center daily, enamored by its well preserved history and beauty. Within the walls of the city, tourists fill quaint stores selling some of the most beautiful jewelry in all of South America.
Of course, it is Colombia’s famous emeralds that are one of the biggest draws for tourists. As such, some of the country’s most reputable emerald jewelers are found in Cartagena. Here, the emerald jewelry market is a significant contributor to economic activity and growth.
This combination of bustling trade, tourist traffic, and high-value consumer have driven Cartagena’s economy to its prosperous position today.
Investment opportunities in Cartagena
Cartagena is home to a variety of thriving industries that promise significant margins to investors, most notably in tourism, sustainability and real estate.
Unsurprisingly, tourism and hospitality in Cartagena are two complementary industries with tremendous potential for growth. Between 2006 and 2019, Colombia saw a 300 percent increase in foreign visitors. For Cartagena, 2018 represented a watershed moment in terms of tourist visitors, as the airport serving the city broke through the five million arrivals barrier for the first time.
Now, even with the global pandemic, the city is positioning itself to be the ideal destination for travelers and tourists alike. Home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cartagena offers tourists countless safe opportunities for exploration, activity, and excursion, both within the city and in its surrounding areas.
With the growth of ecotourism and sustainable tourism set to fuel the industry further, it has been identified as an economic jump starter in Colombia’s post-pandemic period, with Cartagena key to that revival.
Sustainability is an emerging industry all throughout Colombia, but especially in Cartagena. Previously, the city has had issues with the likes of trash removal and sustainable waste management. However, recent startup initiatives are focused on improving the situation throughout the city.
Green Apple, a startup dedicated to recycling, is one example of a successful sustainability startup operating in Cartagena. Similarly, Galavanta works on off-setting the city’s carbon footprint. Overall, sustainability across Cartagena’s industries is growing in importance and prevalence. Thanks to growing global public pressure for environmental concern and green practices, Cartagena is transforming its industries for the better, offering plenty of new investment opportunities.
Like Bogota, Cartagena’s real estate sector has shown consistent and strong growth in recent years. Being such a popular tourist destination, and only a two-hour flight from Florida and a five-hour flight from New York City, the Atlantic coastal city has a great deal of regular visitors, including many holiday home owners.
While the opportunities in Cartagena’s real estate market differ from those of Bogotá given the vastly different markets, they can be just as lucrative, and will continue to be buoyed by the city’s vibrant economy.
Strong economic foundations in Bogotá and Cartagena position both cities favorably for new investment opportunities. Venture building, tech, tourism, and real estate are just a few of the up-and-coming sectors primed for investment between the cities. As both cities grow and become more competitive and successful, investment returns will continue on an upward trajectory.
And with widespread dispensation of the COVID-19 vaccine now thankfully just around the corner, the investor community will soon be able to get back to what they do best — creating wealth and prosperity.
Craig Dempsey is the co-founder and CEO of Biz Latin Hub, a company dedicated to providing legal, accounting and back-office services to companies throughout Latin America and beyond.