Little Compass
      RoseCaribbean Compass   December 2014

Colombia Sets Course
for Yacht Tourism Growth

by Sally Erdle

On October 24th, the Colombian government hosted that country’s Fourth Nautical Tourism Forum, bringing together the national Government through its Vice-Ministry of Tourism, the mayors of a number of Colombia’s Caribbean coastal communities, Customs and Immigration officials, and private sector representatives, in order to learn about developments and projections in boating tourism.

The full-day Forum, held at El Isleño Conference Center on the island of San Andres, was opened with a welcome by Aury Socorro Guerrero Bowie, the Governor of the islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina.
The morning’s agenda featured three presentations by foreign guests: on the environmental and social sustainability of today’s marinas, on what is wanted by yachting visitors considering Colombia as a cruising destination, and on methods of expanding recreational boating. The afternoon included a panel discussion on the development of marinas in the country, and presentations on nautical tourism vis-à-vis the maritime authorities, and on the international promotion of Colombia as a nautical destination.

In her opening remarks, Vice-Minister of Tourism Sandra Howard Taylor explained that, taking advantage of the natural resources and favorable conditions enjoyed by Colombia, the country has the potential to lead in the development of nautical tourism.
The Colombian Ministry of Tourism and the National Fund for Tourism have advanced a National Plan of Nautical Tourism covering 3,882 kilometres of shoreline on the country’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts and offshore islands. There are currently more than 21 developed projects with an investment amounting to US$13,200 million, including marinas, watersports facilities and docks. Much more development in this sector is projected, including small marinas on the offshore islands of Providencia and San Andres, as well as a new yacht marina in the historic coastal city of Cartagena.
In the Forum’s first presentation, US-based, Argentina-born Senior Project Manager at ATM Marinas, Esteban Biondi, offered a convincing case that modern marinas need to be made environmentally and socially beneficial as well as economically viable — and that with proper research and planning, these goals are achievable and practical. For example, while in the past, marina developers’ first instinct was to remove mangroves, Esteban showed beautiful examples of where docks were positioned just outside existing mangrove areas, allowing unimpeded waterflow to the mangroves and providing a spectacular natural backdrop to the marina. “We are selling an experience,” he said, “and authentic experiences — incorporating local culture, community and environment — have the highest value.” Regarding positive social impacts, for example providing local job training and business opportunities in and around marinas, he added, “Local community members have the highest potential to offer visitors an authentic experience.”

The following two presentations focused on two types of users of marinas and other recreational marine facilities: visiting cruisers and local boaters.
In my presentation I highlighted the cruising yacht sector in the Caribbean, outlining what cruisers want in a destination and how Colombia measures up. According to Compass Readers’ Surveys taken since 1997, as well as letters, articles and my own observations, cruisers are looking for five key “must haves”: a clean, unspoiled natural environment; friendly people with an interesting culture; a low crime rate; simple and inexpensive clearance procedures; and quality yachting facilities (including anchorages) and services. Colombia currently offers four out of five of these criteria, having a unique range of Caribbean coastal environments and offshore islands, much of it in protected reserves and all generally below the hurricane belt; a well-deserved reputation for friendliness and a diverse mix of cultures; an effective hold on crime against yachting visitors and other tourists; and some up-to-date marinas and a skilled labor force. Currently lacking are simple and inexpensive clearance procedures; the Temporary Import Permit required after just a few days is a real impediment. However, the intense focus that the government has now placed on the yachting sector is sure to help cut some of the existing red tape.

As the saying goes, “a rising tide floats all boats”, and Tracey Hart of the North American National Marine Manufacturers’ Association’s (NMMA) Discover Boating program spoke about how a national boating campaign that encourages recreational boating as a lifestyle benefits not only the growing communities of local boaters themselves but also the related retailers and manufacturers. The videos she showed, which in the US and Canada have been extremely successful in expanding boating as a fun family activity, and therefore stimulating related sales and manufacturing, resonated with the audience. Colombia, with a population of 49 million people and what is now the third-largest economy in Latin America (after Brazil and Mexico), has a pent-up in-country demand for more recreational boats and boating facilities.
A lively panel discussion with marina principals Manuel Julian Dávila of Marina Santa Marta and Javier Julvez of Marina Puerto Velero, Antonella Farah of the Regional Competitiveness Commission, and longtime Colombian liveaboard, marine biologist and boatbuilder Rodrigo Lopez, discussed the current Colombian marina scene and its potential.
This was followed by an outline by Captain Andrés Avella of nautical tourism as regulated by the Colombian Maritime Authority.

Rounding out the Forum was Natalia Bayona of Proexport, the Colombian agency tasked with the promotion of non-traditional exports in markets with potential, the attraction of foreign direct investment into Colombia, and the positioning of the country as an international tourist destination. Proexport has been instrumental in showcasing Colombia at the Miami International Boat Show and in developing the rapidly growing Cartagena International Boat Show.
Vice Minister Sandra Howard Taylor announced during the forum that in January 2015 the World ARC rally will visit Colombia for the first time, stopping at Marina Santa Marta en route from St. Lucia to the Panama Canal. She explained that the arrival of World ARC was initiated by Marina Santa Marta, which contacted the Ministry of Trade and Proexport to help “realize this opportunity of promotion and income generation for Colombia. Although the rally visits only Santa Marta, this will be an ideal opportunity to position Colombia as a yachting destination,” the Vice Minister added. “We’ll be able to showcase the offer that Colombia has for this segment of the market.”
The Vice Minister stated that a yachting tourist spends, on average, US$35 dollars a day just within a marina, while in the surrounding area — for example for accommodation, food and entertainment — this amount may increase to US$100. Accordingly, the Ministry has set a goal for 2030 to consolidate the country as a nautical destination in the Caribbean region, planning marinas with capacity for more than 11,000 vessels and a range of more than 150 complementary companies.

“We are already on the radar of this tourism sector,” the Vice Minister concluded, “Now our task is to continue adapting the infrastructure and continue the marketing of Colombia as a nautical country.”

See Colombia’s Nautical Tourism Plan at


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