G Adventures' Plunge into Colombia
Cartagena, Colombia (photo by David Cogswell)
The adventure tour operator has been offering tours to Colombia for the last three years. “But this year we really decided (we were) going to invest in the region as a destination,” said Matt Kinch, regional manager of Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela for G Adventures. “In 2014 and prior we had just two tours in Colombia. Now we have expanded to ten variations of tours for 2015.”
Currently, G Adventures is partnering with ProColombia, the government agency promoting exports, to offer attractive price reductions to push up the number of visitors. G has seen its business to Colombia jump 184 percent in 2015 and hopes to do even better this year.
Through July 31, bookings will be discounted 15 percent for all Colombia trips for travel by Dec. 31. To take advantage of the promotion, guests must use promo code 15TB015COL01.
Colombia has been off most tourist maps for decades, and it’s still not top-of-mind for many travelers. But G Adventures believes now is the time for Colombia and wants to be in the forefront of opening the country to tourism.
“It’s been a big push to get into the destination,” said Kinch. “It’s a really good time to bring tourism back to Colombia. And we’re getting a lot of great feedback.”
What most Americans have heard about Colombia up until now has not been the kind of thing that would inspire them to travel there.
“People still don’t have a knowledge of what Colombia is like,” said Kinch. “It’s still very much flagged by its past of being known for crime and drugs and the years of Pablo Escobar and those kinds of things.”
But G Adventures wants to raise Colombia’s profile, even if it is the only one doing it. They know the marketing will be partly an uphill push, but they take a special pride in being at the leading edge of the movement.
“It’s been a big push for us to make sure we are leading the way and changing the image of Colombia,” said Kinch. “We are sending people there and they get a totally different feel for the country. We’re finding that with everyone traveling there right now, they come in with one expectation and it’s been really blown away. We’ve been good at creating ambassadors for Colombia. It’s been known for such a dark past, but you really don’t feel it when you travel there.”
The Santa Marta region and the Sierra Nevada along the Caribbean coast of Colombia is part of G’s new Colombia Caribbean Express.
“This is an area that has been really off limits,” said Kinch, “especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s when it was a really dangerous place. Tourism doesn’t just bounce back from a past like that. It definitely takes time. But there is a lot to see and do there.”
But as unappealing as it may have seemed in the past, the rewards of visiting now are great.
“It’s so lush and there are so many things to do in such a small area, so many places,” said Kinch. “You have the jungle, so many beaches, historical towns like Santa Marta and then you have places like Minca. Those are usually places you find in a country but you might have to travel hours and hours to get in between those places. But in Colombia they are so close, within an hour’s drive to almost anywhere.”
The tourism industry is trying hard to raise tourism, and so prices have remained favorable.
“Their focus is not so much on getting the best price for a hotel or a package,” said Kinch. “They want to see tourism coming back to these regions. One of the things we’ve noticed as we’ve entered Colombia is that we’re at a time when people are working together, (and) prices are low.”
Kinch sees this as a time when a more authentic, immersive style of travel is taking hold in Colombia.
“The majority of travelers in past years have been coming by cruise ships, or really big bus trips or all-inclusives, or things like that,” said Kinch. “But you are now seeing the emergence of adventure travel, and it’s really growing. Colombia is a perfect adventure travel destination, the prices are still good. And the infrastructure is there, so you can travel comfortably.”
But even though few tour operators in the American market have followed G into Colombia, G’s people believe Colombia is about to blossom as a destination.
“There is such a feeling in Colombia that it’s about to take off,” said Kinch. “I strongly feel that over the next three to five years that Colombia is going to be on everyone’s’ adventure travel list of places to visit. There is so much diversity, so much to see."
This year, G Adventures expanded its selection of Colombia tours to eight basic tours.
“We’re going to continue with them, to continue promoting them and seeing them grow,” said Kinch. “We’ve taken a very aggressive move in introducing that many products into Colombia. We anticipate them growing. Just by creating them we’ve seen impressive growth in travel numbers in comparison to last year.”
The company also offers several styles of travel to meet the needs of travelers with different needs and expectations.
“We have the classic tour ... of the country’s highlights, giving an introduction of the places you are visiting,” said Kinch. “In Cartagena, for example, you get a city tour and then there is a little free time there. We try not to pack it too tight. We leave some extra time for exploring on (your) own. There are different combinations (you) can book.”
G also offers a "Yolo" series, for travelers 18-39. It’s a little more basic. Accommodations are rougher. There is more hiking.
Why would G recommend Colombia over any other Latin American destination?
“We’re hoping if people travel to Peru and enjoy it, then next time they will consider Ecuador or Colombia,” said Kinch. “We’re not necessarily trying to compete with ourselves. We’re trying to make sure we’re offering new and exciting travel destinations all the time. People have a great time with us. They may not consider Colombia first time. But maybe if they return.
“Colombia in general has everything that an adventure traveler is looking for,” said Kinch, “Sierra hiking. The lost city of Teyuna is one of the most amazing places in Latin America. Colombia has a lot of offer every traveler, some of most beautiful beaches, also mountains, cloud forests and modern cities.”
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