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Tourism sector

Colombia: ‘Capital of Salsa’ looks to tourism to create jobs

Colombia plans to use some of its peace dividend to boost its tourism sector that had struggled during decades of conflict. An ILO study looks at how the city of Cali can promote tourism, and, as a result, generate jobs.

Feature | 03 July 2018
CALI, Colombia (ILO News) – The self-proclaimed salsa capital of the world, Cali moves to the infectious beat that can be heard in every street corner, in every bar and in every taxi. For music and dance enthusiasts, that is a major draw to Colombia’s third largest city.

Now that the peace process has put an end to half a century of armed conflict, Cali is looking to boost its tourism potential to create badly needed jobs and economic development. And salsa has an important role to play in that endeavour, according to an ILO study which looks at the city’s potential for decent job creation in tourism.

The central challenge is to strengthen the tourism value chain in Cali, and that means increasing competitiveness.

The document says that natural and cultural attractions, like salsa dancing, arts, food – the region is famous for its sancocho de gallina soup – parks and rural landscapes, sports and adventure activities, can be pillars for the development of Cali as a touristic destination.

The document recommends capitalizing on salsa dancing as an icon of tourism, but also says improving security and actively promoting tourism are critical to attracting more visitors to Cali, which is also a popular starting point for visits to nearby coffee-growing plantations and picturesque villages in the Valle del Cauca region.

“The ILO report contains very clear conclusions on how to promote tourism in this city,” says Julián Felipe Franco, Secretary of Tourism of the Valle del Cauca department, of which Cali is the capital.

Tourism is a dynamic sector ... which generates jobs for the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as young people and women."

John Bliek, ILO expert
Franco points out that the Colombian peace process has led to a 10 to 12 per cent increase in the number of tourists visiting Cali in recent years, including some 200,000 a year visiting from abroad. The official says authorities hope to double the number of foreign visitors over the next two years, though he agreed with the ILO report that more needs to be done to put the city on the international tourism map.

ILO expert John Bliek, who coordinated the study, says tourism has a strong potential to generate more and better jobs in Cali and the rest of the department. Job creation, particularly for young people and in rural areas, is seen as an important step in healing the wounds left by decades of conflict.

“Tourism is a dynamic sector, which is growing in many parts of the world, and which generates jobs for the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as young people and women. It is also an alternative, an important secondary activity which provides income for families in rural areas, together with agricultural activities,” says Bliek.

The report highlights the importance of ensuring persons working in the sector receive adequate training, as tourism companies staffed by a well-qualified workforce will find themselves in a better position to innovate and improve their offers – which in turn will help them attract more visitors. It also points to a shortage of guides who are able to share knowledge of the region’s natural and cultural riches.

The ILO study also highlighted the importance of concerted action by the various players to promote Cali as a tourism destination, including joint activities, and the inclusion of local communities.

For his part, private tour operator Mauricio Novoa believes Cali should flaunt its assets. “Salsa, for example, expresses a rhythm and a style of life that are an integral part of the culture and the economic dynamism that one breathes here. We need to use that to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world.”