Interview with Jaime Alberto Cabal
National President of the National Federation of Merchants of Colombia
Do any of these proposals have continuity?
Of course, we will strengthen the Events Industry by giving it continuity and strengthening our version of the MICE Congress and in 2023 we will bring a new proposal with our "1st International Congress of Experiential Tourism", with the support of the UNWTO. We will hold it in the city of Santa Marta in the first quarter of the year and we will invite destinations to participate with their experiential offer, with an innovative component, which is that through a competition and a 10-minute presentation of this offer with the juries that take part in the discussions, the new destination will be chosen to hold the event the following year.
This is a bet that generates value for the regions, since by participating in an event they will be able to take an International Congress to the region, thus boosting the economy and the Tourism Value Chain.
You were Deputy Secretary of the UNWTO. Do you believe that the UNWTO offers countries a common strategy to face the challenges of international tourism?
I believe that the UNWTO provides a very valuable frame of reference for the actions of both governments and businesses around the world. However, the effectiveness of the strategies that are implemented will depend on the added value that each of the organisations make on the baselines provided by the UNWTO.
For example, many countries recognise and promote tourism as the engine of economic growth, seeking to increase the competitiveness and sustainability of related businesses, generating incentives for tourists, among others. However, very few entities are promoting the use of tools and technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, such as big data, internet of things (IoT), blockchain or augmented reality in the sector. Analysts and prestigious organisations such as the IDB have stressed the importance of these tools for tourism, as the future of business involves their use, but even so, there are not many clear policies towards this goal. I believe that this is where the difference lies: in how much added value is effectively applied in tourism in each country.
Do any of these proposals have continuity?
Some still remember you for your positive time at the UNWTO, and knowing this organisation and the current needs of the international industry, what would you not propose or do again?
In my opinion, since this is a multilateral organisation, we should strengthen the implementation of the strategic lines that are dictated by the secretariat, making it more accessible and better known to the most remote and lesser known countries, to give them the opportunity to integrate their tourism offer into the tourist circuits.
And what objectives would you propose?
The main thing is to adapt the tourist offer and products to the needs of today's customers and to anticipate the needs of tomorrow. To do this, I believe it is essential to take advantage of information technologies and the fourth industrial revolution. Once considerable progress has been made in this area, we will be able to think about substituting the sectors that traditionally contribute to economic growth in developing countries, such as hydrocarbons, commodities, etc.
Tourism and commerce are closely related, what programmes are you developing in this strategic relationship?
FENALCO, industries, businesses and other establishments related to tourism in Colombia have been working to promote the concept of "shopping tourism". In essence, the aim is to bring the local commercial offer to tourists, to invite them to become part of the culture and the social and economic dynamics of each destination; in other words, to link tourists to different routes towards the purchase of handicrafts, gastronomic products, etc. Our affiliates are clear about this important segment of the market and seek to match the local tourist conditions in the best way possible.
There is a lot of talk about the digitalisation of the tourism industry, what plans are being developed by FENALCO?
During the Pandemic, at the initiative of Fenalco and inviting Avianca Airlines to participate, we took on the task of making Colombia's destinations and their tourism offerings visible, telling travellers that they were ready to receive them, with a campaign on networks "What you want is Colombia" that connected the desire to travel with the destination. This campaign not only presented the offer to the traveller, but also allowed them to book in real time with the advantage of a one-year validity to be able to take the service.
We managed to integrate more than 500 tourism products nationwide and generate more than 1,400 packages sold via the platform.
Do you consider that the country's industry in general, and in particular, the members of other sectors other than tourism integrated in Fenalco, are aware of the importance of tourism for the development of the territories?
Of course they are. The arrival of national or foreign visitors to tourist destinations entails a development per se, as these tourists consume goods and services that are not directly accounted for by the tourism sector in the national accounts, but which is highly relevant. Industries and businesses are very clear about this situation, so that they include in their financial analyses and projections the potential arrival of tourists to the territories in order to make business decisions.
It should also be borne in mind that for regions that do not have industrial potential or very advanced technological development, tourism is their greatest bet for sustainability and growth. For this reason, it is a priority to support the tourism business sector in these areas so that the cascade effect brings social and economic benefits for local populations.
Do Colombians in general consider tourism to be important for the country's development?
The ordinary citizen, as a tourist, recognises that tourism generates development. You go on a trip to any tourist destination in the country and you find an important commercial movement, from the food supply to the artistic and cultural industry, as well as transport and other related tourist services.
Moreover, we are talking about a sector that generates close to one million direct jobs in the country and 3.5% of GDP in 2021. All this is perceived by citizens when they travel, due to our culture of going on frequent trips throughout the country, as our diversity in the regions allows a whole range of possibilities and tourist offers so that Colombians can choose what best suits their budget and preferences.
You are a man of great international experience, what do you think will be the evolution of the international tourism industry in the coming years?
In the coming years, the evolution of the tourism industry will be around experiential tourism based on user knowledge, linking this customer knowledge provided by different algorithms to the tourism offer of the regions. Places and experiences based on anticipating what the end consumer expects. Digital experiences of hybrid tourism, for example, in the world of the metaverse; in general, it is about the integration of technology into the areas addressed by tourism, such as cultural, experiential, gastronomic, etc. I believe that the tools to reach this goal are provided by the fourth industrial revolution.
Mr. Cabal, tell us a secret, have you considered making the leap to international tourism management?
From my current position as president of FENALCO, I have promoted actions to promote the inclusion of Colombia as a destination with high tourism potential.
I believe that, in a globalised world, not considering this leap is to become obsolete. Currently, our association is managing exploratory and trade missions to Venezuela, within the framework of the reactivation of diplomatic and trade relations with the neighbouring country. And one of our strategic axes to promote with the neighbouring country is tourism.
Finally, Mr. Cabal, as a Colombian, do you have a tip for visiting Colombia that is outside the usual offer we can find?
Our country is of course well known for traditional destinations such as Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena, but there is another Colombia to discover, among which I would like to highlight destinations such as Tumaco, Caño Cristales and the Amazon. What is really special about our country is the great variety it offers, from the desire to know the biodiversity of the Amazon, to one of the three cathedrals built in salt in the world in Zipaquirá, or even historical tourism, which now with our reactivation with Venezuela is proposed to establish "the route of the liberator", a route that seeks to integrate the key passages of Simon Bolivar in his campaign for our continent.
Dear Mr Cabal, thank you for your experienced answers, and please do not go too far from international management.
The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.