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Intervention of the minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, María Angela Holguín at the ASEAN conference on tourism

Mié, 01/19/2011

Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  January 19th 2011

With gratitude and appreciation for this invitation, it is an honor for me to stand before you today and talk about Colombia. This is a unique opportunity to place Colombia in the ASEAN tourism authorities and communities. We value this stepping stone in the construction of the regional dialogue between ASEAN and Latin America, a dialogue that builds bridges and brings mutual benefit in both of our regions.

Colombia is a strategically placed country in the corner of the Americas.  Colombia has also been rightly tagged as a diverse country, and even though we account only for 0.7% of the earth´s surface, we have in our territory 10% of the planet´s biodiversity and 7% of the Amazon basin.

A very diverse range of ecosystems enriches Colombia: the Andes mountains with peaks nearing five thousand meters above sea level and perpetual snows; valleys such as the Orinoco in our Eastern Plains where temperatures reach thirty five degrees Celsius; two coasts, one overlooking the Pacific and one the Caribbean; deserts in the North and the Southwest and of course, the Amazon Rainforest.

Colombia´s cultural and geographic diversity make it an ideal tourist destination with multiple possibilities: beaches, deserts and rain forest landscapes; adventure, extreme sports and ecotourism; history, culture, music and talent, and business, health and entertainment, among many others.

Colombia´s main attribute and richness, however, is the Colombian people. Friendly faces and generous smiles always willing to make the tourist  feel welcome. Colombian people are hard working, determined, committed and friendly.

For all this, Colombia has been under scrutiny by many in the tourism and ecotourism industries, and I am proud to say that the country has passed this tests.

For decades, our country has had an internal security problem. Nowadays our cities are more secured than they were. Colombia is a country full of opportunities, economic growth and social inclusion.

There is still work to do in social development, poverty reduction, employment and achieving a higher competitiveness. It is a task we embrace with diligence, creativity and dedication. Security has brought us confidence, and confidence has brought us investment and openings to new markets and capitals.

Today, foreign investment is six times more than what it was four years ago and the negotiation of new trade and investment agreements, including agreements dealing with double taxation, are a reflection of one of our most important trade goals: providing financial and legal security for all investors.

Colombia has doubled its GDP in the last ten years and has been able to maintain positive growth indexes even in the years following the global economic crisis. Both, Latin America and Asia have seen satisfactory levels of growth and recovery between 2008 and 2010. This is a fact that confirms the rising of new powers in these regions.

The recent report from HSBC, called 'The World in 2050 ", predicts that in the next four decades the world economy will be boosted by the economies of Asia and Latin America, which will constitute more than half of the 30 top world economies, led by China. Without a doubt this is a time to think about partnerships and collaboration between our regions, which now have what the world needs most: biodiversity, food, water, energy, and a young workforce.

Colombia is looking to grow another six percent in the next four years, to export over forty billion dollars, to attract foreign investment, to encourage private investment and to strengthen our infrastructure. Building new roads, ports, airports and river ways, and to promote tourism are at the center of our development strategy. Tourism is an engine for growth and we would like to increase the number of tourists that visit the country.

Regarding our foreign policy, we have ambitious goals set for the next four years: we want to broaden our foreign initiatives and diversify our agenda; we want to include new partners in our international relations. Asia is the main region with whom we want to develop and strengthen ties, we want to open new markets and increase the foreign investment from Asia. We also want to open new diplomatic, consular and commercial representations in the region, and to deepen our participation in Asian and Latin American cooperation mechanisms.  We want to position ourselves within the international community as a strategic partner for Asia.

The next four years will be very exciting for Colombian tourism. It will receive more resources than it has ever done. In fact, we expect to duplicate the number of visitors and revenues during this period of time.

A clear evidence of the positive changes in the perceptions towards Colombia is that we were declared the second most interesting place to visit by the New York Times early this year. The fact that important events have recently taken place in the country, the progressive increase of visitors to Colombia, the number of line cruisers stopping in our ports, and the new number of hotel projects in this sector.

As I just mentioned, we are investing in tourism infrastructure to make sure it is safe and modern. As a matter of fact, investment in this sector has grown and the number of tourists that visited the country has increased by 11%.

We are a destination to explore. The hidden treasury of the Americas. Colombia is not only beach and rain forest; it is also a cultural destination. We host the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, the International Film Festival in Cartagena, the Ibero-American Theatre Festival of Bogota, the Classical and Religious Festival in Popayán and many Carnivals like the one in Barranquilla that became part of the world’s cultural heritage.

To conclude, allow me to reiterate my main message. Finding new partners is a priority of the foreign policy of the government I so proudly represent, and Asia has a priority seat in it.

We are deepening our integration with Chile, Mexico and Peru in the promotion of tourism and business in our region. We are working to strengthen ties between both sides of the Pacific, to have continuous dialogue and cooperation between the two regions.

This integration could include the definition of regional tourist products that will allow you to visit amazing places in all these countries; the Andes, the Caribbean, the Amazon, and the Pre-Hispanic cities, a framework for collective tourist promotion, including the establishment of shared offices in a number of Asian countries, and the negotiation of freedoms 3 and 4 to increase air traffic.

We look forward for a regional dialogue mechanism between ASEAN and the Latin America Rim Initiative. We believe that tourism is an ideal starting point.

Colombia, full of wonders and diversity, will host the third FEALAC Ecotourism Conference in 2012, the first of its kind in Latin America.  We will be honored and happy to welcome you in our country.

This could be your opportunity to visit the land that gave birth to the great and magic stories of our Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez and that inspires the vibrant and rhythmic music of our wonderful Shakira.

We will be honored and happy to welcome you in our country.

Thank you the invitation

(End)

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