Another day and there’s yet another article in the Colombian press purring over the increase in foreign investment in Colombia. I find it very interesting to read these pieces and try and interpret the message behind the text. Clearly, Colombia is headed in the right direction and people are prepared to wager their dollars, yen, euros and pounds here. Fantastic.
I am curious though to know the figures behind the figures, let’s call this the “hidden data” of what all this foreign investment really means. I am certain that the articles in El Tiempo and Portafolio are not wrong, but, are they being dissected and editorialized by the correct economists? Are we reading nothing more than manipulative press releases carefully constructed by the Colombian government’s PR department which have then been diligently copied and pasted into favorable press and delivered to the appropriate outlets to maintain the image that everything is going positively swimmingly here?
It’s an interesting situation.
Tourism grew by 4,6 per cent in 2013 for the first period of the year in contrast to the figures from 2012. The tourism ministry cited arrivals of almost 685,000 foreigners arriving in Colombia between the months of January and March against 654,000 in 2012.
Sure, I work in tourism and in a destination that’s incredibly specialized and off the beaten track. But, my figures – albeit hardly representative of the country as a whole – have been much lower. I know from friends in the industry in Cartagena that they have had a terrible year so far. This is not Cartagena del Chaira in Caquetá; this is Cartagena de Indias, Colombia’s eternal capital of tourism. Things are not as rosy as they are made out to be.
Let’s take the figure of 685,000 foreign visitors to Colombia. We can see in the statistics that 150,000 of these arrived on cruise ships. Now we can argue until blue in the face about the economic significance of 150,000 tourists walking the same route in Cartagena/ Santa Marta/ San Andres or wherever and dropping an estimated $75 US per head in precious few trinket shops on the ubiquitous vueltiao and so on.
How many of the remaining 535,000 foreign visitors were here on business for a few hours or 2-3 days in Bogota, Medellin, Barranquilla or Cali? While the Pacific Alliance summit in Cali in May cannot be included in my ruminations, I am just wondering if future statistics will be altered to include all of the foreign diplomats and fixers used to host the dozen or so presidents in attendance in May.
How many were in Cartagena for conventions?
And finally, how many are Venezuelan citizens? Go to Bogota and visit the Zona T, Parque 93, or anywhere between Calles 100 and 116 just to hear Venezuelan accents everywhere. These areas of Bogota have become a “Little Caracas”. This demographic of course and those buying in Cartagena and other wealthy sectors is just one portion of the Venezuelan diaspora moving to Colombia. I would be very interested to see the figures of working Venezuelans moving across at Cucuta and thereabouts.
Now, the figure in today’s El Espectador states that direct foreign investment in Colombia in the first trimester of 2013 reached the staggering figure of US$ 3.706 million. This is a chunk of change. And where did it all mainly go? Into petroleum exploration and mining.
What interests me the most is that we are almost obliged to be impressed with this quantity of money. And it is impressive, in particular for a country in conflict. But, we are made to see the investment in dollars rather than in the number and diversity of companies. This investment of US$ 3.706 million could in theory be spread across three companies only deciding to invest in Medellin. This, of course is only an example of a theory and I am certain that a total investment of this size must represent a greater breadth of options. But, with a majority of the money said to find its way into mining and petroleum, how is this of benefit and for the greater good of Colombia? This is a narrow field in itself.
I would like to see statistics and figures drawn up regarding small and medium size foreign investments across the board. We are constantly bombarded with images and advertising in the press and on CNN International that Colombia now has favorable banking for investment and is freeing up some of the bureaucracy to make foreign investment the norm, but, as a small business owner, a foreigner and a freelancer, I have yet to see this. I think the benefits are only aimed at mega companies bringing their brand of know-how.
Renewing my visa here Colombia has become no easier since I moved here in 2007 despite claims to the contrary. I want to know to whom the improvements of which the government speaks are applied?
May, for us in Mompós, was about the worst month in our history since opening in 2008. My colleagues in Cartagena also claimed to have suffered their worst month as well. June has fared a little better and July will improve. Ironically, we had better months than this when we were flooded.
I make a big deal about explaining to people that Colombia is not one of the traditionally “cheap” countries to visit in South America. Keep going south from here through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and you’ll find most things pretty comfortably priced. But, one tourist told me recently that he knew that word was out that Colombia is now more expensive than most European countries. With the current economic crisis this may well be so. Why wouldn’t a European tourist then stay in their own backyard?
And for locals. If it costs you more to travel to Mompos within Colombia for Semana Santa than to fly to Quito and see the processions, what are you going to do? Suffer 14 hours over crappy roads to then be tumbado by costenos or fly directly and comfortably into the neighboring capital city?
That Colombia deters the cheapest visitors is not a bad thing, but things need to remain in context. There is no infrastructure, and whatever there is, is poor. Public transport is shoddy, unreliable and overpriced. Try and travel Colombia above a backpacker budget and below luxury status and you’ll be skinned alive with the prices. Renting a car is nigh on possible for the insurance, and why would you anyway with the driving here, the quality of the roads and the pathetic nature of the signage. Just to get out of Bogota seems a Heath Robinson affair.
Colombia is surging ahead but losing sight of the end goal. This has happened before on the continent. Argentina was a huge economy, albeit largely agricultural and providing to a depressed and critical European market during and post WW2. The Argentines never diversified their industry and economy, preferring to behave as Europeans but maintain a childlike economic outlook. Brazil also went through what we could call two decades of spring. Brazilian passivity to the corruption and lack of investment in urgently required social ventures has finally come to an end due to the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup. Well done Brazil and thank you FIFA for drawing light on a desperate situation.
What is going to happen in Colombia? Banks continue to behave irresponsibly with loans and no one can afford – even married and with a degree – to move out of the family home. Bogota’s Rosales is now more expensive per square meter than an apartment in Ipanema. Hardly value I think you’d agree.
Interesting times indeed.