Although the country is aware that progress must be made towards a cleaner energy scheme that replaces the use of polluting fuels, as is currently the case, many sectors of the economy are concerned about how this transition will be made and how much time will it take. Against this, One of the biggest questions is where the resources will come from to replace those currently contributed to the Colombian economy by the hydrocarbon industry, which is estimated at 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
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«The hydrocarbons industry is essential for the economic stability of the country, national financing,» warn the Colombian Association of Oil and Gas (ACP), after noting that about 40 percent of exports depend on this sector, 20 percent percent of the nation’s tax revenue and 76 percent of royalties.
The bet of the National Government to replace that income, as it has been stated on repeated occasions, is tourism and clean energy.
“Given the beauty and potential that the country has in clean energy generation, Colombia could perfectly, in a short term, in a transition, fill the gaps that the fossil economy can leave, which is precisely what we have depended on” said President Gustavo Petro.
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The problem for some experts is that Petro wants this change to materialize in the short term and, for the moment, there is a great distance between the dollars that arrive in Colombia for tourism and those that oil leaves.
While the foreign exchange generated by travel and air transport left the country 5,263 million dollars at the end of September 2022, due to exports of oil and its derivatives, 15,081 million dollars were reached, that is, they are separated by more than 9,800 million of dollars.
It means that Colombia would need to triple its income from tourism to replace those that are generated by oil. In addition, in terms of gross domestic product, while hydrocarbons represent close to 5 percent, tourism is at 1.5 percent.
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This despite the notable recovery that tourism has had and that, according to estimates by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, would contribute some 45 billion pesos to the GDP of 2022.
For his part, ACP calculations indicate that given the high prices of crude oil, the contribution of companies in the sector to the Nation in 2022 would add up to 58 billionrepresented in royalties, economic rights, income tax and dividends from Ecopetrol, among others.
Paula Cortés, president of the Colombian Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies (Anato), told EL TIEMPO that this purpose could be achieved, but not in the short term but in the long term. “We must continue working hand in hand and, in the long term, become the first line of the country’s economy. Getting to have more than 15 million tourists would not only be a task for this government, but also for the next ones, which would have to work online for this purpose,” she said.
According to figures from Colombian Migration, between January and November, more than 4 million non-resident foreign visitors entered the country, representing a growth of more than double (129.1 percent) compared to the same period of the previous year. And the goal is to close 2022 with 4.6 million tourists.
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Tourism is the second generator of foreign exchange in the country, but there is a long way to go to become that great generator
José Duarte, president of Cotelco, a union of hoteliers, points out, for his part, that Colombia has enormous potential to continue attracting investment to the tourism sectorand this should continue to be guaranteed in a stable legal framework, regardless of its origin, while the Government has the possibility of continuing to leverage more investment, seeking to impact the development of the sector throughout the country.
“That tourism is being considered as a source of substitution of a great capacity to generate foreign currency such as the hydrocarbon sector, as it is an issue that must be seen in the light of policies and initiatives to achieve that purpose. Tourism is the second generator of foreign currency in the country, but there is still a long way to go to become that great generator”, the spokesperson for the hoteliers specified.
So things, The challenges for tourism to become the new ‘oil’ are great. According to the president of Anato, a significant investment is required in airport and road infrastructure, more training for businessmen and communities, expansion of the country’s air connectivity, among others.
In addition, it should be mentioned that the implementation of a Ministry of Tourism that is above entities attached to the Ministry of Commerce and that generates the guidelines for their execution should be considered.
“The transversality of the tourism industry and at the same time its relevance in the economy requires it. In this way, in the long term it would be possible,” said Cortés.
At the moment, the country continues to prepare to attend this increased tourism. According to the Minister of Commerce, Germán Umaña, air connectivity has been one of the main axes for international promotion.
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As of November last year, there were 29 airlines connecting 11 destinations in Colombia with 27 countries in the world and 45 international cities. With this, it was possible to have more than 1,200 weekly frequencies to the national territory and 216,000 weekly seats.
In addition to this, due to its importance for the development of the regions, both the Ministry of Commerce and ProColombia have been focusing on promoting the decentralization of international connectivity, to add more and more cities within the frequency offer for visitors.
And although these advances are and will continue to be important to develop the purpose of the Government, the voices of alert so that this transition is carried out gradually and in an organized manner is maintained.
“The energy transition is a reality and a necessity. But it must be done in an orderly and fair manner, guaranteeing that the resources that would not be received by the mining-energy sectors are available,” said María Claudia Lacouture, president of the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham Colombia).
He also pointed out that one cannot talk about suffocating an industry without being clear about how its resources are supplied, so «we must be clear and avoid generating uncertainty, especially in a year as challenging in economic matters as 2023 is.»
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Faced with the issue, Francisco Lloreda, president of the ACP, insisted that «diversifying the export basket should be an objective, but not at the cost of leaving the industry.» He added that the development of sectors such as tourism has great potential, but it will take time. “A triple transition is needed: energy, fiscal and royalty, and productive,” he concluded.