“Magical realism” will be familiar to many as the Latin American 20th century literary movement perhaps most typified by Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez and his international bestseller, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Literary globetrotters are already familiar with the Colombian town of Cartagena, home to the first overseas offshoot of the UK’s Hay Festival of Literature. So perhaps the Colombian government thought it wasn’t stepping too far beyond the bounds of literary taste to choose “magical realism” as a new advertising slogan for its tourism industry.
According to Proexport Colombia, the government’s promotion body, the new campaign aims to get the message out that Colombia is not only about Caribbean beaches and postcard towns like Cartagena, but also:
… unique experiences that tourists can enjoy in Colombian destinations, such as hiking on beaches in the midst of a parade of sea turtles, discovering a lost city, sailing with whales or visiting historic places immortalized in famous literary works.
That, strangely, is the only hint of the origins of the term “magical realism” in Proexport’s presentation. But then Proexport has a taste for obliqueness as a literary device: its previous tourism campaign hinted at Colombia’s recent bloody history of murder and kidnap with the slogan, “The only risk is wanting to stay”.
Many tourists have taken that risk. The number of visitors to the country doubled from nearly 1m in 2005 to nearly 2m in 2012, an annual increase of about 10 per cent over seven years, three times the rate of growth in the global tourism industry.
The new campaign aims to double that number by 2014. That would put Colombia ahead of Chile and Peru in visitor numbers and trailing Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, the region’s top destinations. Colombia’s goal is to welcome 7m visitors by 2030.
Maria Claudia Lacouture, who heads Proexport, writes in the presentation:
Things that might be normal for us, such as the seven tones of the waters of San Andres; the five colours of the Caño Cristales river bed; the green carpet of the Coffee Cultural Landscape; the inspiring streets of Cartagena de Indias; the Sierra Nevada on the Caribbean shore, for a tourist, are a magical image, a revealing moment, an unforgettable experience.
Tourism has already turned into the third biggest earner of hard currency for Colombia after oil and mining, with about $3bn received last year. The government wants that number to hit $4bn in the next two years. Global hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott are already present. In the past 10 years, 20,000 new rooms have been built in Colombia and there are currently 60 other hotel projects in the pipeline.
However, according to local tour operators, hotels in Colombia’s Caribbean are still more expensive than those in comparable destinations along the blue sea. So while foreign visitor numbers are up, last year more than 3m Colombians chose to go elsewhere in search of a spot of magic.
Source: Financial Times