Medellin: A Redemption Story

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Medellin, Colombia (Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau )© Medellin Convention and Visitors Bureau
Medellin, Colombia (Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau )

A city long associated with the infamous criminal Pablo Escobar, Medellin has spent a fair share of time being referred to as one of the most dangerous destinations in South America, if not the world.

Between 1990 to 1993, more than 6,000 people were murdered annually in the Colombian city, according to a report in The Guardian.

Yet by some accounts, it was also Escobar who (in his own way) helped to turn the city in a new direction when in 1982 he launched a campaign known as Medellin Without Slums, an effort to do away with the city’s poorest neighborhoods and provide a life of dignity for its most downtrodden residents.

Escobar’s effort is just one small highlight in what’s been a massive, years-long undertaking for the city, which some are now calling a “journey to redemption.” That effort has included strategic plans to set a new agenda for Medellin in 1995 and 1999, for example, and numerous socially minded, architectural interventions in poor areas including libraries, community buildings and cultural centers.

All of which still merely scratches the surface of the activity that has been taking place in Medellin, but the result of the ongoing efforts has been a new reputation in the world community, and increasing optimism amid a growing tourist economy.

“Years ago, Medellin was one of the most violent cities and now people come here and can see the transformation, from an economic, political and a cultural perspective,” begins Ana Maria Moreno Gomez, director of the Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

During a detailed interview with TravelPulse, Moreno Gomez laid out the case supporting Medellin’s transformation into what she now describes as destination on the rise, a place that’s become an emerging arts and culture hub in Latin America, while also showcasing remarkable social and urban transformation, all of which has attracted an increasing number of business and leisure travelers.

Among the highlights of the growing tourist economy:

—From January to August, Medellin saw an 18 percent increase in U.S. visitors over the same time period in 2017.

—Between January and August Medellin experienced a 23 percent increase overall in foreign travelers

—In January, Medellin won the 2018 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice award in the category of “Top Destinations on the Rise,” an achievement based on millions of reviews and opinions collected in a single year from TripAdvisor travelers worldwide.

—Between 2010 and 2018, Medellin has welcomed a variety of new hotel brands including CityExpress, Accor Hotels, Hilton, Atton, Marriott, Best Western, Intercontinental, La Quinta, Bluedoors and NH.

—Medellín went from having 176 hotels in 2016 with 7,370 rooms to 197 hotels and 8,628 rooms in 2018. By 2019, 34 new projects will be part of the territory of Antioquia.

Business travel figures are also respectable. Medellin has been welcoming an average of 83,000 business travelers per year since 2014.

“The boom in business tourism, events and conventions is one of the sectors that is responsible for driving this type of investment for the destination, and has led to the arrival of international hotel chains such as Marriot, with a multimillion-dollar investment for its hotel in El Poblado and Hilton, which will build a hotel with 220 rooms,” said Moreno Gomez.

It doesn’t hurt that Colombia as a whole was also recently recognized as one of the top 10 places to retire by International Living.

In fact, records show an 85 percent increase of U.S. Social Security payments to Colombia in 2017, as compared to 2010, making it the top country in Latin America and the Caribbean in Social Security receipts after Mexico, according to the Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

All of this positive data is no accident, says Moreno Gomez.

“Different players including private entities, public entities and academia came together and created a plan with milestones and when different groups in city come together and have common goals, it’s much easier. The progress has been much speedier and more successful because so many people worked together,” she explained.

The city’s new, more positive status is also helped along by its variety of natural attractions, said Moreno Gomez, who explained that Medellin is home to a great deal of biodiversity, including rare plants and animals. Medellin’s attractions also include an impressive array of museums and yearly festivals and celebrations.

And perhaps most uniquely, there are now graffiti tours in neighborhoods that were once among Medellin’s most violent and overrun with crime, where today there are arts and culture and other attractions. The most well-known of these offerings is in Comuna 13, one of the most notorious neighborhoods, which has had a miraculous transformation.

Led by locals, these small walking tours receive glowing reviews from those who have participated in them and rave about the opportunity to see the “real Medellin.”

“You can learn about the past, present, and future of a community on these tours,” Moreno Gomez continued.

Tourist attractions have also recently grown to include visiting coffee plantations or flower farms, providing an opportunity to learn about a way of life and engage in a cultural exchange.

And as Medellin expands and refines its tourist offerings, airlift has also been ramping up. There are now some direct flights serving the city from Miami and others in the works from Orlando.

If there’s one message Moreno Gomez hopes people will now remember about Medellin, it is that the city is a place with a great deal to offer both business and leisure travelers.

“For people who want to go to a city, who want to have a gastronomic experience, who want to see arts or culture, Medellin is a one-stop destination where you can have a variety of life-changing experiences,” she said.

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