Colombia’s tourism leaders are tapping into the power of local music to convey the warmth and welcoming spirit of the Colombian people, who want to share their profound sense of national pride and optimism with travelers, based on the country’s surging popularity in recent years.
International travel to Colombia is up more than 20 percent in 2017, and much of that has to do with all of the new public and private investment in tourism infrastructure during the last few years. The nation’s stable political climate, sustainable economic development strategies, and a healthy tax incentive to lure global hospitality brands to Colombia are also contributing to the robust growth.
However, local tourism leaders believe that Colombia’s modern physical infrastructure and its protected natural environment will only go so far to differentiate the country as a travel destination in the eyes of next-generation travelers. Skift’s Supertraveler research shows that savvy travelers today want to return “transformed and inspired” from their trips. They also want to “fulfill their own quests” by designing their own unique travel journeys.
“For us, travel is not just about transporting yourself to a unique place physically, because there are very few places in the world where people haven’t already been,” says Julián Guerrero, vice president of tourism at ProColombia, the national organization responsible for promoting international travel and trade. “Instead, the secret to creating a truly unique travel experience is really the connection between the inner and physical experiences, which are different for every individual.”
That was the motivation behind ProColombia’s development of the new international tourism campaign: Colombia: Land of Sabrosura, launched in early December in tune with ProColombia’s 25th anniversary. “Sabrosura” is a local word without a direct English translation, referring to an emotional state of joy, a positive attitude, beauty or flavor, depending on the context. It is also uniquely experienced by each individual.
“For Colombia, music and culture play a major part of that feeling,” explains Guerrero. “Music especially is a language that communicates directly to the heart and the mind of our visitors. It also provides a great way to explore, discover, and understand the core meaning of a destination.”
Colombia’s varied musical heritage plays an important part in its national identity, blending Indigenous, African, and European influences. Adding to the multi-faceted, multicultural appeal, Colombia is the only country in South America that has Pacific, Atlantic, Andes, rainforest, and tropical river delta ecosystems. Each of those regions not only feels different in terms of its cultural influences and landscape, they sound different as well.
Altogether, the nation is home to more than 1,000 musical rhythms, including the endemic Vallenato originating near the Sierra Nevada, the highest coastal snow peak mountain in the world; the Joropo, coming from the Eastern Plains in the Orinoco River valley region; the Porro in the Pacific and the Porro in the Caribbean; the traditional Bambuco in Bogota; the Guasca from Medellin; and regional dance-orientated Cumbia, which originated as a courtship dance in West Indian culture.
Most well known to international ears, salsa can be heard throughout the country, but it has especially evolved as a musical genre with its own native influences in the city of Cali — home to the World Salsa Festival every September.
Therefore, Guerrero suggests, as travelers move through different parts of Colombia, their experiences will have specific musical dialects to accompany their journeys, each contributing to a soundtrack representing a specific moment in the traveler journey.
“We’re also using music platforms such as Deezer and Spotify to promote Colombia in a unique way through sound,” he says. “I think travel is about the complete journey that we undertake when we’re in a place that has an emotional or spiritual effect.”
Exploring Colombia Through Music
For the Colombia: Land of Sabrosura campaign, ProColombia produced 11 videos — including the launch video above — highlighting the country’s internationally acclaimed performers: Sebastián Yatra, Piso 21, Maia, Martina La Peligrosa, Herencia De Timbiquí and Alexis Play.
Together, they deliver a funky fusion of traditional Colombian melodies with the newest Latin pop, reggaeton, and urban sounds. And for hearing-impaired travelers, numerous artists and dancers in the videos provide sign language to help communicate the overarching message of health, happiness, and harmony.
“It’s both a celebration of ProColombia’s 25th anniversary and a unique message to convey to the world associated with music,” says Guerrero. “We tried to create the Colombian version of ‘Hakuna Matata’ (meaning: no worries), which everyone associates with Africa and The Lion King. So, the word we came up with is ‘Sabrosura.’ It’s a difficult to define word, but it relates to the joyfulness, warmth, musicality of Colombia. That’s exactly what we want to convey.”
As such, the music is an interpreter of a specific place, and the people who inhabit it, whether they’re locals who’ve lived there for generations or visitors passing through for a few days. Guerrero emphasizes that music is a shared language, fluid and malleable. And the people of Colombia are eager to share their songs these days with foreign visitors, because they’re filled with a newfound pride based on how many people from around the world are suddenly coming to visit them.
In fact, he adds, Colombians are the country’s greatest strength, noting that Colombia is ranked third on the Happy Planet Index.
“That says something about our character as people, and at the end of the day, no matter how much technology influences tourism, like chatbots and social media, the reason why people travel is always because it’s a human experience,” states Guerrero. “We feel we have a strength there. People that come to Colombia fall in love with the landscape, the history, the gastronomy, but they also fall in love with the people and the passion they have for life. And one of the ways we can share that passion is through music.”