"The security situation has changed, and perhaps more important, the perception of the security situation has changed, which is fundamental for foreign tourists to come to Colombia," Mr. Zarruk says, adding that officials would like to see the number of tourists double this year to 2 million. "Colombia should see many millions of tourists a year."
In order to encourage that, Colombia recently launched a campaign with the slogan, "Colombia is Passion." The goal is to change the country's image abroad by inviting media, celebrities, and politicians to experience the country's positive aspects first hand. In April, the government invited 130 tour operators, airline, and cruise line executives to visit. And event organizers from the United States, Europe, and Latin America will participate in a tourism industry fair in Bogota.
Steve Hodel of Tico Travel agency, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says that after visiting several Colombian cities and meeting with local tourism entrepreneurs, he would begin to recommend to his clients some parts of Colombia. But others would stay off limits. "I think I can sell Cartagena and Leticia," Mr. Hodel says, referring to the colonial walled city on Colombia's northern coast and the gateway city to the Amazon basin. But, he says, "People would think I was crazy if I offered them Medellín" - the city once home to a notorious drug cartel of the same name.
Meanwhile, the government is preparing for an uptick in tourists. Hoteliers have been offered tax breaks for building new hotels or renovating old ones, and projects are under way to accommodate cruise passengers as Uribe lobbies for more cruise lines to include the Caribbean cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta on their ports of call.
The effort is paying off. Last week, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines announced plans to begin to include Cartagena on its itineraries for 2007.