Black Meetings and Tourism

JAN/FEB 2012

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SITE REVIEW #2 MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA SOUTH AMERICA'S BEST KEPT SECRET By MATT THOMAS W hen I first heard the Colombia Tourist Board's "The Only Risk isWanting to Stay" slogan,my ini- tial thought was why remind travelers there's a "risk"with traveling to Colombia? And then I vis- ited Medellin, Bogota and Cartegena. After just a few days of experiencing Colombia's beautiful and stunning natural beauty, I realized what they meant, I wanted to stay! dating hosts andwho are proud to showoff their coun- try to foreign visitors. Medellin is Colombia's second largest city and is often referred to as one of the most beautiful cities in SouthAmerica. Located within theAburraValley, the city is divided by the Medellin River, which flows northward. Due toMedellin's 5,000 ft. location above sea level, the weather is not as hot as other cities locat- ed at similar latitudes near the equator. Medellin's weather is more similar to a humid subtropical climate rather than a tropical climate, and is referred to as "The City of Eternal Spring". All of this combines to make Medellin one of South America's most inviting cities for meetings, incentives and conventions. I wondered how the "Medellin Miracle" happened and who was responsible for reclaiming this city for its citizens? The fact that Medellin is now a thriving metropolis that proud- ly displays schools, libraries and public spaces in areas once ruled by Pablo Escobar (where both police and the military once feared to tread), is no accident. Although former Period Architecture of Medellín president Alvaro Uribes and cur- rent president Juan Manuel Santos played major roles in combat- ing Colombia's out of control crime rate, the true transformation of Medellin was started my one man, Sergio Fajardo. Now governor of the state of Antioch, Fajardo was mayor of Medellin from 2003 to 2007. With a theme of turning fear to hope, Fajardo used a partici- patory and inclusive approach to tackling We've all seen or read what Colombia has endured and over- came during the last 25+ years. Itwas difficult to imagine the con- stant reign of terror the country went through as a result of the high murder rates, kidnappings, recurring bombings and other drug cartel violence that once rankedMedellin as one of themost dangerous cities in the world. Although Medellin's "transforma- tion"hasn't completely obliterated these atrocities fromtheminds of all future travelers, the fact isMedellin has become a modern, vibrant,world class city. Acity that remains faithful to its region- al characteristics with the residents that are hospitable, accommo- Medellin's problems. Understanding that the key to transformation lies not only in establishing public order and security, but by being committed over the long term to deep and broad social and economic invest- ment – targeting the neediest and least developed inhabitants in the poorest parts of the city. Fajardo's transformative work included a physical component that pushed for projects that developed infrastructure. He built decent housing, cultural cen- ters, sport fields and social facilities that were a cata- Black Meetings & Tourism January/February 2012: 27

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