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Why Colombia for business and what indeed is my business?

by Alex on Feb.06, 2010, under Blog

In the post My new life, I chatted about how I’d ended up here, in Colombia, enthusing about the people and country in general, but why do business here?

Well… during my travels and thoughts of what the hell do I do next after a typical British upbringing and 6 years of corporate London life, I settled on the idea of opening a hostel with a view to creating a chain of hostels across Colombia. I love travel, love meeting, talking to and helping people and can be reasonably hypercritical – finding fault in the many systems and processes that we’re surrounded by and interact with on a daily basis. Many hostels are run by fellow travellers who’ve chosen to settle in some paradise, far removed from their home countries and upbringings with travel being their main qualification for running a hostel. Unfortunately, often, their enthusiasm and loving of ‘the road’ is not necessarily met with the business acumen and attention to detail necessary to create a great place to stay.

So, I decided that it’s time to put my money where my mouth is, stop bitching about the failings of other people’s efforts and get the hell on with it. And where better than Colombia? As an hispanophile, it had to be Latin America and as previously explained Colombia is my favourite place for the people, as well as all the country has to offer. Key for business though is the fact that tourism here is going mental!

I imagine that general international perception of Colombia is still that it is ‘a dangerous place’. Indeed, when I was here 8 years ago, tales of armed hold ups of buses with the occasional kidnap were common place and indeed after spending some time in ‘safe’ areas on the Caribbean coast, I flew to Ecuador, there being no way that I was prepared to bus through the country. Whereas ’1234 tourists brutally executed’ makes for a great international news headline, ‘Colombia is now safe’ is hardly news-worthy and therefore the only information that many have of this country is negative and out-of-date. You’d be better off espousing the slogan of Colombia Tourism – ‘The only risk is wanting to stay’.

And the word is spreading. It’s not just backpackers that I’m meeting – there are plenty of people coming to Colombia for a 2 or 3 week holiday maintaining that they’ll tell friends and family on their return how wonderful a place this is to visit and the numbers are there to back it up – an increase in tourist arrivals of over 10% per year is reported in official figures. This recent boom in tourism means that you need to book to get in to the best hostels – Cranky Croc operates at about 95% occupancy and during high season turns away about 25 people a day and there are plenty of places that would not get away with their shoddy service and poor facilities in a more mature backpacking market. So this place is perfect for doing my thing – the market is here and my business partner and I have the knowledge, will and passion to do it – create a fantastic backpackers’ hostel in Bogotá. I’ll write soon of the fun we’ve had finding the house we want to buy…

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2 Comments for this entry

  • sammyboy

    hey alex,

    i dont wanna pry to much but id love to know how your getting on with the process of opening your hostel. I too am disullusioned with life in England and feel my future lies in buying a hostel or b&b of somesort in south america, especially colombia, especially medellin which i fell in love with when i was there last year.

    Im only 25 but i run my own business and also a landlord, so the acumen and capital is there. What i want to know is it best to rent or buy a hostel, or even just buy a property and fit it out from scratch?? and ive heard its out of the question to get a mortgage in colombia, so your talking either second one at home or a shitload of cash??

    hope your getting the job done over there!

  • Alex

    Hi there. Things do take longer over here than at home. What takes the longest is finding out what you need to do, after that processes are relatively simple. We’ve registered the business, got bank accounts and money in the country, have business visas and good lawyers, none of which should be hard to do but, well… We were very close to signing a contract on a property but that fell through recently, still looking for where to set up.

    Regarding to rent or buy that would depend on many factors – if you’ve access to lots of cash and want to stay for a while then buy, if not then rent. As with anywhere, renting means that you’re putting time and effort and money into something that you don’t own, you’ll have little control over how the rent rises over the years and might find it goes up a lot if the owner sees you doing well. You’ll not likely find a hostel ready to go, whether you rent or buy will mean starting from scratch. If you can secure a mortgage over there you’ll be paying a minimum of 15% interest so you’ll want to look for a foreign currency loan if you’re after borrowing cash. I’m in London at the mo, if you are then we can chat over a beer if you like or you can call me on 07970 618 366. Cheers, Alex

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