CARTAGENA, Colombia — The marine industry is outgrowing the infrastructure in Colombia, leading the government to solicit proposals from companies worldwide for the construction of Marina San Andres, a 151-berth marina that officials hope will include amenities such as a shipyard and shopping mall.
“The government is open to receive proposals now,” Miguel Angel Franco Hossain, senior tourism specialist with Proexport Colombia, the government group charged with increasing tourism and exports in the country, told Trade Only Today during a press trip.
“We’re not taking bids just yet, but we are receiving proposals,” Hossain said. “Right now there has been a lot of attention on San Andres, so the bidding process should be open in the next couple of months. If a company comes and says they can not only design, but can also construct and-or operate the marina, the government will receive that and say yes or no.”
To respond to the growing demand, the government has developed a nautical tourism plan to help develop infrastructure and remove barriers that have inhibited growth in the past. The country is below the hurricane zone and is a natural stop for cruisers.
The country is trying to maximize the opportunity of travelers moving from the East Coast to the West Coast who need to stop somewhere. People come from the Caribbean islands and the region would like position Port Buenaventura as a stopping point as well as a place for exporters to connect directly with the Southeast Asian market.
The city, having the most efficient port in the country, has been honored as the best Caribbean port for six years in a row, Hossain says, with no wind or tide in the bay, but also with very deep waters. “We have access through the canal that allows you to get bigger boats here,” he said.
That gives the city an edge because it already possesses the ability to accommodate large ships, he says. Although the Edurbe dock in Cartagena de Indias can receive megayachts, the city doesn't have an international marina that can accommodate this type of vessel. However, there are some private and government initiatives from the Nautical Tourism National Plan that aim to improve the marinas infrastructure in the near future.
���In Santa Marta, about three hours away, we have a 260-berth marina that can accommodate yachts up to 200 feet, and we are thinking of building new structure to get bigger boats, probably small cruisers in,” Hossain said. “San Andres and Cartagena have been more like a cruisers destination, seeing smaller boats, sailboats and people traveling with families. There are a lot of sailboats of an average length of 40 to 50 feet anchored in the bay.”
Marina owners say the development can’t come fast enough.
Club de Pesca in Cartagena is the oldest marina in the region, and its owner says the 200 private slips are filled to capacity, leaving only 20 for transients. Although 15 years ago most of the business there was from visitors, now the slips are filled with local boat owners of center consoles between roughly 25 and 45 feet.
The Manzanillo Marina Club is also completely full, president Mauricio Lemaitre Carbonell said Sunday at the Cartagena International Boat Show. He has another project in the works on 2 acres of land that would add 600 slips, but says he is having trouble getting the proper permissions to make it happen.
“We are receiving a lot of investors and working with the former minister of commerce,” but things have been held up, he said. “We lost a lot of sales, and slips are more expensive due to supply and demand. Proexport has been great, but more work needs to be done.”
Andres Cerda Nieto, of the Cartagena Chamber of Commerce, said the city is working to address the hurdles as quickly as possible now that the government has made nautical tourism a priority.
“We are aware of the moment that this industry is going through, so that’s the reason we decided to work on the nautical industry,” Nieto told Trade Only during a presentation Saturday. “It’s a cluster initiative to reinforce the competitiveness of the nautical industry companies in Cartagena.”
The chamber is also working to identify the hang-ups and work to make things move more quickly.
“We are in efforts to simplify construction permits for marinas,” he said. “Some are complaining about this topic, from investors, to arrival of boats in Colombian waters, to licenses for charterboats. We have not yet defined which is first to work on, but we will work on simplification.”