In honour of World Tourism Day, discover how Luisa Fernanda Romero Munoz, a Kofi Annan Changemaker, advances peace in Colombia through ecotourism. Luisa founded ‘Get Up And Go Colombia‘, an NGO dedicated to transforming communities affected by Colombia’s armed conflict. By leveraging responsible tourism, known as “ecotourism”, and reinvesting its income into educational projects, Get Up And Go Colombia paves the way for further development across the country.
Luisa Fernanda Romero Munoz, a Colombia youth activist, environmentalist and Kofi Annan Changemaker, grew up in Cauca, Colombia, one of the areas most affected by the Colombian armed conflict. “Walking through Cauca, it is easy to see the impact the conflict has had,” she explains, “In addition to high levels of poverty and inequality, there has been a major lack of job opportunities, and education has been severely impacted.”
The 52-year armed conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government officially ended with a peace accord in 2016. Despite an initial overall decline, conflict-related violence has taken new forms, and serious abuses continue.
Leveraging tourism for good
Luisa felt there was a way to leverage tourism responsibly to advance peacebuilding in her home country. Through her organisation, Get Up And Go Colombia, she set about converting former Colombian armed conflict zones into cultural tourism destinations, helping residents develop transferable skills by learning English, working as tour guides, and supporting local businesses.
Luisa built on her dedication to peacebuilding by furthering her academic studies, graduating from Ulster University in 2019 with an MSc in International Tourism Management.
“The modules on the MSc allowed me to further develop ideas on Colombian enterprise. For example, thanks to my studies, I advanced an initiative called Peace & Coffee, now Tiuspa Cafe, a visitor attraction and peace center for the region that showcases different peacebuilding projects by selling coffee made from what we call ‘coffee beans of peace’.”
Challenging the perception of tourism’s negative ecological impacts requires a multifaceted approach. Through education, storytelling, promoting eco-friendly choices, and advocating for sustainable policies, Luisa and her team showcase how travel can be a force for good.
Responsible Travel: A win-win
According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), ecotourism can be defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
“Ecotourism focuses on visiting natural environments while minimising the impact on the environment and benefiting local communities,” explains Luisa, adding, “It aims to promote conservation, provide meaningful experiences for travellers, and contribute to the well-being of the local community.”
The 360° perspective for Cauca is one such ecotourism project set up by Luisa and Get Up And Go Colombia. Thanks to virtual reality and 360° photography, national and international tourists can experience a virtual tour of Cauca and its rural areas – areas which are inaccessible thanks to the conflict, without impacting the area further.
Through training and advocacy work, Luisa and her team guide tourists toward eco-friendly choices, from green-certified accommodations, using public transportation or carpooling and reducing plastic waste to wildlife conservation projects and guided nature hikes.
These hands-on experiences not only reduce ecological footprints but also deepen travellers’ connection to the places they visit.
For Luisa and her Get Up And Go Colombia team, it is essential to strike a balance between environmental conservation and the economic well-being of local communities. “It is important that we regularly engage with the local community and continuously monitor things like fair compensation,” shares Luisa.
Another initiative, the “Tourism Action-Lab”, empowers local communities and ensures the profits benefit them directly. The Tourism Action Lab is a transformative program tailored by and for communities directly impacted by armed conflict. Through comprehensive capacity-building activities in key areas such as sustainable tourism practices, English language proficiency, and social entrepreneurship skills, the communities are equipped with these essential tools. After this training, these communities prepare and launch their own ecotourism agencies, fostering economic resilience and promoting sustainable development in post-conflict regions.
Local initiatives that have a global impact
The scale and impact of Luisa’s work goes beyond Colombia. By protecting diverse ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest and the Andean mountains, Get Up and Go Colombia’s work aligns with global efforts to combat climate change, preserve biodiversity, and promote sustainable development.
“Ecotourism initiatives can serve as bridges between environmental conservation, economic development and peacebuilding, creating a holistic approach to addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges,” explains Luisa.
Luisa and the Get Up and Go Colombia team advocate for sustainable tourism policies and practices at various governmental levels, ensuring that the industry as a whole move toward a more eco-conscious future.
In a world sceptical of tourism’s impact, young leaders like Luisa prove that with the right approach, travel and tourism can be transformative. Through Get Up And Go Colombia, communities once scarred by conflict can find hope, empowerment, and a sustainable future.
As we commemorate World Tourism Day, Luisa’s journey as a Kofi Annan Changemaker serves as a beacon of inspiration. Her dedication and passion show that challenges can be transformed into opportunities, bettering the world, one community at a time.
World Tourism Day
Annually observed on September 27th, World Tourism Day emphasises the significance of tourism and its multifaceted impact. The 2023 theme spotlights “Tourism and Green Investment”. The theme emphasises sustainable investments in tourism, from renewable energy to Ecotourism activities. Such investments reduce environmental impact, support local economies, and enhance destination resilience. The day urges support for a sustainable tourism future.