Dollar-earning in Colombia: Selling Colombia as a Destination for Specialty Experiences

in Finding work/How-to guides/Investing

This is my last post in the series on how to earn dollars in Colombia. Here’s what I wrote in bullet point 9 of the original article:

“Selling Colombia as a destination for specialty experiences. I met an American woman the other day who has a yoga certification retreat. Foreigners from all over the world come and stay at her organic farm for up to a month at a time, taking classes and getting certified. A Danish guy sells guided motorcycle tours. Both businesses price their services in dollars. Both owners appear to be very happy in the given business environment. Your experience could be a week of river rafting in San Gil or maybe a week-long course on how to do portrait painting. People love combining traveling with learning or trying out something new. That’s your opportunity.”

This is a perfect way to monetize your favorite hobby in Colombia, and that’s exactly what Syam does with Yogashram and what Mike has done with Motolombia.
After writing the original article, Marc Beale, co-founder of Amakuna in Medellín, reached out to me. Him and his partner own a boutique travel agency that sell tailored tours around Colombia according to your specific wishes. Tell them what you want and they will plan it for you. They quote their prices in USD, EUR or GBP depending on where their clients come from. All are hard currencies with great value in Colombia.

Are you seeing the pattern here? If you want to sell experiences in Colombia, that are priced in dollars, then tourism is the way to go…

Motolombia: A practical example

Mike fell in love, came to Colombia and started a hostel. His passion has always been motorcycles, so he bought two bikes that he would rent to guests staying at his hostel. Slowly demand started growing and he started investing all of his positive cash flow in more bikes. He soon realized that many people, because of Colombia’s blemished image, felt unsafe being alone on the road here. They wanted someone to guide them; to help them with the Spanish, to cross military checkpoints, to make sure that they didn’t get lost and end up in FARC territory, etc. And not only that. Many tourists only have 7-14 days of vacation and they want to experience as much as possible during that time. They don’t have the patience for wrong turns, bad meals and shitty accommodation.

Instead of renting motorcycles at a daily rate, Mike began doing guided tours all over the country. He figured that if his products were good enough, people would travel all the way to Colombia just to buy his services. It turns out he was spot on.

Today, a few years later, Mike has now sold his hostel and earns a living solely from his motorcycle tours. Him and his wife own 30 BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki motorcycles, and offer the finest tailored tours all over the country and Latin America. They make sure that their clients get to see all of the top attractions, that they eat great food and stay at amazing hotels. Everything is taken care of. As a client of his, you just relax and enjoy your time.. Not bad eh?

Since all of Motolombia’s clients are foreigners, they are happy to see his prices quoted in dollars. It’s convenient, saves them time and it is way easier for most foreign people to understand.

Win-win for everybody!

Advertise your prices in dollars

Another benefit to pricing your services in dollars is that, in the case of Motolombia, they are dealing with very expensive imported equipment. As most imports are settled in dollars, the prices on motorcycles and spare parts rise along with the dollar. Pricing his tours in dollars means that Motolombia is better hedged against the inflation affecting Colombia as a consequence of a stronger dollar.

Have you seen how pretty much every single car dealership has raised its prices over the past 6 month to cover rising expenses? I even passed by the local Porsche dealer and saw that all his prices were quoted only in dollars (No, I don’t drive a Porsche, but I do like window-shopping once in a while :-)).

If most of your clients are going to be foreigners, it makes sense to quote your prices in dollars. To them, it makes no difference. In fact, it might just make it easier for them to make a decision.

To give you an example, I was looking into doing a 5-day dive retreat in Mozambique. All prices were quoted in MZN – Mozambican Meticals. Lazy as I am, I didn’t even bother to look up the exchange rate. Instead I just found another company, quoting their prices in dollars… something I could understand. People are lazy. Talk to them in a language that they understand and not only will you earn more money but it will also be considered good service.

Some ideas

Cali is supposedly one of the best places in Colombia for downhill bicycling. Wicked, long trails come down every mountain and the local boys and girls have built wall-climbs and jumps into the tracks. But no one rents out the full suspension bikes necessary or offer to drive people up the mountain to where the trails start. If you don’t have a local friend and don’t have your own gear, it’s almost impossible to play along.
I’m thinking that the savvy downhill enthusiast could sell 5-day packages that includes airport pick-up, hotel, bicycles, gear and a jeep bringing people to the coolest spots. Selling it as a complete package means that you can earn money on every single service that is included in the package, marking up a few percent on accommodation, meals, etc. You become the one-stop shop. Imagine Bikepark Winterberg in Colombia!

If you’re clueless for ideas, here’s a few to get your brainstorming started:

  • Colombia is full of mountains. You could offer rock-climbing classes or two weeks of summiting Colombia’s 3 highest peaks.
  • Colombia is full of coffee. Coffee enthusiasts exist all over the world. You could offer the ultimate coffee connoisseur’s tour around the country, visiting the top fincas and teaching the ins and outs of making the perfect cup coffee. Mix in a few of the best attractions to create a little diversity.
  • They say Lago Calima is one of the best places in South America for kite surfing. Selling week-long training camps for beginners and pros would appeal to a massive worldwide audience.
  • Medical tourism represents a massive unexploited opportunity in Colombia. In Cali alone, more than 50.000 plastic surgeries takes place every year. Many private medical centres here are very experienced, of excellent quality and very affordable. Silicone implants in Europe or in the US easily cost $6.000 dollars. In Colombia the same implants cost $5 million pesos – that $1.600 dollars by today’s exchange rate!
    Whether someone needs a boob-job, a butt-job, a nose-job, a blow-job (ok, that was a cheap joke), a liposuction, veneers, new dentures, Botox… you name it, there are massive savings to be had for people willing to travel to Colombia to get the job done. Besides cosmetic surgery, I believe that there is a lot of potential in helping Americans who don’t have medical coverage. The average liver transplant in the US costs a mind-blowing $739.000 dollars!! Without investigating it, I’m sure a doctor in Colombia could do this cheaper. Prosthetics such as knee and hip replacements are another option.
    Your job would be to find the best doctors, clinics, translating if necessary (many doctors speak English here), making deals with the best hotels, hiring nurses for checkups and so forth.

A word on service

I see friends on Facebook posting stuff like “Yay! – just got a free burger at Chick-Fil-A, because they had me wait for 10 minutes”. In Colombia you wait 30 minutes for Coke at a busy restaurant and all you get is a “Qué pena contigo!”. I could enumerate episodes like this all day long, but I think you already know:

Colombians suck at customer service, and the fact that they do, creates a big opportunity for you.

Most Colombian companies and most Colombian people in general know absolutely nothing about GREAT customer service. They’ve never seen it, so they don’t know what it is, and they don’t expect it anywhere they go. This mentality is changing slowly, but they still have a long way to go.

Once you start delivering kicking-ass service in Colombia, you will blow the competition away. They won’t know what hit them.

I read a book many years ago when I was managing a restaurant. It’s too good not to mention. If you EVER plan on working in the service industry I can not recommend it highly enough – you gotta read the Five Star Service by Michael Heppel. I know he’s British and that they use words such as “rubbish”, but I guarantee that it will be worth your time. It’s a short book packed full of advise that are easy to implement in your business. What most people don’t realize is that good service doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You can provide a 5-star service even if all you have is a 1-star budget. Michael’s book will show you how.

In fact, I’d argue that this book should be the one 20-dollar thing that you buy for all of your employees. We did it at our restaurant, and within 6 months we landed the #1 spot on Tripadvisor. Do I have to tell you how many new guests that brings with it?

If you will be dealing with tourists, make it a requirement that all your staff speak English. With Duolingo being free for all, there is really no excuse for not learning it.

Wrapping it all up

Colombia offers the perfect combination of adventure, excitement, nature, culture, climate and prices. It’s one of the few mega-diverse countries on the entire planet and I’ve never met a visitor who wasn’t pleasantly surprised. What was off-limits for any gringo 20 years ago is now becoming a booming tourist destination. Now is your time to get started. The next many years here will bring more opportunity than you could every imagine. I wish you the best of luck.

That’s it! I hope that you’ve enjoyed the series on how to make dollars in Colombia? Loved them or hated them – either way, I’d love for you to shoot me a message or just tell me in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Passed through Cali for the first time in 2011, on his way from the US to Brazil on a motorcycle. Ended up kissing a caleña on his last night and the rest is history. Has been a resident of Cali, Colombia since 2013 and currently living in Barrio Bellavista with his girlfriend and 2 daughters.

8 Comments

    • Hi Adriana, I know it sounds “unbelievable”, but checking up on statistics, I see that September actually had 6.564 visits! Maybe 30 of them was you? Who knows 🙂

      Pura vida, Patrick

  1. Patrick I love this blog. You definitely have a huge entrepreneurs mind. I also fell in love with Cali Colombia. I visit every month hopefully one day I can get to meet you.

  2. Chanced upon your very informative and fantastic blog, Patrick. 🙂
    I enjoyed reading your posts, it’s like binge-watching a great Netflix series where you tell yourself, “I am just going to watch the first episode today”…. and 10 hours later, you’ve completed watching the entire season.
    I am from Singapore and my husband is Bogotano, residing in Cali. We shuttle between living in Singapore and Cali. That’s 19,000km each way, 2.5 days of flights and transits cross the Atlantic Ocean…. yep we’re pretty nuts being ok with that.
    Singapore is cool albeit boasting a sterile, rigid society that’s accepting of the ridiculously high standards of living.
    Colombia on the other hand is simply magical and recently we’re wanting more of it. Hence, we’ve been on the lookout to buy a decent, affordable property in Colombia.
    So, thanks again for such a helpful blog!

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