How NOT to Curb Sex Tourism in Medellin

This letter was posted around Medellin, including in tourist hotspot Parque Lleras. Both emphases and errors are the author’s.

We don’t want mass tourism.

You already done with cities in Southeast Asia and some others in Europe. NOW you are coming to our city.

If you’re only here for morbid, cocaine and prostitutes you can go again. If you really want to know, learn and understand what has happened in our city, don’t go to shitty Pablo Escobar tours where you pay and make him bigger. Don’t go to restaurants where the girls are almost naked, or try to overcrow the places we go to work every day. Don’t believe the hype “we bring you progress”. If we are so called third world is also your fault.

We are a city with more than 300 years of history that managed to survive 30 years of barbarism and we don’t want you to come gentrify what remains. We need a lot to solve internally and mass tourism doesn’t help us.

Be sustainable tourists if you are educated as it is supposed.

And you, Medellinense, don’t believe that mass tourism is an economic salvation, it is nothing more than a fucking eggshell.

The letter has generated a good deal of debate on the interwebz, but it will have no desired effect. How could it be more effective? Let’s start with the obvious.

Proofread

Obviously the author isn’t a native English speaker. In fact it’s not clear he speaks English at all. I’d guess B1 (low intermediate), but that’s for the professional teachers to decide.

Having so many errors in language and punctuation make it easy for a reader to dismiss the entire letter, regardless of the content of the message. “This guy’s an idiot,” they say. And they’re right.

English aside, the written mechanics are poor. The writing is not good even based on the poor writing skills of the average Latin American. It’s not bad compared to what the average Latin American can produce, but it’s not good.

If writing in English and addressing to foreigners, you need to step you game up. Don’t make it so easy to be dismissed. The author must know somebody who speaks English fairly fluently who could have looked over this. Come on, bro. Do the work.

Fact check

Verification is back in style, having roared back with a vengeance since 2016. Falsehoods and misleading statements are out. And like poor spelling and grammar, inaccuracy can lead people to dismiss everything you say.

We are a city with more than 300 years of history…

This may be technically true if just going by the date of incorporation, but it’s misleading because Medellin is not an old city. The population influx came in the 19th century, making is a young city on Colombian and Latin American standards. Anybody with any base understanding of Colombian history reading that statement will assume you’re a poorly educated rube.

Don’t believe the hype “we bring you progress”. If we are so called third world is also your fault.

This isn’t a fact to check so much as a logical flaw. Are gringos responsible for Medellin’s wellbeing, or aren’t they? You’re trying to have it both ways here, where gringos are not responsible for Medellin’s achievements but they are responsible for its problems. That’s a credibility killer. Idiot alert!

Don’t believe that mass tourism is an economic salvation, it is nothing more than a fucking eggshell.

The author may depend on his parents for pocket money while he’s in school, but you can’t let your own experience bias your understanding of the big picture. Many Colombians may depend on tourism for their livelihoods. Let’s look at the data.

According to Colombia’s economic ministry, foreign tourism in Colombia accounted for $4 billion in 2017. While 1.3% of GDP may be less important to the national economy than, say, cocaine, it’s not bad. Coincidentally, that was the rate of Colombia’s economic growth in 2017. Cutting tourism in half would cut your less-than-stellar growth in half.

“Eggshell” is misleading … unless it refers to Colombia’s share of the Latin American tourism pie. In other words, tourism in Colombia is not much compared to other countries in the region.

Foreign tourists to Peru spent $4.6 billion in 2017, accounting for 3.9% of GDP. While Peru has inarguably superior tourist attractions, including the crown jewel of the continent, it is a smaller country.

Costa Rica, a much smaller country with fewer tourist attractions (although probably better beaches), earns almost as much as Colombia from tourism with $3.7 billion in 2017, making up a whopping 6.8% of GDP.

Colombia’s “eggshell” tourism industry would not support a call for less tourism. To the contrary, it would call for getting more aggressive or creative in attracting tourists. There’s room to improve. Other countries of similar size, prosperity and security are eating Colombia’s lunch. Hard to believe?

That’s one example of how informing yourself may change the tone of your message. A lot of times I’ll go down an information rabbit hole expecting to verify a hypothesis, and the data will change my mind about the issue. It usually doesn’t take me on a 180-degree reversal, but adds nuance to my position.

For another example, one of the graphs on Colombia Reports shows that over half of foreign tourists to Colombia come from other countries in Latin America.

So if you want to reduce tourism, you would have a greater impact by writing your letter in Spanish and addressing it to other Latins. That would also do less damage to the economy because Latins’ total spend is lower than the gringos’.

This kind of nuance can lead you to rethink your position, focus on what is in your head and heart. You may realize you don’t mind the Latin tourists; you just don’t want the gringos. If that’s the case, then you can dump the “mass tourism” rhetoric to craft a more xenophobic message, ala “Yanqui go home.”

And that brings us to the next point.

Stay on message

What is your point? It’s not clear.

The letter begins as a rant against sex tourism. But if that’s the point, then why are you talking about Pablo Escobar tours? Because a Pablo Escobar tour is a tourist activity outside of the sex industry, not to mention an educational experience covering a major chapter in Medellin’s short history. This is the exact kind of tourist activity you should be promoting over Medellin’s famous prostitutes.

If your primary aim is the xenophobic variety and reducing gringo tourism, then why are you encouraging them to “be sustainable tourists,” or to “know, learn and understand what happened in our city?” The message should be not to come at all.

Go back to the drawing board. Because the point isn’t clear, so it’s definitely not convincing.

Messaging tips

If reducing sex tourism is your goal, don’t badmouth all tourism (“mass tourism”). Keep it focused on sex tourists, and highlight the risks. For example, sex tourism is dangerous. Gringos get killed. Some get locked up. Another wound up dead in prison. Even if you avoid death and jail, you could be taken for thousands of dollars. brothels are the primary distribution point of scopolamine. Talk about that stuff.

I’ve looked into this issue a lot, and I’ve concluded that the key success factors for a sex tourism industry are security and supply. Those recommendations attempt to chip away at gringos’ feeling of security in Colombia. But in places like Amsterdam, reducing security and supply could mean a different legal environment for prostitution. You could outlaw it. Or if not a prohibition, restrict the places or times it can happen. Or increase regulation of the providers, making it harder to be a prostitute.

In Colombia, it’s more cultural than legal. Prostitution is common. Colombian women are more likely to become prostitutes than other women around the world, and Colombian men are more likely to hire prostitutes. A native Colombian would have better ideas in reducing supply than I would, but chipping away at supply will be more effective than trying to affect demand. Nobody in Colombia talks about that tactic, and that’s why nothing ever changes.

If reducing all gringo tourism is the goal (not just sex tourism), the most effective way is to chip away at the sense of security. Publicize Colombia’s crime and violence.

Chipping away at the legality of gringo tourism is possible, although less effective. Colombia could require tourist visas obtained only at consulates abroad, like Brazil used to. I have a friend who cancelled his Brazil trip because the visa didn’t come through. The more expensive and time-consuming you make it, the more tourists will not complete the requirements and stay away. But again, this tactic wouldn’t belong in a letter to the foreign tourists.

Own it

Don’t be an anonymous pussy. Anonymity is the cloak of cowards. If you’re going to post a letter in public, SIGN IT.

This goes back to basic credibility. An inaccurate and anonymous letter is easily dismissed as some broke college student whose girlfriend cheated on him with a gringo.

A little shy about your name? Create an organizational name. “Unemployed Student Paisas Against Yankee Tourism” or whatever. That’s still being an anonymous pussy, but then people could go online and find out how serious the organization is. You would at least be public about that.

Let’s say something nice

Is there anything positive to say about this letter? Absolutely.

It is a gem of a cultural artifact to illustrate changing attitudes toward tourism among mainstream Colombians. Colombia may have experienced the sharpest shift in going from nothing to significant tourism in less than 20 years, but attitudes toward foreigners have changed throughout Latin America.

I have noted that the red-carpet treatment, the curiosity that made Latin America so different from Europe (for Americans), is OVER. Peruvians have a growing indifference if not contempt for foreigners in Lima. Medellin may not see as many tourists (fact), but they are much more concentrated given MDE is a smaller city with fewer attractions (everybody goes to Parque Lleras). I couldn’t believe my eyes last time I was there, and that was 2012. I can’t imagine the place today.

Being annoyed by tourism is natural. Even abusing the tourists is natural, and Colombia has a long way to go before it gets the reputation that France or Italy had in that respect.

The letter’s lack of focus and poor grasp of facts serves as an excellent barometer of the average Colombian’s attitude toward growing tourism. The average Colombian may not be very educated about it or specific about what they want, but it’s clear that some don’t like it.

At the same time, the disdain for gringos is proof of rising fortunes in Medellin, Colombia and greater Latin America. Which is great news!

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4 comments

  1. Colin, thanks for that well-written and logical response. The basic message of this letter is they don’t want tourists having fun with their women. They want to keep the women for themselves. Well, that’s a two way street. Colombians can’t come to the USA for a better life and then complain when US citizens go to Colombia to enjoy what they consider to be a better life, whether it’s cheaper women or cheaper doctors and rents. Well, they can, but that makes them hypocrites. There are far more Colombians that benefit from living in the US than Americans (that’s what we call ourselves) living in Colombia. And they come here to take our jobs at all levels, drive up our rents, and, to some degree, to fuck our women. Very few Americans want to take a low paying job from a Colombian. I wouldn’t even take a professional job there because it pays “squat”.

    So whoever wrote this letter can cram it.

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    1. We don’t want your women, trust me lol.

      If anything you sound like the typical trailer trash that goes to a different country looking for women because you dont cut it here for the locals. End up hooking up with a girl from lower strata or some hooked and think the world owes you everything.

      No one is stealing your jobs. If you dont have the skills set to back it up it’s on you

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  2. Colombia should be grateful for whatever tourism they can get. I just got back from a recent trip which was my eighth visit over the years. (mostly family and business) Here’s why I won’t be going back to Colombia any time soon..
    I hadn’t been since 2015 and security has definitely gotten worse. I was surprised by the vast numbers of desperate Venezuelans begging on the streets, including families with children. The general atmosphere is far more tense and scary at present.

    Colombia is seriously underdeveloped in the way of infrastructure. The traffic in Bogota is shocking, it can take hours to travel just a few miles. You have to pay tolls to use the poorly designed roads full of potholes which you share with maniacs who have no clue how to drive. Colombian drivers swerve, cut each other up and drive on the sidewalk. There are no trains, just thousands of cars, motos and buses which pour out black smoke. Pollution is a serious problem and will leave you feeling ill if you’re not accustomed to it. I witnessed people throwing trash out on the street in front of their homes.

    The negative image of Colombia along with selfish culture and poor education aren’t about to change, but for intrepid gringos who like discomfort and risk there are some rewards to be had; Colombia is geographically stunning and certainly not boring. Drugs and whores are plenty so brave narco / sexo tourists climb on board. Regular gringos who want to experience a Latin country in relative comfort and safety stick to Mexico / Caribbean.

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    1. Agree absolutely. As a frequent visitor I have noticed recent deterioration of this beautiful country. Sex for sale is accepted here as it is in all Latin America. However prostitution is a gateway to spiked drinks followed by robbery. Large dose scopolamine is a very dangerous drug making the victim a virtual zombie with no memory of being drugged. Interestingly the plant, borrachero, from which the drug is obtained grows wild all over especially in Bogota. I understand scopalomine having used it in the past on patients undergoing painful medical procedures. Their memory of pain and discomfort is simply erased. Random use by an untrained person, usually a prostitute, is terribly dangerous.

      Sex for sale and drugging customers is an obvious fall back position for attractive young women who are otherwise unemployed or unemployable. They have children to feed. Think illegal immigrants who have no passport or Colombian cedula ID card. Think Venezuelans.

      Some cities in Colombia are safer than others. Bogota is dangerous. So is Medellin. Armenia and the other small cities in the coffee growing region are safer with climate similar to Medellin’s which is to say perfect. I have walked the streets of Circasia, ( suburb of Armenia) at midnight alone with no fear. Criminals are usually identified in these small towns and villages since everyone knows everyone else.

      In short I love Colombia for many reasons. However corruption, danger and lawless behavior seem to be accepted in a way that most gringos do not understand. You want drugs, sex and low life excitement this is the place. But understand that Colombia is big at twice the size of Texas. Get away from the mega cities like Medellin and Bogota and you will find delightful villages and towns.

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