MEDELLIN, Colombia – The northwestern Colombian city of Medellin will host the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2016 on Thursday and Friday, providing it an opportunity to showcase its urban and social renewal and inspire the nearly 800 attendees at the gathering from 45 countries.
The capital of the province of Antioquia, Medellin is looking to leverage the transformation it has experienced in recent years to consolidate itself as a venue for international events.
“Medellin is recognized worldwide for its capacity for transformation through social innovation and a booming private sector. It’s a model city that has achieved greater coexistence,” the head of Latin America at the World Economic Forum, Marisol Argueta de Barillas, told EFE.
Colombia’s second city once had the stigma of being the world’s most violence- and drug trafficking-ridden city, but it is now emerging as a reborn, modern metropolis able to host a forum focused on analyzing the region’s economic growth in a context of global crisis.
The city currently boasts a more developed hotel infrastructure and enhanced ability to host meetings and conventions, while its transportation system is the most comprehensive and advanced in Colombia and its social innovation process has enabled the government to penetrate areas once beset by violence and turn them into spaces for reconciliation, culture and the arts, according to the Medellin Convention Bureau.
“Besides its bid to become an events city and our focus on social innovation, what’s making Medellin begin to be recognized for its positive aspects are those unique experiences we can offer and that make us a different destination,” Mayor Federico Gutierrez said.
Medellin has succeeded in reinventing itself and today its renewal is recognized by international entities like the United Nations, which selected it to host the seventh session of the World Urban Forum in 2014, an event organized by the United Nations Human Settlements Program, or UN-Habitat.
The city was not an attractive destination a few decades ago but was listed by National Geographic Traveler as one of the world’s 20 best places to visit in 2015, while the New York Times included it among 52 recommended destinations that same year.
Medellin now is preparing to receive senior government officials and top business leaders at the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2016, with the presidents of Argentina, Mauricio Macri; Guatemala, Jimmy Morales; the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina Sanchez; and host nation Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, among those whose attendance has been confirmed.
Participants will discuss the need for inclusive growth to revive Latin America’s economies, as well as analyze climate change accords.
Attendees also will be able to learn about the urban renewal efforts that led Medellin to be named “City of the Year” in March 2013, in a contest sponsored by The Wall Street Journal and Citi to determine the world’s most innovative urban centers.
To that end, leaders and academics attending the forum will visit city spaces for reconciliation and innovation, including the offices of the Ruta N joint public-private venture, which provides easier access to capital for startups; the Metrocable, an aerial cable-car system to connect low-income residents to public transport; and giant hillside escalators in the Comuna 13 district.
Visitors also will be taken on a “Grafitour” (Graffiti Tour), a street art showcase that recounts the history of Comuna 13, one of Medellin’s most violent districts, and of the cultural resistance led by a group of artists.
Mayor Gutierrez will lead the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2016 welcome reception at Botero Plaza, an emblematic city space containing open-air sculptures by Medellin-born artist Fernando Botero, who is known for the exaggerated volume of his figures.
Medellin expects the forum will result in a hotel occupancy rate of 89 percent and provide an economic benefit of nearly $1.7 million, according to ProColombia, the national government agency that promotes tourism, foreign direct investment, non-mining and non-energy exports and Colombia’s country brand.
Colombia’s second city was announced as the host of this year’s World Economic Forum on Latin America during the inauguration of the World Tourism Organization’s General Assembly, which the city hosted in 2015.
Medellin also has hosted several other gatherings, including this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Congress.