FIFTH Anniversary in Cartagena,
and more recently, our part time work in Medellin.
Cartagena's knowledge of the Internet and the power of the Search Engines is limited, and for these reasons, Owners/managers who will make a $100.00 decision to promote on the Internet, are scarce.
Following are personal comments and recollections based on the past five years of Internet publication of: The Guide To Cartagena - www.cartagenainfo.net, and more recently our efforts toward: www.medellininfo.com
This text will not been translated into Spanish, for the following reasons:
1. Literal translation from English to Spanish is nearly impossible because business English is very direct and considered "harder" than most Spanish readers will accept with comfort. If the translation is not understood, and the reader is offended, it is all to common to blame the messenger, AND reject the message - a zero win situation.
2. People who are bi, or multi-lingual, generally are more open minded, liberal and worldly. They (you) should have no difficulty in understanding the meaning and good intentions behind my comments.
NOTE: IF YOU TAKE ISSUE WITH ANY OF MY COMMENTS OR OPINIONS, I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU. PLEASE SEND ME AN E mail.
3. My partner and good friend, Paul Juan, is a third generation Cartagenero who truly loves his city. If I asked, he would gladly translate this text. However, I feel that if he were to closely associated with my Gringo ideas, it may hurt his local reputation? What follows then, are my thoughts, not Paul's.
DISCLAIMER: My name is James M. Bone. My ideas and observations are naturally colored by my background and experience. I retired at 55, from small businesses in the states relating to: promotion, computers, tourism, and real estate. Most of my present income (which goes a long way in Cartagena) comes from Social Security. My formal education consists of a B.S. in Business Administration, with minors in Economics and Marketing. In 1996, when I first "discovered" the Internet (as we recognize it today) I quickly became "hooked", and my experience in print promotion took a back seat to what I felt was to be a major revolution in world-wide communications and promotion-the Internet. In my home country, people spend more time on the Internet than in watching TV, and more people get their news from the Internet than from TV. Every day, I am reminded, of how much I under estimated the Internets impact on the world!
My Spanish continues to improve to the point where people who feel they may personally ($) benefit from what I am trying to say, will understand me. Most others generally won't make the effort! Language difference is hardly ever a barrier between people who are truly motivated to understand each other. With my continually improving "Spanglish", I have managed to "sell" our subsidized Home Pages and promotion concepts to hundreds of Spanish clients who do not understand English.
Our company (W.R., INC.) is engaged in international: Internet Portal promotion, and real estate sales. Currently we have four offices, two on Florida's west coast (Brandon, and Clearwater), and one each in Merida, Venezuela, and here in Cartagena, Colombia. The second Colombia office is intermittently open in Medellin, where so far in 2006 we have worked three months.
Building, maintaining and promoting community Portals is a slow, tedious, and expensive undertaking. We have proved, however, that the effort pays off in the promotion of local businesses, and improvement of the local economy.
Our "mission" remains the same: to improve the incomes of our clients and the economies of the communities we serve.
We have designed more than 2,000 web pages since our Venezuela beginning in 1997. We were pioneers in the now proven concept of Community Portals, in 1997, with www.andes.net in Merida, Venezuela. As the Internet has grown, the Community Portal has become recognized as a high volume attraction for Internet visitors resulting in the best price/performance investment for those seeking low cost promotion while being featured on the Portals. A Community Portal is like a Guide Book with complete and up-to-date information that printed Guide Books cannot replicate. The biggest challenge to printed matter is obsolescence and distribution. I have seen more than a dozen storage rooms where tens of thousands of government printed documents are "stored". They are useless trash awaiting someones decision to throw them out. The brochures are not current, there are mistakes and there is no practical way to distribute them to pre-qualified recipients. Print still has its place but the major efforts should be directed to the Internet where today, there are more than one billion people, world-wide, with Internet access.
In spite of political problems in Venezuela, our Portal promoting Merida is receiving in excess of 45,000 "hits" per day. The CartagenaInfo Portal, with more than five years in operation, and working within the constraints of our internationally recognized civil problems, currently receives equal numbers of "hits" per day!
Unfortunately, both Venezuela and Colombia have an overall negative international image. Our Portals present a more balanced and continuous Internet presentation.
COMMENTS AND PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS
THE MOST RECENT YEAR (2005) OF MY PAST FIVE YEARS IN CARTAGENA, and part of the year 2006, in MEDELLIN.
The INTERNET "Culture" is not the major factor effecting "change" - a countries political leadership is! The government can put on the brakes, step on the gas, coast, or even put the peoples lives and options in life, into "reverse"!
The INTERNET, CARTAGENA AND MEDELLIN
Most Hispanic central governments have been slow to embrace and promote greater Internet usage. Subordinate governments-state and city, seldom attempt to "out do" the Federal government. Businesses offering Internet connections in Cartagena have a short-term, show me the money mission! At CartagenaInfo.com we are happy to give time, plus hosting, domains, and technical advise to Cartagena churches, schools, and organizations that help the poor and destitute. "Giving back to your community", is considered both a duty and an obligation of businesses and individuals operating within the free-enterprise system.
Our Cartagena office now has a cable ISP connection. The speed (about 152 Kbs) is double our old DSL connection. The monthly cost is 30% less than the former DSL service. Our office in Medellin also uses cable but the speed is twice as fast as Cartagena and the monthly cost is one half. Go figure! While connection speed and costs are improving, Colombia still a long way to go to be internationally competitive. Most people in Cartagena, who have a PC, can only afford a dial-up connection. The cost is compounded because users must also pay for an antiquated telephone time billing scheme that most telephone companies abandoned decades ago. The telephone books is getting thinner while cell phone use continues to climb rapidly.
This Gringos perception, right or wrong, is that Hispanic "culture" promotes these ideas:
Do not ask
Questions (either accept as is, or reject, but don't ask questions),
Do not Compare, and: Do not Complain. "NO QCC" is in major conflict with the free, open, educational and questioning concept of the Internet. The major source of information, about anything and everything, can only be found on the World Wide Web-the Internet! Colombian Federal, Department and City governments MUST DO MUCH MORE THAN GIVE LIP SERVICE in promoting greater access to Internet connections-especially to the poor. All schools and public libraries, starting with those in the poorest barrios must have full time Internet connections, working and accessible PCs, and qualified IT teachers. Nothing else will pay quicker dividends, (other than a sensible program for teaching English) at less cost, in the elevation of ALL Colombians.
THE REALTY BUSINESS
Beginning in 2004, and from the first month of operation, our Real Estate sales business, under the primary ownership of my partner Paul Juan-Broker, has been a financial success. You can visit the English version of his Home Page at: www.cartagenarealty.com Seventy percent of our sales have been to English speaking clients. Ninety three percent of our sales have been to buyers from outside of Colombia. We are bringing NEW MONEY into the economy.
Rosa, our designer/webmaster, updates Paul's Home Pages, investing about 5 hours a day. The business is nearly 100% virtual-on the Internet. At our encouragement, a few other Cartagena real estate companies are expanding their presence on the Internet-also with good results! Competition among Cartagena real estate companies is good for the: economy, Buyer's, Sellers, and the realty companies!
The Cartagena real estate market remains: "strong". We enjoy introducing people to the low cost, great lifestyle available in Cartagena, right on the warm Caribbean. Many of our buyers are retirees looking for a more tranquil lifestyle while fleeing the ever increasing costs of: insurance, medical, taxes and governments that have gone wild in spending. Others are choosing Cartagena as their second home, or as an investment.
In Cartagena, you can buy a nice apartment for about 30-40% of comparable prices back home. In Medellin, the prices are even less! The quality of construction is equal or better than what you may be used to! Once you have purchased an apartment, total expenses ( see food basket prices ) for two, can be as low as $500-800 U.S., per month depending mostly on how often you dine out and if you feel the need to own a car! In my opinion, you do not need a car! Medical and dental service is of good quality, and offered at a similar savings.
Our company has secured a couple dozen good dot com domain names relating to real estate. Our Franchise concept replicates Paul's successful business plan in other major Colombia cities. We are planning for our next Franchise opening in Colombia's second largest city-Medellin, with a population of 3 million. Even in Medellin, Colombia's most progressive city, the understanding of how to effectively use the Internet to promote to the international market is minimal. While there are many Medellin companies with websites, nearly ALL appear only in Spanish. Our (under construction) non-profit Portal: (www.medellininfo.com) which promotes the area, has received good informational support from government agencies of both The City of Medellin and the District (State) of Antioquia. Our dual language concept (still to be completed), and continuous promotion of the Portal to the world's major Search Engines is doing its part to improve the positive image and economy of this great city.
Internet usage improving-but slowly
A couple of reasons for Hispanic business apathy toward proper understanding and use of the power of the Internet could be:
1. Governments come and go, usually every four years. When a new political leader is either "elected", or "buys" the election, (NOTE: Gringos, don't look down on 'buying elections". Study your history. It is widely known that JFK's father, bought the election through the efforts of the Chicago mafia buying votes for JFK in W. Virginia) It is customary to eradicate the image of the previous leader and administration. The new leader, in most cases, will eliminate the old Internet Home Pages, and often even the domains, of the previous administration. Of course this is idiotic, and furthers the image that many business people have of the Internet-it's not an important promotional or information tool.
The so called: "bursting of the dot com bubble" is not understood, here, and in many places of the world. Many government leaders, business owners and top officers do not even have a PC on their desk. They are all to happy to confuse their ignorance of the Internet and its "fictitious decline" with the "bubble burst". What they don't understand is that the "bubble" is in reference to large stock price declines of the mid and late nineties which occurred with non profitable companies who were trying to make money off the popularity of the Internet, and NOT the Internet itself.
During this "so called bubble bursting period" there were about 10 million people, worldwide, who regularly accessed the Internet. Now, in 2006, there are more than ONE BILLION! The only bubble that has burst is in the form of aneurysms taking place in the heads of ignorant and usually aged "leaders". And so, their ignorance is one reason the country and its people suffer. There is hope, for when the "old farts" die off, and their more worldly children get a chance to run governments and businesses, things should be much better!
NOTE: In reference to "old farts", I have met the enemy, and he is ME. I'm 67!
2. In Colombia, the print media still reigns supreme as the primary format for promotion.
a. I have visited many large companies and government offices in both Colombia and Venezuela. They promote their function and self-declared importance, mostly through print. Printed promotion is distributed hand to hand, using low cost labor.
Very few people, as a percentage of the population, use the Internet. This is due to ignorance of the "makers and shakers", the high level of poverty, and high costs of Internet connection.
b. Those who create, use, or depend on print media, are resistant to use the Internet. Over the past eleven years of our Portal development, we have, on numerous occasions, offered to replicate printed media, on our popular websites. Our offers were based on: "let's try it", "you have nothing to loose". Our free offers have all been rejected? Simply put, the decision makers do not understand what is happening, around them, all over the world. Their ignorance has caused them to be afraid of what they don't know....the Internet!
One of the oldest and most prestigious print publications, The Wall Street Journal is now making more money from their Internet website than their traditional financial newspaper appearing in print. Travel agencies, are no longer receiving high commissions from the airlines. The airline companies are going direct to their flying clients-with their own ticket selling websites. E-Commerce is the world's fastest growing form of marketing, but for many reasons, its acceptance and use lags dramatically in Hispanic countries. In the U.S. buyers looking for homes, farms and businesses can access more than 1,300,000 properties, with photos, for sale, on the Internet. Paul's real estate website has more solid, current, useful information and photos of Cartagena real estate than ALL OTHER Colombia websites COMBINED! When we have PROVEN our sales concept works, why are others so reluctant to follow. We even offer to help them-FREE!!
If your not easily frustrated, and if you love continuous daily challenges, working in Colombia will be a great experience and the challenge of your lifetime. Come join us, for fun and hopefully, profits.
Ask, (even if your a competitor) and we'll show you how!