Natalia Bayona leads the innovation, education, and investments strategy of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the United Nations specialized agency for the promotion of responsible, sustainable, and accessible tourism worldwide.
With a diverse background on politics, destination management and business, she has become the first innovation director at UNWTO, has introduced entrepreneurship and education as key factors for tourism and development, and has positioned UNWTO as an innovation benchmark within the wider United Nations system as recognized in the UN 2020 Mapping of Innovation, Data and Digital Capacities. Furthermore, she has joined the UN Executive Leadership Programme for Sustainable Development, led by the UN System Staff College (UNSSC).
Her work consists of identifying the most disruptive startups and investment projects and matching them with Member States and leading corporations. As an advocate of youth and technology, she seeks to make entrepreneurs grow for a promising future in all regions.
During the last 3 years, Natalia has developed 9 UNWTO Startup Competitions and 8 Innovation Challenges with outcomes such as more than 74 million USD in support for entrepreneurs and pilots for safe travel. Moreover, she has designed the Tourism Tech Adventures innovation forums and co-created the UNWTO Tourism Online Academy, the pioneer platform for advancing skill development for the sector in collaboration with the most prestigious universities such as IE University, Cornell University and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, currently with over 12,000 students. Furthermore, she has created the UNWTO Technical Committee on Tourism Online Education and acts as its Secretary to ensure education is at the forefront of the global agenda.
She has also opened the Multilateral Investment Cooperation area for tourism, has built a network of more than 290 investors interested in the sector and is currently working on high-impact projects to recover tourism, including the Investment Readiness for Green Finance Mechanisms in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) from the World Bank Group. In this same vein, she is a coordination member of the Global Tourism Crisis Committee (GTCC) where UNWTO Member States, UN Agencies and Private Sector Associations – IATA, ACI, CLIA, among others – gather to discuss actions to address current issues. Within this framework, Natalia has led the UNWTO Healing Solutions for Tourism Challenge, the UNWTO Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Global Startup Competition and the UNWTO Jobs Factory as specific projects to support destinations and employment.
Furthermore, Natalia has been awarded the IIPT (International Institute For Peace Through Tourism)’s 5th “Celebrating Her” prize for “Innovation & the Empowerment of Women Through Tourism” at ITB Berlin 2021, an acknowledgement that is only given to 3 women from all over the world each year. Natalia is also a part of the “100 de COTEC” network, a network of experts who speak Spanish, coming from multiple areas of knowledge, prepared to analyse the great social, economic, and technological challenges that innovation faces. She was recognized as one of the Leading Women in Innovation in the sector in the 2021 edition of the Women Leading Travel & Hospitality report. In 2021, she was recognized by the Colombian Government and the Colombian Embassy in Spain as one of the '10 most outstanding Colombians in Spain' for her professional career in that country.
Natalia graduated in Government and International Relations from Universidad Externado de Colombia and holds an Executive MBA from the IE Business School. Nowadays, she is part of the World Economic Forum (WEF) network as a European Digital Leader and is an Eisenhower Fellow as the first Colombian on the Women Leadership Program for creating the first Tourism for Tomorrow Programme: a high-level network focused on joining public-private efforts for high-impact investments in digital education and innovation for tourism’s sustainable development and post Covid-19 recovery. Additionally, she has been invited to teach at universities as Harvard (USA), Cornell (USA), Externado (Colombia) and Bilkent (Turkey) and public schools in Colombia as part of her give back to youth and her country.
In 2017, she served as the Vice President of International Development for the Spain Startup - South Summit and organized the first South Summit Pacific Alliance, connecting the main stakeholders of the entrepreneurship ecosystem of Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru. Having worked in ProColombia for ten years, she has lived in six countries where has developed strategies to boost exports, foreign investment, and tourism for Colombia. Her career started in 2006 as part of the team that created the first international tourism campaign for Colombia: “Colombia, the risk is wanting to stay”, which sought to change the image of the country abroad. The successful execution of this campaign in more than 15 countries was possible thanks to her work.