Director of Innovation, Education and Investments at UNWTO
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 4 years, Natalia has developed 20 UNWTO Startup Competitions and Innovation Challenges with outcomes such as more than 214 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, Sommet Education, Swiss Education Group, the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong, the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and Externado de Colombia University, currently with over 15.000 students from 191 countries. 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 and 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 has been 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.
On 2022, she has launched the first series of tourism investment guidelines: UNWTO Tourism Doing Business, starting with the Dominican Republic and Colombia, and moving on with countries such as Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uruguay. Also, she has developed the brand-new UNWTO Digital Futures for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Programme which aims to provide digital training on connectivity, business growth, e-commerce, big data and analytics, payments, and security to 1 million beneficiaries by partnering with the largest technology companies.
Furthermore, her short-term goals include a variety of high-impact projects such as (1) co-creating the first Tourism International Academy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, (2) opening of the UNWTO Tourism Innovation Lab in collaboration with IE University as a world-ranked institution on online education and entrepreneurship by QS Rankings, (3) positioning women leadership in tourism through supporting innovation and startups, and (4) supporting countries to advance their investment promotion strategies in order to facilitate business creation in tourism, hospitality and food & beverage with tools such as the above-mentioned guidelines.
As recognition for her work, 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 which gathers experts who speak Spanish from multiple areas of knowledge for analyzing social, economic and technological challenges that innovation faces.
Recently, she has also been recognized as one of the 10 Colombian nationals in Spain contributing the most to the country’s positive image, as one of the 150 most influential people in tourism in Spain by Sergestur, and as part of the women-led think tank The Club G100 as Colombia Country Chair for Smart and Sustainable Cities.
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 enjoys sharing knowledge by teaching at universities – 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.