What have been the reasons behind your success in becoming one of the Panamanian companies with the best corporate reputations?
DIEGO VALLARINO LEWIS The values, work ethic, and knowledge of our founder, who has been in business for over 35 years, have played a significant role in shaping the corporate values and culture that guide the company today. As a business, we have strived to inculcate the values and teachings that have passed down from previous generations to our associates. To be considered one of the most elite organizations in terms of corporate reputation in Panama in such a short period of time is a huge achievement that can be attributed in part to the great reputation of our founder throughout his history in business.
What have been the main highlights of 2018 for Eleta?
GUILLERMO DE SAINT MALO ELETA Eleta is a family investment group, through which we invest in various sectors of the economy. This is the case for media and telecom, and for our investments in real estate, energy, agriculture, and tourism. We have been extremely busy with our investments on various fronts. Our real estate division is executing two lifestyle centers and some commercial and luxury real estate in the pearl islands. We are deploying two five-star hotels and over 80 units, villas, and condos, with a marina, an airport, connecting roads, a beach club, and restaurants. We are in the mid-stages of finishing a Viking fishing lodge, a global first. In addition, we are building an 86-room hotel that will be operational in two years.
What is your perspective on growth within Panama, and what needs to be done to attract international investors and companies?
DVL Growth within Panama will depend in large part on our capacity to attract FDI. If we compare Panama to the region, it has its advantages as it is a dollarized economy and it is growing and diversifying its economy faster than its neighbors. Now, we see more international clients looking for deals in the tourism sector and some starting to appear in the residential real estate space. In real estate, international investors are more focused on the low-end residential side, and there is high demand for such products since there is a growing middle class in Panama that requires housing.
What is your main strategy for being successful with your investments?
GDSME Our business is people, and we invest in those with whom we surround ourselves. We have decided, with great people on board, to invest in energy, logistics, real estate, and tourism, among other potential sectors. It is the managers and partners that make a business a success and our main goals for 2019 are to deploy a 20-MW solar plant, finish our hotel on Pearl Island, and double down on coffee with investment in more technology and global distribution. We will continue to partner with the best and push our retail strategy locally and internationally with the opening of our first store in the US, in Washington, D.C.
What is your view on the PPPs in the tourism and real estate sectors?
DVL They are completely necessary. If we want to create projects in Panama, especially around the Canal Riviera and large tourist destinations, we must have support from the public sector. They are nascent industries at the moment, and there is a great deal of competition worldwide. The government and the private sector have to collaborate on marketing and tourist infrastructure projects. Tax incentives are important, as are other incentives for low-cost airlines that want to come to Panama. Transportation from Panama City to other destinations in the country need to be improved.
What are your strategies for continued investment in agro-industry?
GDSME As investors in our country, we have a responsibility to support agriculture, albeit with technology and value. In that sense, today we have what is possibly the largest high-end coffee production operation in Panama. As one of the largest exporters, we are investing in agro as well as the retail industry around coffee. We are taking technology to our operations, making everything digital and traceable, and offering consumers a coffee experience direct from the crop to their cup. Through our new investment in UNIDO coffee shops soon to open in Washington DC and Miami, we will sell the best coffee from the best producers in Panama. It will be Panama's window of supply of our most important national export good: coffee.