How has foreign investment contributed to the growth of Panama's tourism sector?
There has been a growing interest in Panama over the past few years. The tourism industry has seen a rapid growth and there has been significant investment in Panama from foreign tourist companies and other investors. All major hotel brands are in Panama as well as a number of boutique hotels. There has been growing interest from micro businesses outside the capital. We have a number of foreign airlines and some new ones coming in this year, bringing more direct flights between Panama and the rest of the world. Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa are coming in this year, and Emirates is still interested. This is going to increase the number of visitors that Panama receives. The Asia-Panama connection is going to be important. Panama is also an important part of cruise ship routes. Panama still remains an important connection—we have the expansion of Tocumen Airport and there have been discussions of establishing direct flights to Panama with a number of new airlines, including Japan Airlines and Virgin. A number of international firms have invested in Panama, such as FEMSA and CEMEX from Mexico, Toyota from Japan, and many multinationals from the US, all of which generate tourism.
What is the ATP's strategy for promoting Panama internationally?
We are working to unify the efforts of the private and public sectors, as groups were previously working on their own, which was not effective. We are also hiring a PR company with the expertise and past success to sell Panama as a destination. We found through surveys that people are either unaware of Panama, or have false impressions of it. In order to create more demand, continuous promotion is fundamental. We now have a 10-year plan in mind because this is the minimum amount of time that will be needed to promote Panama as a brand. The second important aspect is training. Our best promotion of Panama is for people to leave with a positive view of Panama, so we are working on providing the necessary skills and relevant work experience to our human capital. One disadvantage of Panama's full employment is that there are many jobs available and, therefore, there is a high turnover, which affects the quality of services that we can provide. The third is that we now have an infrastructure plan in place based on ecotourism. We are working with a number of organizations involved in environmental protection and sustainable development. We are also focusing on business tourism, and there is a new convention center being built that will be ready in about 24 months. We want US companies to come to Panama to do business and take advantage of the FTA, which provides an important incentive for them to host conventions here in Panama.
What is the Panama Tourism Authority's target for 2019?
Our target for 2019 is to reach 3 million visitors, and we are on track to meet this goal. We have to be concrete in our efforts in order to maintain this growth, and we have to optimize our resources along with our marketing efforts. Despite the fact that tourism is the number one contributor to Panama's economy, our budget is actually smaller than other countries'. We have a US-focused strategy because it is our main market, but we are still betting on emerging countries. We have to be creative, and we are increasingly moving into the growing trend of digital marketing. In the region, we are targeting Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, which is our second most important market. Luckily, Argentina is recovering, and it represents an important segment of tourists that enjoy coming to Panama for a number of reasons, notably the lack of visa requirements. Hotels are unfortunately not able to charge as much today, but we have to take advantage of this and add to our competitiveness.