NATIONAL TREASURES

Panama 2015 | TOURISM & RETAIL | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Jesús Sierra Victoria, Former Minister of Tourism, on the strategy to turn Panama into a logistics and transportation center, the growth of ecotourism, and the importance of attracting FDI.

HE Jesús Sierra Victoria
BIOGRAPHY
HE Jesús Sierra Victoria has devoted his career to the development of the tourism in Panama. He has degrees in Law and Political Science from Universidad Santa María La Antigua de Panamá and a degree in Hotel Management from Harbin University of Commerce in China. He received his law degree with an emphasis on International and Corporate law from the University of Texas at Austin. Beginning in 1990, he started working with the Panamanian government. Since 2009, he has been a member of CONEP (Concejo Nacional de la Empresa Privada), and in 2013, he was the President of the Panamanian association of Hotels (APATEL). He was appointed the Minister of Tourism in July 2014.

Thanks to the Cumbre, Panama has been able to gather the global community to discuss the latest trends and the future related to the economic development of the Americas. What was the importance of this event to consolidate and promote the image of the country globally?

The Summit of the Americas was very important for the economic and political perspectives of Panama as it positioned our country as a hemispheric leader in the development of global dialogue. The main event and the additional economic and civil society forums created the perfect atmosphere towards the enforcement of relationships with the main players of different industries and governments, hence increasing awareness about Panamas business opportunities and collaboration processes. 


How is the government working to enhance the level of connectivity of the country, both domestically and internationally?

We are currently undergoing different strategies to bring more players in the airline and shipping industries to use Panamas logistic and transportation hub. There is a lot of interest from companies around the world to help Panama improve its connectivity. One of the strategies is to fulfill the development of co-op funds with airlines, which also helps to promote our country as a tourism destination worldwide.

According to ProInvex, Ecotourism is predicted to grow almost 20% per year overy year in the short term. What is your strategy to foster the growth of this segment even further?

Panama is one of the least known jewels of the world. Our natural treasures have been hidden from the public view for years. The Panama Tourism Authority is currently developing ecotourism products to bring more people to visit our natural rainforest reserves, which comprise around 30% of the territory of the whole country. This is one of the highest percentages of natural reserves in proportion to its territory of any country in the region. On the other hand, we are the only country in the world with a Biodiversity Museum. The museum tells the story, but the real museum is out in the rainforest and it is very alive.

What kind of incentives is the current government promoting to attract more FDI to the sector?
The Law 80, which regulates the incentives for tourism companies, gives tax benefits to companies interested in developing tourism in Panama. Land and income tax exoneration are some of the benefits which are stipulated as incentives.



What is the current status of the MICE industry in Panama and what potential does this segment offer for the development of Panamas tourism industry?

MICE is a very important segment for Panama, due to the fact that Panama City has great hotel properties and event halls to offer to event planners. As a matter of fact, Panama has been ranked recently as one of the destinations with highest expectations of growth for the MICE segment. In the Panama Tourism Authority, we have a department exclusively dedicated to promote Panama as a MICE destination.

Can you share with us the Ministrys priorities for 2015?

The Ministry's top priorities for the year are to increase regional and global connectivity, improve awareness about the benefits and attractions of the destination, to develop more tourism attractions and products, to position Panama as a place where there is always something happening, whether it is concerts, festivals, artistic performances, and lastly, to increase direct foreign investment in tourism.