TIME TO SHINE

Panama 2016 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mike Eman, Prime Minister of Aruba, on ties between Panama and Aruba and ways to boost cooperation.

In 2013, the Chamber of Tourism of Panama and the Aruba Tourism Authority signed an MoU to boost cruise tourism in both countries. How do you assess its success so far, and what are some other ways in which trade ties can be reinforced?

The locations of Aruba and Panama make our partnership a proverbial win-win as both destinations benefit from stimulating cruise tourism in the Southern Caribbean. Panama and Aruba have had a strong informal collaboration for many years, but in 2013 the Aruba Tourism Authority and the Chamber of Tourism of Panama (Camara de Turismo de Panama) signed an MoU to formalize our efforts to stimulate cruise tourism, especially during the summer months. Our respective Ministers of Tourism have been working steadily since 2013 to develop concrete steps to secure additional cruise business for our countries. In addition, these joint efforts have been expanded to include the country of Curacao. The goal is to approach specific key cruise line partners as well as to collectively embark on potential product development efforts. I am very confident that such efforts will lead to success for all three countries in increasing cruise tourism. I believe it is important for countries in the region to no longer view one another simply as competitors, whether for tourists or foreign investment, but to seek out ways we can work together so we all may benefit. Our MoU with Panama regarding cruise tourism is one inventive and promising way to do that, but we should find others. I think we also can strengthen our trade ties with Panama in the maritime and logistics sectors.

What are the similarities between Panama and Aruba, and how can the former learn from Aruba's experience in marketing itself to potential visitors?

Panama is a highly successful tourism destination and does not need lessons from any country. Our countries have much in common, however, in the warm and welcoming nature of our people. That is one key reason for the success of tourism in both our countries. In terms of joint marketing to increase cruise tourism, I believe what is more important for Panama and Aruba are some of the differences in our tourism and how we can complement one another in terms of what we offer to cruise tourists. Panama, of course, is a much larger country with a vibrant and modern metropolitan setting in Panama City. Panama also has mountains and jungles, as well as the Panama Canal Zone, one of the industrial wonders of the world. Aruba, on the other hand, is an island surrounded by the beautiful blue waters of the Caribbean with miles of white sandy beaches where windsurfers and kites boarders come from all over the world to catch our famous trade winds. And although we are a small island, we are culturally diverse with over 90 different nationalities and a multilingual people who speak four languages: Papiamento, Dutch, English, and Spanish.

What makes Panama an important trade and investment partner for Aruba?

Panama is a tremendous multi-faceted trading hub, not only for the region but for the world. Aruba also has a strategic location in the Caribbean and is developing its potential with a new state-of-the-art Multi Cargo Sea Terminal, which will open in 2016. We believe there is great potential for Aruba and Panama to collaborate and to develop business opportunities in the maritime and logistics sector. And Aruba, as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, offers a unique opening to Europe right here in the Caribbean. In April 2015, after attending the Summit of the Americas in Panama, I led a Trade Mission Delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which hosted a conference and participated in a trade show in Panama, both focused on the maritime industry. In addition, the Netherlands sponsored a matchmaking session where companies from the Kingdom could explore business opportunities with Panamanian companies. The Kingdom was represented in Panama by 30 companies from the maritime sector alone, which were seeking to do business with Panamanian and other companies. So, as you can see from this strong showing of interest of the private sector in the Kingdom, Panama is a very important trade and investment partner for Aruba and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Looking ahead, what are some of the ways in which the two countries can cooperate, and what do you envisage for the future of bilateral relations between the two nations?

I believe the future of bilateral relations between Aruba and Panama is a bright one with tremendous potential as our countries cooperate on promoting cruise tourism and seeking business partnerships in the maritime and logistics sectors.