Tocumen. a transit hub
The low performance of tourism in Panama in recent years does match up to the high investments that the Panamanian State has been making in airport and port infrastructure.
Between 2017 and 2018, the number of visitors who entered Panama through Tocumen International Airport grew by just 0.3%, the equivalent of some 6,000 additional passengers. The numbers for 2017 compared to 2016 were not good either: Although in the period concerned the average expenditure of tourists grew, the total number of visitors remained unchanged, at 2.5 million, reports CentralAmericaData
The figures contrast radically with the investments that have been made in the expansion of the Tocumen terminal in recent years, as well as in other infrastructure projects linked to tourism.
"... ‘There is important work to be done to increase the flow of these tourists' (i.e. those who come to Panama to spend more than one night), acknowledged Tocumen dDirector, Oscar Ramirez during the presentation of the five-year results of the air terminal. “75% of the 16.24 million passengers who passed through Tocumen last year, did so in transit."
"... The pace of Tocumen's investments exceeds, by several digits, the airport's revenues. Tocumen's latest public financial statement reveals that construction works in progress, counted as assets until September 2018, reached of $1,071.78 billion. That amount expanded 27.5% in just one year, with the main part of that investment benefiting Odebrecht, which is currently executing the work."
As reported by La Estrella. another of the pillars of Panama's tourism attraction strategy is the "hub of the Americas,” concept with which Tocumen seeks to position itself as a bridge to other markets. The problem is that, given that the country is not a major provider of passengers, the strategy is based on connecting travelers from different parts, for which significant sums have been invested in the conditioning of the airport to serve these connecting routes.
At the same time, the Panamanian government has also invested heavily in international tourism promotion strategies, as well as in subsidies to foreign airlines to feed connecting routes and attract more tourists.
"... It is an aggressive economic bet with public funds, which added to the $500 million invested in the old town of Colon in the hope of raising it as a tourist city, surpass $2 billion, placed on the table to reactivate the industry without a fire to attract tourists en mass for which the country waits so long."
They push for tourism investment, but have no clue how to manage tourism. On every national holiday, and even for the 4 days of Carnival, they set up road blocks on the roads to every beach, checking passengers, and trunks of every vehicle and motorcycle that passes. It can take up to 2 hours sitting in backed up traffic waiting to clear the check point. Then, they send the local police out to close the beach's at 5:00 pm. How can you expect successful tourism with thinking lie this ?
I am totally in agreement with Pedro. I have had to leave the country the last 5 years, Aruba, Categena, Medellin and a Cruise just to get my passport stamped to keep driving on my Canadian Drivers Licence. This applies to Americans and Canadians. What happens is, you leave the country and spend you money elsewhere or you just come for 3 months. Either way, Panama loses.
Juana is correct. Tourists come to see local villages, beautiful beaches, people using horses for transportation, to eat tropical foods, and explore the countryside of a tropical paradise. They do not come here to see our garbage strewn about as though the place is inhabited by a level of intelligence that doesn't understand how damaging it is to shit in your own nest. They do not come here to witness our corruption. They do not want to see sewage being dumped into the ocean they wanted to swim in, or where food is being harvested for tonight's dinner. Panama can survive without the frosting of grand gestures, but nobody is attracted to ignorance, lack of planning, lack of caring, lack of awareness, or the results of it.
It’s a shame that Panama is spending so much money on marketing the country internationally as a tourist destination without alloting an equal amount of money to make it more tourist friendly and attractive. One of Panama’s draws for me is its deserted beaches and quiet rural towns. Tourists who visit there and see trash all over are likely to be unimpressed and downright disgusted with the contrast between the gorgeous naturaleza and the condition of the roadsides and beaches. Garbage is a huge issue as well as poverty; addressing those will pay off in the long run making Panama more palatable to sophisticated travelers.
Canadians are permitted to stay 180 days in Panama without a visa. A good number come to Panama for 4 or 5 months during the Canadian winter season, many own property here and also cars. However although they are permitted to stay 180 days they are only allowed to drive on their drivers licence for 90 days. This means that after 90 days they must leave the country, many take a trip to Colombia or Costa Rica etc. for a few days which means they are spending money outside of Panama which could be spent here. It's a ridiculous situation and an adjustment to this regulation would mean more revenue for Panama.