Uncle Marty aka Martin Harrington of Happy Tours and Marjorie Y. Bravo, Consul General of Panama in Toronto.
Uncle Marty aka Martin Harrington of Happy Tours and Marjorie Y. Bravo, Consul General of Panama in Toronto.

Panama revealed: from shopping to natural beauty

TORONTO — With a population similar to the city of Toronto, the Central American nation of Panama is focusing its sights on increasing visitors from Canada.

The Consul General of Panama in Toronto, Autoridad de Turismo Panama (Ministry of Tourism, Panama), Copa Airlines and selected hotel and destination marketing companies welcomed travel agents and trade media in Toronto to a trade show breakfast to learn more about this country.

As ‘Uncle Marty’ explained that Panama means “an abundance of butterflies and fish”, in one of the indigenous peoples’ languages, he also talked about how the country is a mix of big city offerings and laid-back coastal areas, allowing visitors to benefit from both experiences easily as it takes an hour to drive from the Caribbean to the Pacific coast.

‘Uncle Marty’ aka Martin Harrington of Happy Tours is very passionate about Panama and shared stories about many of the same themes presented by Luis Vargas of the Autoridad de Turismo Panama of what draws visitors to Panama: history, beaches, nature, city and shopping.

According to The World Bank’s most recent international arrivals data, Panama welcomed 1.65 million visitors in 2013, and almost one million of those visitors went to see the country’s biggest and best-known attraction: the Panama Canal. Opened in 1914, the 101 year old Panama Canal will be expanding in 2016, with a third set of locks to open, allowing 18,000 more freight and cruise ships to make the journey between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

With one of the largest duty free zones in the region and numerous large shopping malls, Panama City has been attracting a steady stream of visitors. With 20,000 hotel rooms in Panama City and additional 9,000 in the country, Panama City boasts that it’s the eighth most affordable city in the world. But this Central American country isn’t just about modernity – 25% of the country is protected national parks and the BioMuseo, a museum designed by Frank Gehry and dedicated to the country’s biodiversity, opened in October 2014.

Yolanda Ortega, a sales executive with Copa Airlines, highlighted the airline’s five times a week service for the past four years from Toronto Pearson direct to Panama City, as well as its recent addition since June of this year of four times weekly direct flights between Montreal and Panama City.

Copa Airlines, a member of Star Alliance, offers a free stopover in Panama City for passengers flying on advertised fares to the 74 destinations in 30 countries served by the airline, which has been recently recognized by FlightStats with an On-time Performance Service Award in 2014.

Attracting numerous investments thanks to its strong financial industry, Panama’s Tocumen International Airport, which currently handles 1,485 weekly direct flights, will be expanding with a new south terminal designed by Foster and Partners.

The airport plans to increase travellers from 5.8 million to 18 million passengers per year by 2022, with its goal to become one of the main flight hubs of the Americas. Panama and Emirates Airlines will be making travel history in 2016, with the beginning of the world’s longest nonstop flight from Dubai to Panama City, a 17 hour 35 minute westbound journey, making its inaugural flight on Feb. 1.

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