TORONTO — While in Toronto last month for IncentiveWorks, Panama’s Deputy Minister of Tourism Jennifer Champsur attributes growing tourist arrivals to new tourism infrastructure, more international air lift, the cosmopolitan vibe of Panama City and growing popularity of Panama as a leisure destination.
Tourism arrivals to Panama were 2.2 million in 2013 and the government expects the number to rise to 2.5-2.6 million this year, representing a possible increase of almost 20%. The growth in arrivals has helped tourism surpass the Panama Canal as the biggest contributor to GDP according to Champsur.
Panama City has been growing rapidly and the government has invested significantly in revamping the city. The Panama Canal, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is being widened to accommodate double the shipping traffic. The area along the banks of the canal has also been restored adding parks, trails and restaurants making it increasingly tourist-friendly.
Panama City will also add a new Panama Conference Centre – the second largest in Latin America – that is set to open late 2015.
Hotel capacity has also increased significantly with some estimates suggesting that it has almost doubled since 2007. Recent openings of note include the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis (1,500); Westin Playa Bonita (611 rooms); the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel (369); Hilton Panama (347); and many smaller boutique hotels.
Tourism has also been supported by investment in the country’s airports including the new Scarlett Martinez International Airport in Rio Hata – which Sunwing is already flying into for quicker access to the beaches – and the expansion of the Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, adding a new terminal and 20 gates, expected to be complete by 2016.
International airlines continue to add capacity into Panama and passengers can fly nonstop from Canada with Air Canada, Copa Airlines, Air Transat or Sunwing, particularly from Toronto and Montreal.
The global travel industry will descend on Panama for the Expo Tourism Trade Show hosted in Panama City Sept. 25-27 showcasing the city.