Latin America is experiencing an unprecedented tourist boom, with an average growth of 5 percent in the sector, while Panama is going through the "worst" moment of the last 10 years, hoteliers in the country complained today.
The president of the Panamanian Hotel Association (APATEL), Armando Rodríguez, told EFE on Thursday that the hotel rate in Panama barely exceeds 40 percent and that forecasts indicate that it will continue to fall, compared to the 68 or 63 percent recorded by neighboring countries such as Costa Rica or Colombia, respectively.
"Despite the fact that certain investments are being made and that certain initiatives are being undertaken by the Government, it is necessary to continue to press and do more, hotel occupancy is decreasing every time more, but the countries in our area are moving up. We have been left behind," he said.
The entrepreneur celebrated that the Government launched last year an international tourism promotion campaign and that last month a public-private fund to boost investment in the sector began to operate, but acknowledged that these efforts "are not enough".
The president of the association, which brings together the owners of the hotels, asked the government to provide access to the market to low-cost airlines and install a permanent exhibition center in the country’s main airport on the benefits offered by Panama as a tourist destination.
The Tocumen International Airport, which is in the process of expansion and is the base of operations of the Panamanian airline Copa, is an important terminal for connections in the region, whereby 15 million people pass through each year, the vast majority of which do not visit Panama.
"As a destination we have a lot to offer, we are a melting pot of cultures, we have great biodiversity, a lot of indigenous history and the advantage of being a small country, which can be easily covered and where distances are short," he explained.
The association is the organizer of the fourth edition of the Regional Congress of Hospitality and Tourism (COREHOTU 2018), which since yesterday brings together hoteliers and professionals from different countries in the region.
"The time to reflect has passed, it is time to act, tourism means employment, business opportunities for all, renewal and transformation of urban areas and conservation of natural and cultural heritage," he added.
According to data from the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP), in 2017 2.5 million foreign tourists arrived in the country, spending 4,451 million dollars, which represents an increase of 3.8% over the previous year.
Tourism represents around 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of Panama, one of the most dynamic countries in the region, which in 2017 experienced an economic growth of 5.4 percent.