Panama tourism asks the government for a reopening plan and urges President Nito Cortizo to see tourism as an opportunity rather than a burden.
The Panamanian Association of Hotels (APATEL) asked the government last week to reconsider plans to reduce international tourism promotion.
Reacting to plans to lower Panama tourism’s 2021 marketing budget from $20 million to $15 million, APATEL warned such a move would bring adverse consequences for the sector.
APATEL acknowledged Panama’s ongoing health crisis, but said it would be a mistake to see tourism promotion as an expense rather than an investment.
According to the organization, the drop in tourism means a massive drop in tax revenue, making it harder for Panama to pay for its social and health programs.
“Cutting off the nation’s ability to generate income from abroad would have dire consequences for the entire national economy, from restaurants to tourism, retail trade to light industries, and, of course, for the treasury,” said the statement.
APATEL went on to urge President Nito Cortizo to open up a dialogue with the tourism sector.
#PA Apatel exige mantener fondos para la promoción turística; reducirlos traería efectos adversos al sector. El gremio hotelero instó al presidente de la República a abrir con urgencia un diálogo de consulta con representantes de la industria… https://t.co/m9izQe3ENN pic.twitter.com/ZjtxMhUMay
— Reportes de CAmérica (@ReportoCA) January 22, 2021
Since the pandemic hit Panama, tourism has suffered a near total closure, despite the country reopening again in October 2020.
Hotel closures across Panama has meant the loss of at least 35,000 jobs.
To bring back these jobs and tourism revenue, APATEL says Panama needs to do two things. One, get its vaccination program underway (this has already started). And two, begin an aggressive international marketing campaign to promote Panama as a post-Covid-19 tourist destination.
APATEL also alluded to the fact its members have been providing their facilities to look after quarantining COVID patients since the crisis started.
Pre-pandemic, Panama tourism generated more income than the Panama Canal and the Colon Free Zone. In 2019, tourism brought in some $4.5 billion to Panama. This is money lost to the country since tourism closed.
ATP (Panama Tourism Authority) figures reveal that pre-COVID, tourism contributed 11% of Panama’s GDP and generated 100,000 direct jobs.
The ATP requested $83 million for its 2021 budget and received $42 million, according to La Estrella de Panama. Of that $42 million, $15 million will go towards promoting Panama, down from usual $20 million.
The rest of the money will go towards finishing the Amador Convention Center and other projects.
El gremio que aglutina a las principales asociaciones del sector turismo, debidamente organizados, considera la medida de cierre emitida recientemente por el Minsa como perjudicial. #NoticiasTVN https://t.co/pw3RtKINlE
— TVN Noticias (@tvnnoticias) January 13, 2021
Ernesto Orillac, president of the Panama Chamber of Tourism, also weighed in last week.
Speaking on TV, the CAMTUR president asked the government to organize a roadmap to reopening the country.
He said tourism can’t take many more closures, or wait for the vaccine before reactivating.
He also pointed out that COVID contagion from tourists is minimal due to all the protocols in place within the sector.
“It’s important to understand how important tourism is to Panama’s economic recovery in 2021,” said Orillac, while comparing the situation in Panama to others in the region.
The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Colombia, and Costa Rica all closed out 2020 with better-than-expected hotel occupancy numbers.
Echoing APATEL, Orillac urged the government to view tourism as an opportunity rather than a problem.
Although Tocumen Airport remains open to international visitors, new lockdowns in Panama have shut down tourism until at least March.
Orillac asked the government to allow the movement of tourists around Panama and to reopen beaches, national parks, and rivers.
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.