BERLIN – Panama’s Tourism Minister Gustavo Him said on Friday that the country is sticking with a target of 3 million tourist arrivals by 2020 despite a setback last year, when the industry was hit by a plunge in the number of visitors from crisis-hit Venezuela.
In remarks to EFE at ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel trade show, Him said Panama welcomed 2.55 million international tourist arrivals last year, down 3 percent from 2017.
That drop was due to a sharp decrease in arrivals from Venezuela, which historically has been the second-biggest source of tourists to Panama (after the United States) but is currently suffering a deep recession marked by food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation.
After last year’s struggles, 2019 “looks much better,” Him said, adding that his ministry has not lowered its target of 3 million visitors.
Panama is looking to boost the number of arrivals by diversifying its tourist offering, leaving behind its image as a destination with a narrow focus on the business-travel segment and visits to its world-famous, inter-oceanic canal.
He added that the range of options has now expanded considerably and is more in keeping with the demands of the modern tourist, with a focus on the country’s biodiversity, culture, gastronomy, history, natural beauty, adventure activities and indigenous communities.
“We’ve revealed a side of Panama that people weren’t aware of,” Him said, noting that the strategy is already yielding “significant results.”
In a presentation of Panama’s tourist offering at ITB Berlin, the minister said the country is “small in area” but rich in diversity.
The ITB Berlin, which kicked off on Wednesday and will run through Sunday, features some 10,000 exhibitors from more than 180 countries and is expected to attract roughly 160,000 total visitors, the majority of whom are tourism industry professionals.
Him said last August in an interview with EFE in Costa Rica that Panama was seeking to give a boost to the sector with a $20 million international tourism promotion fund and a possible alliance with Costa Rica to create a multi-destination tourism zone and facilitate the exchange of visitors.
He added then that with the recent opening of diplomatic relations between China and Panama, the Chinese market is also an objective and an opportunity to create “synergy” with Costa Rica.
“The tourists who come from so far away have a preference for having a multi-destination (package) to get more out of their investment, so Costa Rica can be a big key,” Him said in that interview.
“We’re going to draw up a plan, look at possibilities, risks and opportunities, and if it’s good for both countries we can get started. Such a distant market is not easy, but it’s important to try and get new markets,” he added then.