Tourism has been evolving, and so have the authorities in charge of managing this Panamanian industry that is working to achieve the place it deserves. For this reason, our Special Guest is the General Administrator of the Panama Tourism Authority, who recently took the reins of this organization. A lawyer and financier with a specialty in tourism planning, Denise Guillen actively participated in the formulation of the Master Plan for Panama’s Coastal Tourism Development, as well as in the Presidential Commission for training and incentives for cruise lines, among other projects.
Our guest, who was also the protagonist in the update of the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan 2020 – 2025, sits down exclusively with The Visitor – El Visitante to talk about the challenges she has in her new assignment and everything that is on the works to continue developing tourism at full steam throughout the country.
What are the challenges you have had now that you are leading Panama Tourism Authority?
“The main challenges have been to work on spreading the tourism brand, it is a challenge that we have set for ourselves to expand our tourism brand to the other productive sectors of the country in a transversal way. A tourist brand that was focused and designed on Panamanians, in their joy and aspirations for more progress. Under the slogan “Panama Lives for More” we talk about the attributes of this great country where there is more diversity, more joy, more folklore, more tradition, more history, more culture. Many times, people would talk about Panama’s strategic location, but despite this attribute, we were not known abroad as we are now. Another challenge is for this marketing and commercialization platform to generate greater results, since we have seen the returns on investment and performance on the tourist brand nationally, generating benefits for the country. These first two years show that money well invested and continuously generates economic returns that should not be limited to the number of Visitors, but also to the time they invest exploring the country.”
How projects related to tourist destinations such as Tierras Altas, Bocas, Pedasi and Taboga are progressing?
“These projects are managed under the ATP – BID unit, and coincidentally this week and next week we reached five destinations where consultations on territorial planning in these destinations are advancing. We have also made progress in efforts aimed to the micro and small entrepreneurs, and we are also close to starting a tourism entrepreneurship program with the City of Knowledge that reaches all destinations and a little more. Another good news is that we have recovered the number of Visitors to the country, only in the first quarter of the year, more than 1 million 300 thousand tourists arrived in Panama, creating an economic impact of more than 2 billion dollars, but most importantly is that the passenger’s stay increased. And they are also arriving not only to Panama City, they are beginning to explore destinations in the Interior apart from Boquete and Bocas, places such as the Gulf of Chiriqui, Las Perlas Archipelago, Portobelo, among others.”
In this process of recovery of Panamanian tourism, what are the new strengths that the country has developed in tourism and the weaknesses that still remain to be worked on?
“The strength’s authority is the implementation of the Tourism Master Plan as a strategic framework for development, which for the first time has been elevated to state policy by a President of the Republic. That master plan was developed not only with the hoteliers or tourism chambers, we got to talk with the boatmen in Bocas del Toro and Pedasi, with the fishermen of Santa Catalina, with the transporters who take tourists from the Albrook terminal to the entire country, as well as with airlines, was the construction of a consensus, where more than 34 workshops were held throughout the country. The challenge was to prioritize, because he who covers a lot does not cover much, and we were looking for a governing document that would govern until 2025. This allowed private companies and communities to take ownership of the development of their own tourism management. Destination management committees have been used as a vehicle, allowing the Mayor, together with other authorities of the Technical Board in each destination, to coordinate actions. And these committees are here to stay, it is the way in which decision-making is truly decentralized and allows us to see how budgets are going to be used. The pyramid is inverted allowing the base to make the decisions. The greatest strength is the unification of the public and private sectors, sitting as equals and seeking the benefit of a destiny. Product diversification is also an important strength, people don’t just come for business tourism, they come to enjoy our biodiversity, culture and traditions.
A planner must recognize and be aware of weaknesses. We must continue to aim to strengthen local human resources, it is essential, because we can build the most luxurious hotel and the only way it will be remembered is for the experience it offers, and that is done by the warmth of the Panamanians who are offering their services. And it must be reinforced with continuous training in all human and technical issues that helps the professional management of each one.”
How do you see the new cruise season and the soon-to-be start of the high season in Panama?
“We are going to have the destination management committees working on these issues focused on the issue of security in the case of tourists on cruise ships, and not only in the Colon and Panama terminals, since receive cruises in Bocas del Toro, Guna Yala, Boca Chica, Golfo de Chiriqui, Coiba and also in Pedasi where we had a very positive experience. The good thing is that there are cruises that end or begin in Panama, allowing these tourists to stay in hotels apart from taking tourist tours.
In the high season, an increase in connectivity is expected in the western area of the country with connections between Panama and David. I see it with great optimism, we have goals and just as the statistical reports indicate that we have been increasing the number of visitors, I believe that 2024 looks even better, achieving a greater increase in hotel occupancy.”
Photos courtesy: ATP/ Denise Guillen