Tourism is recognized every day as a vital productive sector for the social, cultural and economic development of Panama. Although there are still no strong policies and actions that ensure real tourism development, there are people who are working to achieve it, this is the case of our special guest Adolfo Fabrega, President of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama. Graduated in Information Systems Engineering from the University of Notre Dame and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, MA, where he achieved an Executive Education Certificate in Implementation of Innovation Strategies in 2010, this Panamanian visionary talks exclusively with The Visitor – El Visitor about the plans he seeks to execute as a leader in the private business sector, and where tourism is key to the true development of Panama.
Tourism is an economic engine like no other. What does Panama need to incorporate into its economic machinery in order for tourism to become a real engine for human development?
“For some time now, we have publicly stated that our union sees tourism as one of the sectors of priority attention, given its ability to positively impact other areas of the national economy.
One of the main challenges for this sector is to convert tourism activity into state policy; however, it requires political will to activate the resources and due coordination between the different actors that participate in the activity and position Panama in the target markets.
Many of the situations that have reversed us in terms of tourism are a reflection of the fact that the industry has not yet become a state policy. For example, the recent facts of contradictory information on migration policies with countries in the region.
In addition, we must find niches where we are a reference. For example, we consider that business tourism has a lot of potential in Panama. We have one of the best convention center offerings in the entire region and can offer outstanding tourism that corporate event participants can do before or after their visits. In addition, we have impressive indicators of business visitors who return with their families to enjoy the rest of the tourist offer.”
You come from the technology sector, how technology can help accelerate the process and instead of waiting 20 years to see strong results, be half that.
“I consider that adding new technologies in the tourism sector would have various benefits. We must be more effective in developing applications that present the potential tourist with a very simple and clear view of the offer. We must work together with the private and public sectors to create web and mobile applications to present activities, businesses, tourist sites and services with complete and reliable information. Considering the current tools in terms of application development, we can create a much more personalized sale to the potential tourist. In this way, stand out within the sea of alternatives that each person who plans a trip or vacation has.
In addition, we must ensure that the technological platforms for purchasing and modifying trips are as easy to use as possible. For example, to promote the Stop Over program, we must ensure that online ticket purchasing platforms can easily offer and allow the customer to take advantage of these benefits in a few clicks and in a very easy and simple way.
We must recognize that tourists already like to self-supply online. For this reason, it is critical that we have the tools that present the information you need but above all that allow you to take action and book all your activities and experiences using electronic media. In Panama, we are still behind in this digital offer of options and especially in the conversion of intention to paid reservation.”
How can private companies increasingly become the protagonist of tourism development in Panama and thus accelerate our growth process?
“The tourism sector is an activity that drives other productive sectors in the country, for this reason we include in the Country Agenda 2019-2024 concrete actions to be executed in the short and medium term. The goal of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama (CCIAP) is to keep tourism as a priority and with that purpose, this union has constant work meetings with the main actors of the private sector and the government sector, with a view to articulating all efforts that lead to a vigorous development of the tourism activity.
Tourism can generate hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs at different scales of development and geographic areas, and incorporate individual, family and collective entrepreneurs into its dynamics.
This adaptability has a unique field of action in the country, offering everything from jungle and desert areas to high altitude lands, through its extraordinary rich flora and fauna, as well as seas and island territories.
Tourism is one of the most important exporters in the country as it integrates a large multiplicity of businesses into its management. For this reason, for more than a decade we have been developing EXPO TURISMO Internacional.”
Within your analysis and observation, what are the three destinations outside of Panama City that have the greatest potential for real development in the short term and why?
“There are so many unique places and experiences in Panama that it is very difficult to choose just three, so I would invite you to discover at least one place in each region that make up our tourist offer.
Our country has great tourism potential, with little explored areas where the adventure-seeking traveler will be able to discover a rich biodiversity; as well as, enjoy the diverse ecosystems offered by the two seas – Atlantic and Pacific – that bathe the isthmus of Panama. Meanwhile, you can experience our three main cultures: its 7 indigenous groups, its Afro-Caribbean heritage, and its colorful Spanish colonial culture. This without leaving aside the fact that it has a cosmopolitan capital city that offers business tourism, exhibitions and international events; as well as shopping tourism.”
What tourism projects that have not yet been executed would you like to see ir in reality to enhance Panama’s tourism at a local and international level?
“For years now, CCIAP has called on those who make up and promote the tourism sector, so that, through the relevant authorities, we establish strategies that allow companies in the sector to plan and prepare for the demands imposed by the new modality after the pandemic.
For this reason, de have indicated that we must take full advantage of the competitive advantage of the Tocumen International Airport. For this, through its Tourism and Leisure Group, CCIAP, in 2018 proponer the project ‘Sense of Place’, aimed at ensuring that the millions of passengers who pass through there each year live and feel the attractions that Panama has.
This proposal contemplated being located in the connector area between terminal 1 and terminal 2, where we considered the critical mass of passengers in transit would move. “Sense of Place” would allow the traveler to experience Panama, whether experiencing the Darien jungle or the islands in Bocas del Toro or taking a look from a rooftop in Casco Antiguo towards the skyscrapers of the Panama City. All this with the purpose that, in the next travel decision, Panama occupies the first places on your lists of options.
In terms of sites with potential projects, we can highlight Colon province with numerous sites that have incalculable potential and that lack projects that attract organic tourists. Likewise, places like Taboga Island, the Las Perlas Archipelago and of course Tierras Altas, which are still far from achieving the potential they have in terms of tourism.”