Contributed by: Don WinnerMore tourists have been arriving to visit Panama in the first seven months of the year, albeit at a slower pace compared to the reported increase in the same period last year. In total, between January and July more than 1.2 million tourists visited the country, or about 63,000 more than during the same period in 2011. This represents an increase of 5.4%.
Although Panama continues attracting more tourists, the volume has not been sufficient to fill the 4,000 new hotel rooms that have been built in Panama City in recent years. This difference has caused hotel occupancy in the capital city to drop by 7% in the first half of this year. In order to maintain occupancy rates above 60%, hoteliers say tourists would have to register a growth of 15% monthly. This year it is estimated occupancy rates will fall 50%, especially in hotels with less than 100 rooms.
As for average tourist spending, it is estimated that during the month of July tourists spent $1.315 billion dollars in Panama. When compared to the numbers of 2011, it shows an increase of $221.6 million dollars. This assessment made by the Comptroller General does not include the purchase of airline tickets.
By country, the United States remains at the top of the table as the nation that brings more visitors to Panama, followed by Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Spain. While by geographical area, South America is the region that is bringing more tourists to the Panamanian market.
Tocumen is still the main port of entry for tourists, although movement through Paso Canoa, on the border with Costa Rica, has rebounded this year. About 70% of tourists enter Panama through the Tocumen International Airport, while at the border there was an increase of 1.3%, after the decrease reported last year.
By the end of 2012, authorities hope Panama will have received more than 2.2 million visitors, surpassing the 2 million reported last year. To increase the flow of visitors to the country, they are currently negotiating direct flights from Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. The government is acting as a mediator between the South American operators and LCCs for the deal, which could begin in October. They are also establishing negotiations with the Spanish airline Iberia to enhance frequencies from that country. Currently Iberia takes five weekly flights to Panama. (Prensa)