Panama has been at the center of the world’s conversation about tourism since 2009, with rave reviews and booming visitor numbers helping to push the country to the fore. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of tourists to Panama shot up to 2.2 million per year – a rise of 40% in just 4 years. So what makes up the appeal of Panama? What about the country is so competitive in a world tourism market seemingly festooned with fantastic options?
Let’s find out.
The World Economic Forum’s accumulated data for 2013 has recently been released and Panama’s scores perhaps help throw more light on the situation, as the ranking system helps to put the isthmian nation into context with its developing and developed neighbors. Currently, the country is performing well in a number of key indexes linked to tourism but is underperforming in other, non-economic, areas.
Nonetheless, a broad range of excellent scores in all the juiciest sectors for tourism have led to Panama’s reputation as a tourist hotspot booming in 2012, with the number of visitors to the small republic totalling half the population.
Ranked 4th in the Americas as a tourist hotspot, Panama takes this heavyweight role thanks to its overall benchmark of 4.54 – placing it just behind tourism powerhouses such as the United States, Canada, and Barbados.
A large portion of Panama’s tourism success is driven by their business environment and infrastructure, which the World Economic Forum rates highly, at a world ranking of 18th position. The benefits of travelling to Panama for business are clearly making it a desired destination, with business-friendly legislation incentivizing travel and encouraging growth in this sector. The refined nature of this model has made it a huge success for the region, with Panama enjoying a score just a few decimal places away from the United States and Canada – a significant achievement for a small nation. International conferences, significant infrastructure upgrades, and a dedication to its financial sector have seen Panama make explosive progress up the ranks of the world’s best developed countries.
Panama’s cultural and natural resources are not quite as well harnessed, with the country letting its average drop from within the top 40 nations on Earth to a comparatively feeble 45th place. As the World Economic Forum notes “Panama witnessed one of the most marked improvements in this year’s TTCI.” The country is richly endowed with a diverse selection of flora and fauna, some of the most significant historical sites in the whole of the Americas, and recognized World Heritage locations. While Panama has worked hard on its tourist infrastructure in key indexes such as available hotel rooms, there are still concerns over security, an unstable human resources sector, and hygiene standards (including tropical diseases and control of preventable illnesses). Nonetheless, Panama still excels in a number of areas. Significantly, these include air travel infrastructure (ranked 16th globally), ground transport improvement (with new rail and road improvements helping to take Panama to 32nd in the global table), and port infrastructure at a stunning 4th globally. Regionally Panama punches far above its weight, helping to secure its high rank in a competitive and increasingly diverse global tourism market.
Taking into account Panama’s position two decades ago in the world tourism market, its climb up the ranks has been swift and comprehensive. Praised for its willingness to embrace change and free market principles, the country has seen a veritable gold rush of multinational investment in the decade and a half since the Panama Canal was returned to Panamanian control. The upcoming quarter of a century is expected to bring further strides in infrastructure development, with the development of tourism a key priority for the Panamanian government. As evidenced by the TTCR’s ranking’s Panama is already a key global and regional player, providing a template for Central American and Latin American development in the next decade.