In the first article I wrote for PTY Life, Try something different. Try Azuero (Vol I.), I talked about the awesome things to do in the Azuero Peninsula, how to plan a trip, where to go, etc. I promised I would write a second part because one part is not just enough to describe all the things you can do here. I’ve been busy with school so I promise as soon as I head back there I will finish part two!
Anyway, shortly after publishing the article I received an email from a guy named Chris who immediately recognized it was his favorite article!! (Duh!) He told me he wanted to take his family to Panama and visit Azuero and a few other places.
I gave Chris more details about places, food, hotels, tips, etc. Well, after a few months, I contacted him to find out what he thought about Panama. He had lots of good things to say, but there were also some negative aspects he had that I also agreed with so I want to focus on why visitors need to leave with a good impression of Panama and a few ideas where we can make improvements.
Why right now a visitor’s impression of Panama is important
In the past few years, the number of people coming to visit Panama has been on an upward trend! (wow!!) This is a unique opportunity that our country must take advantage of in a sustainable way, right? Now, even though government offices and the private sector have each done initiatives to take all the demand that foreigners represent, it is important to look at the weaknesses and challenges that visitors are constantly commenting about!
First, let’s start by looking at some numbers..
- Number of tourists in 2014 (defined by the Panamanian Tourism Tourism as ¨people who stay from 1 day up to 12 months in the country): 1,250,543 tourists (Jan to Sept 2014)
- Cruise passengers: 259,625 passengers
- Day Visitors (only stay for less than a day): 141,288 visitors
Total: 1,651,456 people up to September 2014.
If you are aware of the population of Panama we are roughly 3.6 million.
In other words, we received in 9 months about 46% of our population, almost half of us in visitors, passengers, and tourists!
The Contraloria General de la Repºblica and the Panamanian Tourism Authority estimates that these visitors brought in $2.6 billion in 2014!
There are many projections out there about how in 5 or 6 years we will receive more visitors than people in the country from different sources such as newspapers, weekly publications (Martes Financiero is a good one), interviews on youtube, etc.
There are a lot of people going through a small country that has a relatively small population. This is the point where we listen to others, keep doing well what we are doing well, and fix the errors! How hard can this be?
Well, it can be very complicated to manage an entire industry! Yup!! So, I have spotted some interesting observations from Chris that I’d like to share with you.
Countryside vs. Panama City
Chris didn’t care much for the city during his trip. Yeah, I agreed with him when he told me how hot it was, as well as the intense traffic jams. The best parts about the countryside is that it’s full of fresh air and traffic free!
He also highlighted the natural beauty of the Azuero peninsula, particularly Playa Venao.
During his trip he also visited El Valle, some swinging suspension bridges, as well as a few waterfalls!
People, THESE are the things we also need to learn to promote in a sustainable and effective manner to attract more tourists!
I applaud the efforts on campaigns to attract people to buy real estate, visit world-class beach resorts, and stay in swanky city hotels, but these efforts are failing to highlight the natural beauty we have in Panama. (You can head over to this link to view some of the beautiful places to go in Panama.)
I am not an expert on this matter but I have always believed the ads and promotions are skewed towards other things, don’t you think the same?
I believe promos and campaigns should highlight the uniqueness, history, and preservation of these places. Also, they should include the local culture in order to enrich the experience for visitors.
Visitors want to see things unique things that they can’t find anywhere else! There are McDonalds and TGI Fridays everywhere, right?
We need better Infrastructure outside Panama City
This is probably the most important point from this article! And here is where the government must fully step in! Also, this is where this idea overlaps with the beauty of the countryside!
Unfortunately, in terms of tourism, infrastructure scores way lower than the City.
Infrastructure is not only roads and highways….but there are also important aspects such as electricity, water, internet, GPS enabled devices, security and disaster protocols, English-speaking personnel, information centers (with maps and other important items in different languages), various drugs and medications, etc.
I don’t mean the countryside LACKS these things. Not at all! My idea is to standardize these protocols and ensure all places have access to these services.
For example, depending on where you are, you find all these things but we all know, if we have traveled, that we may experience lack of WiFi (in these days this is as needed as air) and the discomfort of not being able to communicate.
Another example are GPS enabled devices and strictly enforced protocols for hikers in the highlands of the country. We cannot afford to have people lost in our hiking trails! Not at all.
These are just some examples of components of a complex system of infrastructure that must be ensured, tested, enforced, and periodically reviewed! What is the point of building restrooms near to a hiking trail entrance if we don’t ensure there is budget to keep it clean and well-functioning?
If tourism is one of our main products, we have to spend money on it. Yup, more than we are actually doing!
Here is an article you should read about a foreigners experience with driving in Panama. Although it focuses more on Panama City, I think it is the same situation in the countryside. Clearly, you drive faster since, unless you are in a town, most roads are open and above 80KPH!
Take the second left passed McDonald’s, then a right by the old movie theater, and then continue straight for 3 minutes until you see the house that used to be blue
Another thing that Chris noticed was the lack of road signs, which made it difficult to navigate Panama City and the interior of the country. The above example is an exaggeration but lack of road signs are a real problem in Panama. Road signs, specially in the countryside, are either difficult to find or just non existent (maybe?) in my opinion. There is a combination of both problems here.
From the many cities I have visited, the ones that have everything properly labeled and organized are the best cities!
It is a headache when you don’t know how to move around in Las Tablas or Boquete or the main highway (specially when Spanish is not your thing and you forget to install Waze). Regardless of the size of the places, road signs must be wisely and correctly placed.
I personally think bilingual road signs are not a bad idea. Some people may disagree with me but if we are going to host more visitors, we need to make sure they are able to understand things such as:
- Where the touristic places are
- Local bus stops and routes
- And any other useful information that should be in English
We need to remember that many visitors do not speak Spanish or a similar language. We may be hosting more Chinese and Koreans visitors. Who knows!
Well, these are just some points I just wanted to highlight and share with you guys!
I hope more people like Chris share with me their impressions and ideas so we can improve one of our country’s main products: tourism. If you have any questions about Panama just send me an email to email@example.com and I’ll be happy to chat!
Have article, idea, opinion, tips, or just about anything else Panama related you would like to write about on PTY Life? Become a guest blogger like Emmanuel by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with some information about yourself and some of the topics you would like to write about. This is really informal and there is no commitment so you can write as many or few posts as you like. If you already have a blog you could even copy and paste your existing articles!