For your education and entertainment, some words from my friend Casey Halloran, a fellow American in the tourism business in Panama. His insights are right on.
The Five Deadly Sins of Tourism that Panama must avoid:
1. Hyper-growth = Rushing Into Mistakes
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was tourism to visit the ruins of modern-day Rome. A tourism infrastructure requires planning, training, rules and regulations. I am not a big fan of government, but in the case of tourism, there at least needs to be some zoning and long-term thinking that is enforced with smart laws. Panama is growing at such breakneck pace, this author has concerns that some of the areas with greatest tourism potential are being overrun with the most expedient projects, many of which have zero concern for long-term effects on ecology, economy or logistics.
2. Copycat-itis = Loss of Culture
Panama tourism development today lacks much that resembles anything uniquely Panamanian. Despite a culture that is as rich and wonderful as its world famous coffee, too much of the present development borrows on played out ideas from elsewhere. Panamanians are far too creative and proud to have their tourism landscape hijacked by unoriginal, cookie-cutter projects.
3. Eco-Unfriendly = Not Sustainable
Whether its an over crowded city, water front mega beach hotels, record breaking swimming pools or a tendency to look the other way while projects drain mangroves…it’s pretty clear that Panama isn’t attempting to mimic Costa Rica’s success as a perceived “green” destination.
4. Service, Shmervice = No Return Clients
It is difficult to find a truly service-oriented business in Panama. Even harder still to find one that can cater to clients who don’t speak Spanish. Panama faces an uphill battle on both fronts, with a shortage of labor trained in foreign languages and fewer still familiar with the adage that, “the customer is always right”. Service training and language skills aren’t the only challenges facing Panama’s aim at becoming a tourism mecca; the country has a glut of public holidays that occur during peak tourism months. Good luck to the politician who tries to resolve that delicate issue.
5. “All-Exclusive” Projects = Angry Locals
Panama cannot forget to include locals and local culture as part of its future tourism . Development must not mirror the walled in “all-exclusive” disasters of Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, etc. where locals don’t actively mix with tourists and exchange culture, ideas and memories. Walling out Panamanians is the fastest way to create resentment toward tourists who traveled all the way to meet and know them.
Despite these pitfalls, I do believe fiercely in Panama’s potential. I will outline my suggested solutions to the possible issues above as well as WHY I am betting on Panama in future articles.
Thank you Casey for these important observations and recommendations. Nancy