Panamainfo’s Blog

Panama Tourism at a Crossroads/ The Relentness Destruction of Panama’s Forests

These are comments I made as President of the Tourism Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce at the Amcham tourism forum Sept. 10th.

It is time for Panama to decide to become the eco- tourism destination it is meant to be and also to take serious measures to stop the relentless destruction of its forests.

Nancy Hanna

The title of this forum is“Panama Tourism at a Crossroads” Why? Because now that we have all the basics in place, it is time to decide on what kind of tourism destination Panama should become. When I first began to promote tourism to Panama 10 years ago, I thought Panama would naturally copy Costa Rica in becoming an ecotourism destination but even better because Panama has even more eco destinations than CR, plus more beaches and Indian cultures, history and an attractive capital city. So I thought -this is great- Panama will copy all the good CR has done and learn from the errors- but after 10 years not much has happened, especially in regard to Panama’s becoming a eco-destination. Right now, most of our tourists are coming for business or shopping …80% of our tourists stay in Panama City, about 10% get out to Decameron area, at most 10% go to attractions in the interior like Bocas or Boquete etc. In CR it is the opposite- 90% of their tourists do not stay in San Jose- but get out to the attractions outside the city.

In CR, the president made a decision that CR would be a ecotourism destination and they have been wildly successful. Panama has not made that decision.

In fact, Panama’s nature is being destroyed . It is losing 48,000 hectares of forest each year mostly through burning and indiscriminate logging. At the current rate of destruction, in 40 years we won’t have any more forests- a situation with serious ecological consequences not only for tourism but for the beauty of Panama, the climate and the Canal watershed among other things.

Why have we not done as CR? Ecotourism and tourism is the # 1 business for CR- it is just about the only game in town. Panama hasn’t done the same as CR because Panama is very blessed – it has so much else going on business-wise- the Canal, the free zone, the banking sector, its growing position as a logistical and regional business capital etc. Because Panama tourism is not Panama’s only income earner, while private enterprise did a lot to promote tourism, the government did not do serious work for make tourism happen until Minister Blades came along.

Today I would like to propose that Panama do what it takes become an ecotourism destination. There are strong arguments that this is the best and most desirable kind of tourism. Several presentations during this forum will speak to this issue.

For ecotourism, Panama’s greatest natural treasures are its national parks –Soberania, Bastimientos in Bocas, Coiba, Amistad y Volcan Baru and the Darien. 4 years ago I brought to this forum to speak the head of CR’s National Parks- after making a major investment in an attractive visitor infrastructure in their national parks, CR makes a profit of 20 million dollars a year from their national parks.

Costa Rica’s success shows us that when Panama develops a national park infrastructure the valued eco-tourists will come.

To conclude I would like to take this opportunity to announce that the American Chamber of Commerce- the tourism committee and the our strong environmental committee with the support of the Board is working on a professional proposal for the president of Panama for a National Park visitor infrastructure, an infrastructure which will generate thousands of jobs and businesses for the people in the interior of the country and generate the funds to preserve Panama’s extraordinary nature .

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