Resort development in Panama generally lacks the sophistication of popular tourism markets that cater to travelers from the United States, such as Costa Rica and Mexico. You find unimaginative architecture, planning that fails to respond to the site, and ignored economics. Yet, as the government recognizes the importance of tourism and developers begin to understand the importance of quality, Panama stands to evolve as a more competitive location among warm-weather travel destinations. Discerning travelers, too, are now demanding unique and authentic experiences.
There’s some good things happening… and some bad things happening. Below you’ll find the 3 Worst Development Trends in Panama, and the 3 Best. Bad news first.
Worst Development Trends
Towers – Flip through a real estate magazine in Panama and it may be difficult to distinguish which projects are intended for the city and which are on the beach. Coastal property is relatively abundant and affordable in Panama, so there is no reason a developer needs to create such high-density to make a satisfactory return. A vacation home is not a commodity and should be differentiated by responding to the place in which it is located. Panama has amazing natural features that will be destroyed if the coastlines are filled with towers, masking the gorgeous beaches, looming volcanoes, and lush jungle.
Investor-Targeted Condo Hotels – There are multiple projects in Panama that are targeting investors (they are also often towers) who are promised a certain return on their investment which will be realized through rental income. I am surprised that so many people are still pitching this idea and even more surprised that so many people are still buying this idea (it’s so Miami 2007). On paper, it all seems to make a lot of sense, but in reality, the hotel component of the plan is an afterthought. The building doesn’t function like a hotel and the management operates the project like a condo, not a hotel. Maybe there are too few appropriate services, maybe the marketing budget is too small, or perhaps these condo hotels are too far outside the trodden tourist path. Whatever the reason, these places are vacant. I have been to several of these projects in Central America, sold to foreign investors, and I found them utterly empty. People want to escape on vacation but they still need to feel connected. Empty resorts are lifeless and stale. The condo hotel concept can be a great way to supplement the cost of owning a vacation home, but the expectations should be reasonable and the project should have the amenities, services, marketing, and management experience of a successful resort.
Design Imports – I will admit that Panama’s signature design style isn’t easy to distinguish. Nor is it necessarily the most visually appealing, but that doesn’t mean that inspiration needs to come from another part of the world, be it Tuscany or Copenhagen. More and more, travelers are seeking authentic experiences and want to feel immersed in the unique culture of a place. If they want Bali, they’ll go to Bali. Resorts in Panama should feel like they’re in Panama, whether the architecture is inspired by nature, the seven indigenous tribes, the Spanish settlers, or the American canal operations. The country has plenty of rich influences.
Best Development Trends
Sustainability – It’s pretty obvious that sustainable development is more than a trend: it is essential to survival. And multiple resort developments are responding. Some use rainwater catchment, fallen timbers, and solar power. When evaluating a project for sustainability, the consumer needs to be aware that many developers are jumping on the green bandwagon but can’t justify their claims. Buyers need to be skeptical and well-versed in truly sustainable practices and marketing terms such as “Carbon Neutral.”
Adaptive Reuse – Although mostly occurring in urban environments, many existing buildings are being renovated to serve as accommodations for travelers. Whether an old building in historic Casco Viejo or a 1960s concrete tower, these new hotels keep the city from filling up with abandoned buildings, and they also save construction materials. There are many small, decrepit resorts in Panama that have the potential to be adapted for a new life.
Immersion in Nature – One of Panama’s greatest assets is the country’s abundance of natural beauty, on land and at sea. Developers are finally realizing that resort-goers want to be close to this nature, to be able to share unfettered experiences with nature. You can now stay in a cabin in the cloud forest, steps from trails and streams. Or you can spend the night a few feet above the Caribbean Sea in a bungalow right on the water. These are the most memorable places you will ever travel to, creating stories to share with others, expanding Panama’s tourist reach.
As Panama’s resort developers begin to create what the sophisticated international traveler is looking for, the country’s prominence in the worldwide tourism market will grow, bringing increased revenue and opportunity.