“It will never leave you.” Panama’s previous tourism campaign slogan really missed the mark, inspiring comparisons to communicable disease and childhood trauma. In general, Panama’s past attempts at tourism marketing have been a mixed bag of success and failure. The new campaign, however, takes a different approach and seems to be making headway. “Panama: Where the World Meets” makes a lot more sense for a country that is literally at the crossroads of North and South, and home of the world’s most important route between the Pacific and Atlantic, the Panama Canal.
For years, Panama and its capital city have been virtually synonymous with the canal and a bustling financial scene. The Panama Canal expansion project, slated for completion in 2014, will allow the canal to accommodate the world’s largest container ships. Other improvements are underway, such as the construction of a subway system in Panama City to enhance its public transportation infrastructure.
Panama’s capital, long a city of towering skyscrapers, is experiencing a construction boom. Several new residential projects are in the works. Among the most well known are Donald Trump’s Ocean Club and Yoo by Philippe Starck. The canal expansion project is partly accountable for this construction boom, as is the re-allocation of capital from neighboring countries with less business-friendly governments, including Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. As Donald Trump Jr. told Luxury Latin America, wealthy Venezuelans are snatching up property all over Panama City. “We love Hugo Chavez,” says Trump. “Every time that guy opens his mouth our sales go up.”
Other luxury residential projects are springing up outside of Panama City near the former US Canal Zone. On the site of the former Howard Air Force Base, Panama Pacifico (a planned satellite city) is starting to take shape. It will encompass residential sectors with thousands of homes, office complexes, retail stores, a golf course, an airport, and hotels. Marriott recently announced plans for a 180-room resort, scheduled to open in 2013; features will include a sprawling swimming pool, two restaurants, two bars, plenty of meeting space, retail outlets and a luxury spa.
The Tocumen International Airport, quickly becoming the hub in Latin America, is also accountable for Panama’s recent “takeoff.” In addition to receiving international flights from over a dozen major carriers, such as Delta, American Airlines, KLM, and Iberia, Panama’s Tocumen International Airport is the base for Copa Airlines. In the 1990s, the airline was transformed from a national flag carrier to a regional powerhouse thanks in large part to investment by Continental Airlines. With a new livery and branding that is quite similar to Continental (now United Airlines), the airline began upgrading its fleet and expanding its route network.
Copa’s network now includes 57 cities in 28 countries, including six US cities (the newest addition being Chicago) and Toronto, Canada. Copa calls its Panama City base the “Hub of the Americas” and it’s easy to see why. From here, banks of flights connect passengers traveling between Central America, the Caribbean, North America and South America. Tocumen Airport is being expanded to accommodate the increased demand and is constantly under renovations. It is easily one of Latin America’s largest and most modern facilities, if not THE most modern.
Panama’s new tourism slogan therefore seems to fit Panama like a tilde-shaped glove: the world truly does meet here, and this gathering of international investors and travelers is bringing exciting progress to Panama. Developments in Panama’s glittering capital city are just the icing on the cake in light of the growth in tourism and investment all over the country. Any previous notions of a “banana republic” evaporate once you visit Panama and witness the modern construction, bustling airport hub, and canal expansion that make it more possible for people to experience this country. As Panama continues to invest in improvements to accommodate increased tourism, the country becomes ever more a great place to meet.