NEW YORK -- Panama's celebration of 100 years as an independent
nation next year will coincide with its hosting of the Miss
Universe Pageant, and both events will serve as a platform for
promoting the country's natural beauty.
"We intend to capitalize on the worldwide media exposure that
Panama will receive during the Miss Universe Pageant to showcase to
millions of spectators many of our land's exciting visitor
attractions, culture and traditions," said Liriola Pitti, general
manager of the Panama Tourism Institute (IPAT).
"We expect the Panamanian government's investment of $9 million
to highlight this event, as well as IPAT's multimillion-dollar
advertising and promotion campaign, to contribute substantially to
enhancing the image of Panama as a dynamic tourist
According to Pitti, tourism is the country's fastest-growing
economic asset, generating more annual revenue than the Panama
Canal, and tourism promotion will focus on Panama as a varied
destination that offers visitors beaches and rain forests, history
and folklore, and top hotels and sports facilities.
U.S. tour operators appear to agree with Pitti that Panama is
ripe for discovery.
Travel Impressions is set for a Jan. 1 launch of its first
all-Panama tour programs -- six- to nine-night plans that range
from adventures in the Chiriqui highlands or by the sea in Bocas
del Toro to a nature/culture package covering the San Blas Islands
and the canal zone rain forest.
Elyse Elkin, Travel Impressions product director for Latin
America, developed this program and said she expects that "Panama
has the potential to become a hot destination for the U.S.
Packages offer a choice of 18 first class and deluxe hotels and
lodges among the various destinations; prices will depend on
Panama is a different place from a decade ago, said Daniel
Taramona, president of Miami-based Tara Tours, "for what used to
sell was lively Panama City and the canal, while today the focus is
changing to a combination of rain forest and resort
Taramona said Panama is an excellent destination for agents to
present to clients: it's close, offers good prices and hotel
facilities, and can be packaged easily for the elements clients
expect in Central America.
Tailored to the short-haul, budget client, Tara Tours designed a
five-night Panama Rainforest Adventure that combines three nights
at the Gamboa Tropical Rainforest Resort in the canal zone and two
nights in Panama City at the new Holiday Inn & Suites. The cost
is $691 per person, double, including air from Miami.
A second six-night package, priced from $754 per person, double,
with air, focuses on Panama's Pacific beaches, with accommodations
at the inclusive, 360-room Royal Decameron Playa Blanca.
The push to expand tourism development began in earnest when the
U.S. administration of the Panama Canal ended at the start of the
Now under Panamanian jurisdiction, cruise ships and smaller
vessels continue to make the crossing, and projects for ecotourism
development in the canal zone are focusing on the area's flora and
Other assets supporting the government's slogan that Panama is
"more than just a canal" are island hideaways, fine beaches, great
fishing and a rich Spanish colonial heritage.
But it is the canal that remains the country's economic
lifeline, and the waterway zone is the target for hotel and resort
development, such as the Gamboa Tropical Rainforest Resort, a
deluxe property with 107 rooms overlooking the Chagres River.
Facilities include a marina, a spa and an aerial tram that
offers birds-eye views of the jungle and ships transiting the
Golf is available at the nearby 18-hole Summit Golf Club, and
many guest activities are offered in cooperation with the
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which has been
investigating Panama's forest ecosystems for 60 years.
Other projects in the zone include the Canopy Tower, built in a
former radar tower and now a birdwatchers' hotel ringed by the
jungles of Soberania National Park, and the new Country Inn and
Suites Panama Canal, a $20 million resort with 273 rooms at the
entrance to Panama City and near the Pacific coast.
At the other end of the canal, tourism priorities have focused
on expanding the port of Colon, encouraging passengers aboard the
more than 300 cruise ships that transit the canal yearly to stay
longer on the Caribbean side.
In Colon, the biggest addition to the infrastructure is the
220-room Melia Panama Canal Hotel, Casino and Conference Center,
bordering Lake Gatun and 10 minutes from the Colon Free Trade
Accommodations are being added in other parts of the country,
such as the highlands of the Chiriqui province, where the Barcelo
hotel group has opened the 19-room Barcelo Dos Rios Lodge. The
property is 40 minutes from the city of David, as is another new
Barcelo property, the 48-room Barcelo Las Olas, located seaside on
La Barqueta beach.
For more information on Panama, call IPAT at (800) 231-0568 or
To book Travel Impressions, call (800) 284-0044 or visit the Web
at www.travelimpressions.com; for more information on
Tara Tours' packages, call (800) 327-0080 or visit www.taratours.com.