No Drop In Spanish Visitors

Written by Miami Herald Panama Edition

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Despite rising airfares and economic uncertainty, Panama seems to be holding its own in terms of attracting tourists from Europe.

In fact, demand for Panama as a destination is growing compared to previous years.

According to Cristina González Trujillos, who organizes tours of Mexico and Central America for Viva Tours, a leading tour operator in Spain, interest in Panama as a destination has increased 45 percent from last year.

The tour operator acknowledged that the economic slowdown has discouraged some Spaniards from travelling to certain countries, but "Panama has been the exception."

She said that Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have also recorded slight increases in visitors from Spain, while Costa Rica, the region's most popular destination, has seen business drop slightly.

While come economic factors have been working against the tourism industry, most notably the high price of gas, the weak value of the dollar against the euro has somewhat offset rising fuel costs, at least for European tourists.

KLM-Air France official Eduardo Hun said that the airline's flight between Panama and Amsterdam will have an occupancy rate of 90 percent during July. Iberia, the national airline of Spain, has decided to add an additional flight to Panama City because of high demand. The airline will now have four flights a week.

"Taking into account the reservations that have already been made, we anticipate that our flights will have an average occupancy of 80 percent," said Gloria Clavel, Iberia's Panama manager. One obstacle to the tourism industry's growth is the lack of hotel rooms in the country. "We have problems getting rooms, especially in Panama City, because of a high demand from business travelers," Trujillos said.

The tour director said that her bookings to Panama should go up when the country's number of hotel rooms increases.