Do not read this article. Sounds kinda negative doesn’t it? Well how about the new tourism slogan for promoting visitors to Panama? El Autoridad de Turismo has launched (if that’s the right word) a new advertising campaign with the catchy tagline “Not for Tourists.” That’s right, what you may have learned in Advertising 101 back in college about always being positive and leaving a constructive message in the minds of possible clients isn’t apparently what the people over at the ATP gleaned from their correspondent courses from possibly Trump University.
The complete plan is to follow the “Not for Tourists” phrase with a memorable explanation of who or what Panama is for, such as “Trendsetters” for example. That should set all those older, retiree tourists straight, who shouldn’t even bother to get off the cruise ship, since it’s been a while since they’ve set any trends. Or “Panama’s Not for Tourists, it’s for Travelers”. You know like all the airline passengers who don’t leave Tocumen Airport, during their layovers to places such as Costa Rica, Columbia or Peru; countries that think they are for tourists. Those huddled masses wandering past all the airport stores are the same people that the ATP uses to inflate and hype their numbers when citing the yearly visitor totals.
The primary part of the slogan that many potential tourists will remember is obviously the first word stating rather emphatically that our little isthmus is NOT for them. Pretty soon the only approach that will have any validity is “Not for Tourists, Panama is for Chinese Businessmen.” Even in their case they are planning to exploit the canal and their cheap products will not be destined to stop but simply pass through on their way to lucrative markets elsewhere.
As my regular reader may have noticed over a year ago, ol’Jack has been away travelling the world with his lovely wife, to places like Portugal, Spain, Croatia and England, locations that are definitely for tourists. Sure there are some trendsetters sitting out at the sidewalk cafés reading menus in English; and yes there are adventurers, who like to go ziplining or hiking in the mountains between tours of historic city centers; or “green” travelers who want to go on eco-friendly excursions, who don’t enjoy seeing billboards block all the scenery along the highways; but everywhere I went there were also a bunch of ordinary tourists. That’s right—regular people with cameras around their necks, sneakers and tummy packs. Not so quick you guys.
In Panama, if it was right for them, these (How should I say it?) tourists would also have on nice straw hats and be walking around Casco Viejo, buying molas from the little Guna ladies. That’s what my lovely wife and I noticed when we returned to the old historic section also known as Casco Antiguo. There just aren’t that many pesky tourists walking in the street instead of on the sidewalks.
On the southern coast of Portugal, known as the Algarve, the hotels are completely sold-out during high season. Imagine that? Between 2015 and 2016 the average occupancy rate in Panama went from 52% to 48%, while the total supply of rooms actually decreased some.
Sure, the tourism industry in Panama has other problems in addition to a misguided, ineffective slogan. You would have to think that word-of-mouth about the trash that coats the landscape, or the consistently poor service at what have become very expensive restaurants, has taken a toll. Good-old moneybags Martinelli did improve getting around town with transportation projects that he may or may not have profited from, but much more needs to be accomplished. It still takes hours to get to the beaches and mountains and I’m sure all “travellers” and even “adventurers” and especially “trendsetters” aren’t that patient. Now with easy-going President Varela making it clear that Panama’s not for Venezuelans either any more, it’s becoming very unclear just what or who Panama is for.