Panama is betting heavily on meeting tourism

Within the framework of the Seventh Edition of the Sustainable and Social Tourism Summit event held in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Travel2latam spoke with Eugenia Powell, Director of Sales and Service at Promtur Panama, about the latest developments in the MICE sector, attributes and incentives offered by the destination

(Source: Travel2latam)

What is the situation in Panama and how are you working at this moment to promote the MICE segment in the country?

Fortunately, we have evolved positively in Panama's positioning, very focused on the associative segment in terms of attracting associations that are linked to the country's primary sectors, such as education, medicine, logistics, banking, finance and construction.

We have been working hard on attracting conferences, but beyond that, we are also receiving a lot of interest from international associations in establishing their offices in Panama in the City of Knowledge, which is the first place that we have identified that has an important connection with partnerships in innovation, technology, sustainability and more. There is a community already installed and created in the City of Knowledge that allows new associations that want to establish themselves there to have an exchange of interesting knowledge. City of Knowledge helps us to be an incubator of knowledge that is an important offer for associations and beyond that, it also generates the opportunity to grow with respect to membership for these associations from a place as strategic as the City of Knowledge. Panama.

In fact, we have had a success story with the Latin American Association of Diabetology. Unfortunately, in Panama 73% of the population suffers from obesity problems. So, when we turn to the Association that brought in PCO Congress Panama; Panama Congress Americas, we presented this situation that they definitely already knew and in addition to establishing themselves on issues of taxes, payment of rent, job creation and others, they worked on a strategic plan with the creation of a master's degree in diabetes and also together with the Ministry The health authorities developed an early detection and prevention plan, especially for students in primary education, so that they understand the consequences from an early age and so that nutrition in schools can be improved. So, The association goes far beyond just an economic issue. We are not focusing on that. What we seek is to improve our society and the ailments or what our destiny suffers, with congresses and associations as a vehicle that allows us to improve our society and leave a long-term legacy in the destiny. 

What other examples can you give of the daily work they do at PROMTUR to leave a legacy for Panamanian society?

The incentive plan run by PROMTUR seeks to ensure that the money stays in Panama and circulates by attracting conferences. But in addition to that, by attracting these associations the objective is that they can promote the programs from Panama and that in this way we can strengthen the congresses that are carried out from the destination. We are doing something that is relatively new and that is that at each congress that comes to the country we are asking for a social responsibility plan that works together with us, because it is destiny that definitely knows what the ailments are. So we are looking for conferences aligned with primary sectors that at the same time help us improve issues of health, education and others, which are the main problems that our country has, in addition to technology and innovation.

In this way, the associations and participants of the congresses, when they end, end up feeling that they left something in the country and that they did not visit it just to visit and meet, but that they provided a contribution. This is aligned with the entire strategy of our sustainable tourism master plan and with our target audience, which is the conscious tourist. 

What are the main attributes and incentives for a conference held in Panama?

With the incentive plan we mainly seek to attract conferences, conventions and incentive trips. The incentive consists of making a calculation of the economic impact that the event will have on the country and making a return on the destination. It applies to any service that the event will have at the destination; a payment for a cocktail, a folkloric, a welcome cocktail. It is to encourage the congress and the associations, but also an important component which is the marketing part. Some local associations that seek to attract international associations and attract conferences to the destination suffer from financial issues. Many times they do not have the capacity to promote the event, so there is a risk that the number of international participants will not arrive, That is why they seek to invest in the promotional part that at the end of the day benefits the destination. Well, if you are promoting the event, more participants find out about it, more delegates come to the country and more impact is generated in all senses: economic, social and so on. And with the particularity that whoever visits Panama has the possibility of traveling around the country and discovering the wonders that this destination has to offer.

In fact, a few weeks ago, we presented the update of the results to the industry of what has been the management of the first half of the year, and the length of the average stay in the country has increased from 147 to 245. So, this is a job that is being done by our destination specialist who, at the same time as the association manager is offering and promoting, she comes in with the most beautiful part about what to do in Panama. There is a reality and that is that there is a lot of ignorance about Panama, we have always been seen as a transit hub, a place of business. Many times people do not imagine everything there is to do within walking distance.

So with this destination specialist unit, we also complement everything that is the commercial part with the most beautiful part. We created a landing page, a micro site for conferences to upload to their website when they are promoting their events and that way they can download all the recommended programs depending on the stay. We give you several options, from one night or two nights to five nights. They are different plans for those who want to explore and learn more about the destination. Even if a delegate travels with his family, he can travel and stay up to seven nights and combine it with any other destination in Latin America. We not only seek to benefit Panama but also to strengthen the region.

What number of events had you planned at the beginning of the year and what is the current situation?

We are already at 70% of the fulfillment of our goal, we have confirmed 145 events from 2023 to 2029. And the years in which we have the most confirmed groups are 2025 and 2025, that gives us some peace of mind and also gives peace of mind to the sector because A solid future business base is being created, which means that seasonality is broken and there is more solid occupancy not only of hotels, but also of the convention center and complementary services.

The Convention Center stays busy this year already around November, since we have events one after another, we have congresses related to health issues that the Ministry of Health is leading, which definitely have our support and will bring more than 5 to the city. a thousand people. Then we have the World Robotics Olympiad. They are important events that will leave an impact. These types of events are fundamental in terms of awareness and social responsibility, that is why we are working with different proposals, one of them is to have a health day at the Convention Center; set up tents and serve people, taking advantage of the fact that we have so many doctors in Panama, and that they can also take away that experience of not only visiting Panama to participate in the congress, but of leaving behind something else.

What are the issuing markets where Promtur sees the greatest growth?

The United States is our number one market, but Europe is competing. We have also been participating in large fairs related to the meetings industry in Europe, because we are very interested in that segment, especially for congresses. With the results of a report, a survey that ICCA gave us, we identified that these associations are looking for emerging destinations where they can grow their membership. The opportunity that Latin America gives them to grow membership outside of these countries and generate new income is very great. So Latin America is an important region and we are trying to have more presence in European markets and also generating other alliances with airlines that allow better connectivity with Panama. But definitely our number one market is, continues and will continue to be air connectivity, 

Has connectivity with Europe and the Middle East grown?

Yes, we don't stop opening routes. In fact, Turkish Airlines announced nine weekly flights. And connectivity internally is also growing a lot, for example to the region of the country that borders Costa Rica, with seven weekly frequencies to Chiriquí, which is a very beautiful area of ​​the country.

How has the hotel sector developed in Panama?

Yes, very hand in hand with the hotel sector until 2019 we managed an occupancy that was below 50%, that in Panama is a lot because at that time we had 20,000 rooms. We know that some hotels were sadly affected by the pandemic and so on, but the positive thing is that we have been recovering in an incredible way. The hotels are already above 50% occupancy so far this year, and we hope to close the highest season with a prediction well above that value. Another way to ensure that the strategy or path we have taken is the correct one is to see that the average stay in hotels is increasing, and most importantly, is the impact it is leaving on the hotels. This tells us that we are targeting the right audience.

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