PANAMA - Tourism
General Administrator, Panama Tourism Authority (ATP)
Denise Guillén Zúñiga is the General Administrator of the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP) and a lawyer with expertise in financial matters and tourism planning. She has played a crucial role in shaping Panama’s tourism landscape, including the Coastal Tourism Master Development Plan and the Tourism, Conservation, and Research Plan. With experience in both the public and private sectors, she has led investments, attracted cruise lines, and provided consulting services to the tourism industry. In 2019, she became the Deputy General Administrator of the ATP, contributing to the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan’s update and important nautical tourism regulations.
The Panama Canal is undoubtedly our most recognized attraction; it is also the reason for our incredible biodiversity, flora and fauna. Panama emerged from the ocean 60 million years ago, divided the continent, and created two seas. This reflects Panama’s natural history of being the hub of hubs; a land of rich cultural and natural heritage, with something to offer every type of traveler. Whether you are is interested in exploring ancient ruins, hiking through lush rainforests, or simply relaxing on a beautiful beach, you’re going to find it here! Panama is a biodiversity hotspot, with over 10,000 species of plants and animals and some of the most popular natural attractions, such as Coiba National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of the largest coral reef formations in the eastern Pacific; the Soberanı́a National Park, home to a variety of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and toucans; and the Boquete Highlands, a coffee-growing region with stunning mountain scenery. Panama has more tourist attractions than anyone can imagine before they visit, there’s always more to explore and more to discover… that is why our brand is, “Panama, live for more!”
The country designated our Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism as public policy and created a Tourism Cabinet, comprised of various state institutions, because it is an important factor for ever sector of the nation’s economy. Our sustainable tourism plan is based on the concept of Tourism-Conservation-Research, originally designed by Dr. Hana Ayala. Tourists look for an enriching experience, and Panama is a living laboratory with an abundance of birds, flowers, butterflies, and much more to be explored and experienced! Our plan works with institutions and NGOs, and the goal is to focus on sustainability and good practices across every area in every sector. There are, for example, tax incentives that promote green energy, solar panels, and electric engines. All of Panama’s strategies are directed at the conscientious tourist who wants to learn and transform their life by traveling, as well as have a positive impact on the local communities that they visit. In a small territory, we have thousands of species of birds, coral reefs, trees, and rich traditions that keep our cultural heritage alive. Everything in Panama has a story… We can offer a transformation that makes people see life more naturally. We are surrounded by national parks, islands, and more than 3,000km of coastlines. And there is significant room to continue growing sustainably.
Our strategy has been focused mainly on markets such Canada and the US, as well as European countries, and South American countries such as Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. In the past, Panama used to be about thought of only for shopping and business visits, though now we have a hospital cluster that attracts many visitors as well, becoming a destination for medical tourism, with high-quality healthcare system and affordable prices. We are also becoming an attractive destination for those who want to organize congresses, conventions, and events with sustainability at the forefront of our Panama Convention Center. From now until 2026, Panama will be host to more than 140 international conCirmed events, which is part of a successful strategy by PROMTUR (our DMO) and the Panamanian Association of Congresses, Conventions, and Events. We will also be hosting adventure travel summits soon, and other events focused on sustainability, conscious travel, and on positively impacting local communities.
Panama has more than twenty-six tourist destination zones, with our current Plan focusing mainly on eight of these for specific sustainable development programs. The range of our tourism offer includes adventure, wellness, nautical tourism, ecological and eco-luxury experiences, as well as academic tourism. The eight main destinations we are working with directly, allow us to cover practically all the tourism products and experiences that the country has to offer. On the Caribbean, we have destinations such as Boca Del Toro, where many people who travel to Costa Rica visit in their itineraries. We also have an interesting eco-luxury segment with a group of important developments that allow us to commercialize that area. In the mountains we also have communities as part of our coffee-producing circuits given that Panama produces the best and the most valued coffee in the world market; the Gulf of Chiriquı́ is a complementary destination to this area. In the center, there’s Santa Catalina, the entrance to the Coiba National Park, a natural marine reserve, that is also one of our best, most biodiverse ecotourism and scientific research destinations. The Pacific Riviera has 4,000 hotel rooms in front of the ocean, an international airport, a mountain, and Anton Valley, with a beautiful, inactive volcano… We are improving hiking trails so visitors can explore the valley in better conditions and enjoy the amazing views as well. Then, moving toward the capital city, we have the small island of Taboga that offers almost 14 hotels along the beachfront. There are an infinite number of sites and wonderful locations to enjoy all throughout our isthmus and surrounding islands.
All of our actions align with our Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism (2020 – 2025), which we are in the process of updating. Panama’s tourism brand is “Panamá, Live For More!” because we have so much more for the conscious tourists of the world to come explore, discover and experience! We have strategic alliances and a heavy presence on digital platforms and other media outlets throughout the world. Our campaigns show the beauty and rich cultural and natural heritage that are ver much alive in our destinations, as well as the possibilities that exist for ecotourism, adventure and even scientific research. Working closely PROMTUR, has made it so that our promotion efforts are paying off and the first semester of 2023 has been very successful with regards to this important sector. Tourism has had an economic impact of USD2,000 million this year, and we are confident our goals will be surpassed.