February brought some exciting economic news to Panamanian shores, starting the new year off on a solid setting. Here are some of the highlights.
Wrapping Up 2017 On A Strong Note
First things first: as end of year figures emerged, Panama closed the year on a stronger than expected 5.4% GDP annual growth rate, up from 5% in 2016. Here’s our rundown on how Panama made it all happen. Looking ahead to 2018, the government is already forecasting growth to step up to 5.6%, building on the dynamism coming from trade, transportation and communications and construction (and the 16.1% growth in Canal business, of course).
Panama and UAE — Building Synergies Between Two Regional Hubs
Building on the opening of reciprocal embassies last year, President Varela visited Dubai at the end of February to meet with Dubai’s Ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his deputy and UAE’s Minister of Finance and Industry Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The trip was notable for its broad agenda focused on trade and industry. Varela was very much in the limelight at the Global Business Forum on Latin America, where Panama and the Dubai Chamber hosted a “Panama Invest 2018” session. Varela, flanked by Isabel de Saint Malo and some key ministers, courted investments from UAE sovereign wealth funds (SWF), presenting proposals across the board from real estate assets to infrastructure and energy projects. These meetings were Panama’s first foray into the world of the Middle East’s investor community, but they’re clearly part of a trend and build on similar presentations Varela had been making in Shanghai and New York.
Beyond SWF investments, even more interesting to see will be how Panama and UAE might capitalize on their respective roles as regional hubs. So, during the trip Varela met with industry heads too, including from DP World, Dubai Multi Commodities Center, Dubai Airports and Emirates Airlines, building on Panama’s efforts over the last few months to attract UAE companies in telecom, data, financial services, real estate, free zones, port infrastructure, logistics, dry docks and infrastructure projects.
More broadly, Panama could become a gateway for exports (particularly agricultural goods) from South America to the Middle East, as bigger ships pass through the Canal and, as Tocumen Airport’s upgrade project is completed this year, expanding capacity by almost 9 million passengers a year to 24 million and as larger cargo flights and direct commercial flights from Dubai to Panama become operational.
Tourism — Chinese and European Visitors Are Here, Hopefully To Stay
After a tough few years for the tourism industry, Panama’s Tourism Authority and local travel operators are gearing up for a busier year. For one, they’re expecting a big uptick in Chinese visitors following a string of travel and real estate expos showcasing Panama, including the latest at The Guangzho International Travel Fair in Canton, where Panama was named the top destination (among 53 countries!) for Chinese tourists.
Chinese citizens with valid visas from the United States, Australia and Canada are authorized to enter Panama, creating an opportunity for Panamanian tour operators to develop multi-destination packages, which are proving popular with Chinese visitors. So, get ready Panama, the first Air China flight from Beijing to Panama City is landing here this month!
European visitors are also making a comeback, up 8% in 2017, arriving on direct Iberia, KLM and Air France flights mostly. Coming mainly in search of nature and culture, European tourists are spending their vacations in Bocas del Toro, Boquete, Tierras Altas, Boca Chica, Pedasi, the Azuero region, the Pacific beaches and the Antón Valley in Coclé.
It just goes to show that the Panamanian Tourism Authority’s targeted campaigns are finally paying off: if you’re into data analytics, traffic on visitpanama.com was up 500+% and the campaign received 36 million views. Very welcome news indeed.