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Ivan Eskildsen: Republic of Panama’s New Minister of Tourism

image courtesy of E.Garely

Who He Is

YES, he is young, and attractive and NO, he has no prior experience in government or politics, and – just like that – Ivan Eskildsen became the new Minister of Tourism from Panama. This Panamanian entrepreneur graduated Summa Cum Laude from Bentley College with a BS degree in Finance.

Before the age of 30 he developed the Cubit Project, a hotel, residential and commercial real estate complex that was inspired by the architecture and tradition of the Azuero region. He is a supporter of community -based actions and activities that focus on the culture of his country and known as “heritage-based hospitality” that is constructed on an earlier research project conducted by Dr. Nana Ayala (1998-2000). The model was updated in 2020 and placed local communities at the center of the model. The new 5-year plan includes an estimated investment of $301.9 million including investments made through the Tourism Promotion Fund (PROMTUR) and supported by an approved loan of $100 million for infrastructure and development with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Eskildsen sees tourism as an economic engine that can conserve and preserve the eco-system and cultural heritage of Panama and has aligned his marketing strategy with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In 2021, Panama received the Newsweek Future of Travel Awards as a top global destination. Tourism is important to Panama and tourists from the US, Canada, Europe, Central and South America generate approximately US $l,400 million annually. Panama visitor arrivals recorded 113,086 persons in January 2022, compared with 114,363 visitors the previous month. The all-time high of 226,877 people occurred in January 2019.

Go? No Go?

According to Richard Detrich (richarddetrich.com) there are reasons not to visit Panama.

  1. The jails of Panama are not noted for their accommodations. Police are equipped with Pele Police devices that link to Interpol and the USA as well as other databases. If you have bench warrant in the US or are stopped for a violation, you may be sent home after spending a few weeks/months in a Panamanian jail.
  2. Although some believe that Panama is a tax haven, in reality, if your residence is NOT in Panama but in the USA, the IRS is watching you…and closely; there is an IRS office in Panama City. If your residence is outside the USA and you are not in the USA for more than 30 days a year, you can take advantage of deductions for income EARNED (NOT passive) investments or pension income. Panama does not tax income earned outside Panama.
  3. If you do want to do nothing but “chill” – find another locale. Panama is perfect only if you are looking for adventure, challenges, and unique cultural experiences.
  4. If you want the USA way of life, do not plan on a similar life-style in Panama. Panama offers a unique culture, lifestyle, governance; however, residents and visitors find this to be exactly the reason they selected the destination.

Caution. Heads Up

If you decide to visit Panama:

Crime. There is crime. Leave original documents (i.e., passport) in a safe place and keep copies of credit cards secure in case they are stolen. Panama is considered to be “relatively” safe; however, there are parts of town that should be avoided and are considered “danger zones.”

Harassment. The Canadian government reminds female travelers that they may be the subject of harassment and verbal abuse. Incidents of assault, rape and sexual aggression against foreigners – happens, even at beach resorts and in some cases, hotel employees have been implicated. Women should avoid walking after dark (especially alone); avoid deserted and under-populated areas; exercise caution when interacting with strangers or recent acquaintances and do not accept invitations or rides from strangers or recent acquaintances.

Adventure Tourism.  The government of Canada recommends that adventures should not be taken solo and it is advisable to hire an experienced guide from a reputable company. Always buy travel insurance that includes helicopter rescue and medical evacuation. Inform friends and family of your itinerary and destination and share detailed contact/activity information with them before the “experience” begins.

Road Safety. The government of Canada has determined that road conditions and road safety is poor throughout the country and drivers often drive dangerously. Night construction on the Pan-American Highway is frequent and the highway is not well lit.  Be prepared for roadblocks.

Buses. Local busses within Panama City may not always follow a regular route. Due to the risk of theft when traveling by bus, visitors should stay alert to their surroundings and be protective/watchful of personal possessions.

ID. Carry personal ID. Police may stop and ask for credentials.

Weather. The WET season is…WET with heavy rain daily. Be prepared with umbrella, rainboots and carry important stuff in waterproof envelopes, cases, pouches (i.e., laptops, watches, papers, wallet).

Bugs. Panama is tropical and a headquarters for mosquitos, spiders, along with their friends and relatives. With Dengue and other diseases available in jungle areas, take precautions and use appropriate repellents.

Transit. Uber and yellow cabs are available but unmetered. Protect yourself from being overcharged by confirming a price before getting in and getting comfortable. If this step is not taken, the driver may try to take advantage of the situation.

Boating. The following areas are known as transportation corridors for narcotics: southeastern coast of Comarca Kuna Yala; Coiba Island; Mosquito Gulf, entire length of Pacific coast. These areas are very dangerous at night and boaters should be wary of vessels that may be involved in smuggling.

Clothes. Heat and humidity! The locals wear long pants and closed toe shoes and expect that visitors will do the same. You do not have to follow their lead but be prepared for stares and sideway glances.

Power. Outages are not unusual; however, the power will be restored…eventually.

Health. As of April 2022, the US State Department recommends that travel to Panama be reconsidered as it has a high level of Covid 19. Visitors should not travel to parts of the Mosquito Gulf and part of the Darien Region due to crime (travel.state.gov/).

The Panama Experience

San Blas Islands – image courtesy of Tom @to_mu, Unsplash

The Panama master plan is based on sustainable tourism. The objective is to connect travelers with the cultural roots of the country and the targeted traveler will have a medium to high socio-economic status and interested in “leaving a legacy in the place they visit.”

The campaign promotes:

  • Green Route. Biodiversity and local beaches
  • Cultural Heritage. Fusion of nationalities and ethnic groups including seven indigenous people
Ian Schneider – image courtesy of Unsplash

Future

Panama is also focusing on the MICE market; however, it faces the same challenges that almost all destinations experience:

  • An abundance of resources but a scarcity of online bookable products.
  • Lodging is unbalanced with 57 percent of the rooms in the country’s capital city.
  • History of disorderly development based on a lock of defined standards and plans.

For updated information on Panama vacation advisories, click here.

© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

About the author

Dr. Elinor Garely - special to eTN and editor in chief, wines.travel

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