China tourists are only now starting to discover Panama and when they do “the potential that China has in our country is huge,” Gustavo Him, head of the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP), recently told a reporter.
The number of Chinese travelers to Panama rose by 40 percent in 2018, compared with the previous year, but it was primarily business travelers, Him told the Xinhua news service.
“The groups that are coming to Panama are not all tourist groups yet,” Him said.
China is the largest supplier of travelers in the world, which makes this a big deal for Panama. Any growth in China tourism will contribute to a growing economy and more property renters and buyers.
Traveling from China has grown easier in the last two years, with the start of direct flights in 2018 and a streamlined visa application process. Demand for Air China’s direct flight has been “steadily growing” and officials are in talks with other airlines, including China Eastern, Him told Xinhua.
The ATP is also talking to other Latin American countries, including Colombia and Costa Rica, about developing more regional tourism routes.
“When you have a multi-destination offer, and that might also include Cuba, you are already offering something more,” Him said.
The ATP is also talking about a cruise ship connection in Panama for China travelers, which will look even more attractive when a new cruise terminal opens on the Amador Causeway.
Attracting more tourists from China will require new strategies, Him acknowledged.
“We must ensure the continuity of a job that is not easy because it is a market that we do not know and we have to meet their demands in a different way,” Him said.
Chinese tourists have different interests than many of the travelers who traditionally visit Panama. “The Chinese are not that much into sun and beach tourism,” Him said. “They prefer rural tourism, history, culture, nature … In addition, gastronomy is fundamental to them.”
Fortunately, Panama already has all those attributes, which makes it a likely target for increased visits.