In the News from Panama

Panama Following Dubai Air Hub Model

Panama aviation leaders are clear on their model for the future: Dubai. The booming U.A.E. metropolis has made air service the centerpiece of a plan to make the city a hub for trade and tourism. 

As Panama develops as the Hub of the Americas, Dubai is a perfect example of what can be achieved, Pedro Heilbron, CEO and executive president of Copa Airlines, said during the General Assembly of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Dubai, Arab Emirates.

“What better than this city to demonstrate how air connectivity can enhance a destination,” Heilbron said. “They sell Dubai, with good reason, as a destination for trade, investment, and tourism.”

Many people share the misconception that Dubai is wealthy from oil. Dubai’s historic growth has been field by trade and foreign investment, much like Panama. Dubai built the infrastructure that supported the traffic and commerce to support the new city, and Panama is following a similar path.

Panama has “the potential to be much more,” Heilbron said.

Many analysts agree that Panama is only starting to develop its tourism, business, and meeting industries. In recent years, the government and private industry have been ramping up their investments and enlisted a range of creative talent to spread the word.

A good example is Copa’s “Stopover” program, which allows people traveling through Tocumen airport to stay for up to seven days without charge. This year, Copa expects 150,000 tourists to use the program to explore Panama, Heilbron said at the IATA event. Since the program started in 2019, more than 440,000 have stayed over, and the annual numbers continue to grow.

In the first quarter of 2024, tourism revenue in Panama was up 8.4% from the same period a year ago, according to data presented at the conference. Overall, passenger traffic in Latin America and the Caribbean is expected to grow 7.4%, Peter Cerdá, vice president of the IATA, said at the conference.