By Mabel Cruz Rodriguez for the Panama America
It is considered by the Panama Tourism Authority to be the most profitable activity in the tourism sector of Panama. Despite the overall decline in the number of tourist arriving coming to Panama, those who did arrive spent $50 million dollars more, according to the Director of the ATP, Solomon Shamah. He told the Panama America that in 2009 (through November) there was an overall 1.9% decrease in the number of tourists, and what’s more the number of passengers arriving to the Tocumen International Airport decrease by 8%. Shamah explained that in spite of this decline, those who did come to Panama spent more money while they were here, which basically leveled things out. He said that through September 2009, about 900,000 tourists visited Panama, mostly via cruise ships, the most profitable activity of the year. According to industry data, through September 2008 spending by tourists reached $1.03 billion dollars, and through September 2009 tourist spending has reached $1.04 billion. The minister said they have a budget of about $37 million dollars for future projects. Meanwhile, Jaime Campuzano, President of the National Tourism Council, said while it was a year of the global economic crisis, Panama was not as badly affected as some of the other countries in the region. He said the private sector strengthened many promotion strategies, such as offering a 25% discount applied by several airlines, hotels and rental car companies. “Obviously we always want growth, but given the circumstances the private sector believes the country emerged unscathed,” he said. Campuzano perceives the sector decreased by 3 to 5%, but revenue grew by the same amount. Panama’s president, Ricardo Martinelli, explained that the “malls” in the country owe much of their sales to foreigners who take advantage of low taxes in the country, which is why he strongly denied that the ITBM sales tax will be increased. The authorities stressed that although 2008 was the landmark year for the sector (with more than $1.8 billion dollars raised), 2009 was profitable for investors.