Preliminary figures indicate that hotel occupancy up to September of this year were at 57.2%, a 2.2% decrease according to the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP).
Sierra Victoria stated that internationally significant events held in Panama, such as the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government, the Latin American Business Conference and Plenary Assembly of the Latin American Business Council, and the International Congress of the Spanish Language, accounted in part for the elevated occupancy levels in the hotel sector.
"These events," he said, "which convened renowned leaders of Latin American companies in order to discuss integration, expansion, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development from the perspective of the private sector, in addition to scholars in art and culture, represented part of the demand that filled hotel rooms".
An important factor to take into account, notes Sierra Victoria, is the upsurge in visitors during December, as many people from neighboring countries come to Panama to do their year-end holiday shopping.
The APATEL president suggested that hotel occupancy could hit an even higher percentage by eradicating the unfair practice of renting out private houses to tourists who stay for less than 45 days, which impacts 25% of the hospitality industry.
He stressed the importance of stopping this situation, because Panamanian hotels that fulfill legal requirements are disadvantaged by the illegal profiteering of "outsiders" and those hotels that have not made any investment in tourism.
Panama's tourism authorities have set up an intelligence operation and are out on the hunt for these "clandestine accommodations", as they dub the private residences that are rented to tourists, which if caught could be fined anywhere from U.S. $5,000 to U.S. $50,000.
Sierra Victoria said that hotel businesses must always meet market demands, comply with quality standards, and satisfy client needs. Hotels in Panama are working on these key initiatives for the benefit of visitors.
He added that promoting tourism in Panama around the world has been effective, and hosting conferences and conventions has boosted overnight stays in hotels.
"Every day this country grows stronger. The presence of international banks, a 10% economic growth in 2012, the second-largest free trade zone in the world, more than 100 multinational companies, and making 4th place in the Americas on the World Economic Forum tourism competitiveness ranking demonstrate the commitment we should have as a nation among all who are indirectly or directly involved in tourism, especially the hotel industry," expressed Sierra Victoria.
Panama provides great opportunities and benefits to tourists, such as attractive prices and one of the most affordable cities in the region, IRS tax exemption for U.S. meetings that take place in Panama, and 30 days of free health insurance for visitors.