According to the Tourism Management of the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP), 40 operating permits were issued last year nationwide. This represented a combined investment of $439 million as well as 1,356 new rooms in the market. According to information provided by companies, 939 people were hired last year.
Although 44 operating permits were granted in 2010, the investment was less, totaling $141.1 million.
Out of the 40 permits issued in 2011, 24 were given to the province of Panama, 7 to Chiriquí, 4 to Columbus, 2 to the province of Coclé, and the rest were given to lodgings in Herrera, Bocas del Toro, and Los Santos.
Including last year's figures, there are about 20,768 rooms devoted to lodging nationwide, of which 50% are concentrated in the province of Panama, followed by Coclé, where the main beach hotels in the country are located. This is one of the reasons why the private sector asked the ATP to keep incentives for investment in the capital city permanently suspended.
However, in the draft bill, prepared by the institution, a period of three months after the law is enacted has been established, so that companies interested in building accommodation premises in the district of Panama can be eligible for tax incentives.
A point to be introduced in the new legislation is that companies must submit a certificate accredited by a Certified Public Accountant, detailing the sources of project financing. With this, the Government seeks to limit any speculation in the sector.
As agreed between the ATP and the private sector, incentives in the interior of the country will be broader in order to stimulate investment outside the province of Panama.
Unlike the district capital, incentives will be available until 2020 in the rest of the country
There are 15 hotels under construction in the district of Panama, and this year, the largest one, Hard Rock Hotel, will be inaugurated in April, featuring 500 thousand rooms. For the president of the Panamanian Association of Hotels, Sara Pardo, the opening of Hard Rock represents a challenge for the entire industry.
"It's big. Almost all the hotels in the city fit within it," she said.
This year, a significant room occupancy decrease is projected in the Capital City. Room occupancy is estimated to fall from 64%, registered in 2011, to just over 50%, because hotels will exceed demand.
Hilton Garden Inn is also scheduled to open its doors this year, with 163 rooms. This January, Westin Playa Bonita was inaugurated, featuring 600 rooms—an investment of $100 million was necessary to construct this hotel.
Other that projects are in their final stages of construction include Waldorf Astoria, 126 rooms, Aloft Panama (312), Hilton Panama (351), while NH Bella Vista (200), Hyatt Place (167) and Renaissance Panama Hotel (300) have finished their pile phase.
The Panamanian Hotel Association estimates that more than 10,000 new rooms will have been enabled in the capital city between 2010 and 2014, which represents an increase of 20,000 hotel rooms in the district of Panama.
Ernesto Orillac, Deputy Administrator of the ATP, said the challenge this year is to maintain the growth registered in 2011 in order to fill the new rooms. "We have promotional tools, such as insurance for tourists as well as the Atlapa free offer for conferences and conventions. Therefore, this year, we will focus on maintaining the growth we achieved in 2011," he said.
In addition to granting operating permits for accommodation facilities, we granted licenses to 20 travel agencies last year, 16 less than in 2010.
Approved licenses in 2011 represented an investment of $5.4 million. Out of the new travel agencies, 17 operate in the province of Panama and the rest in other provinces, such as Veraguas, Chiriquí, and Coclé.
In the market, there are about 80 travel agencies, and in April, the Spanish agency Viajes El Corte Ingles will open its doors, which will operate in the Trump Ocean Club hotel.
Ernesto Reina, President of the Association of Travel Agencies and Tourism, said that 2012 will be another positive year for the sector. In his opinion, the new frequency areas that have included airlines in their offer will attract more visitors.
Visitors and legislation
Tourist arrivals increased 17% in 2011.
2020 is the year that tax incentives will expire for tourism projects if the new tourism law is approved.2% is tax credit that will be given to subsidiaries of foreign multinationals that organize incentive trips to the country according to the draft law presented by the ATP to the National Assembly