Panama has a relatively new port, Colon 2000, on the Caribbean side, and is planning to build a new port on the Pacific that can serve as both a homeport and port of call, situated near Panama City.
With the increase in cargo traffic, Cristobal is no longer used for cruise calls, Orillac explained. However, ships can anchor off Flamenco Island at the entrance to the canal and tender.
Orillac said he expects contractions of a new port to get under way later this year. He can envision new itineraries being develop to Central and South America, broadening the cruise products and lengthening the season.
Colon 2000 is home-porting ships for Royal Caribbean International and Pullmantur, sourcing passengers locally as well as from other Latin America countries and South America.
“Panama is one of the most connected countries in the world,” Orillac said. “We have airlift to more than 60 foreign destinations.”
While both calls and turnarounds are beneficial, he said home porting allows passengers to stay over either before or after their cruise. With Pullmantur sailing weekly on Fridays, passengers tend to spend the weekend and go shopping, according to Orillac, who noted that Panama has the second, largest duty-free zone in the world.
“Shopping here is less expensive than anywhere else in the world,” he added.
In addition to shopping and nightlife, the main attraction is the Panama Canal. There are shore excursions whereby passengers can spend up to a full day in the canal system. There are also city tours and visits to an Indian reservation—one of the authentic communities of seven Indian tribes in the region that still live off the land.
A new museum is slated to open this year in Panama City, focused on how Panama has emerged from the Ocean, Orillac said, and now licks the world through the canal.
This year, Panama expects to grow its cruise traffic 5 to 10 percent above the 350,000 passengers received last year.
The key is the connectivity, Orillac underscored, “Royal Caribbean will embark 85 percent of its passengers in Cartagena. Even for the Colombians,” he said, “it is easier to fly to Panama. We have direct flights from many areas in Colombia.”
According to Orillac, Panama is the only country in Latin America with an investment grade rating by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. The Panamanian economy is projected to grow at a rate of 9 percent this year.