"Attracting business tourism is our priority"

Ernesto Orillac, the Deputy Minister of Tourism of Panama, says that the country has recently grown as a tourist destination and has nothing to envy of its neighbors. Although its primary objective is to drive visits from Latin America, Spain stands out as a key market since it "is a bridge to all of Europe."

Until not long ago, Panama was not a very well-known tourist destination. What policies have brought about this change?

The tourism industry has taken on a fundamental role within the economy, for its contribution of foreign exchange revenue, employment, and new investments. We have been focusing on building up infrastructure, by setting up the city's Metro light rail system, expanding the Panama Canal, and constructing new airports. These strategies target various markets, but particularly countries to the south like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, or Colombia. In 2012, South America was one of the regions that sent the most tourists to Panama.

What does tourism represent for the country? What about business tourism?

Tourism accounts for 10.4 percent of our GDP (some 2,880 million euros), and it generates 131,983 jobs per year. We received 2.1 million visitors in 2012, and we hope to surpass that figure this year to reach 2.3 million tourists. As for business tourism, one of our priorities is to increase hotel occupancy by organizing business conferences and events.

Peru has Machu Picchu, Mexico has Chichen Itza. What is the must-see tourist site in Panama?

Anyone who comes to our country has to see in person the Panama Canal, considered one of the engineering wonders of the world and currently undergoing expansion to celebrate its centenary in 2014. Another essential stop is in the capital's Old Town district, which UNESCO declared a World Heritage Site.

Is Spain a priority market for Panama?

Absolutely. Spain provides a crucial bridge into Europe, a top-ranking market. Last year we received nearly 40,000 Spanish tourists, a 22.6% increase over 2011. Panama is expanding its airports and strengthening our flight connections with many European countries. We also attend all the major tourism fairs in Europe.

What would you say to someone who has never been to Panama to entice them to visit the country?

Don't hesitate to visit Panama, as it will not cease to amaze you. It is a very safe country, with much ecological and cultural diversity. It is the only place in the world where the sun rises on the Pacific Ocean and sets over the Caribbean Sea.

Ernesto Orillac

Is Panama's Deputy Minister of Tourism, a sector that accounts for over 10% of the country's GDP

Personal: he is 38 years old, married, and with two children.

Education: after studying Business Administration at the University of Texas, he went on to study Senior Management and got his Masters' degree at the University of Harvard.

Experience: the current Deputy Minister of Tourism of Panama was previously the director of the country's Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Tourism, and Convention Bureau, among other institutions.

Camila Pan de Soraluce MADRID