Businessmen from the Panamanian tourist sector welcome the arrival of Air China flights in March 2018, but say that it will be a challenge to attract the type of tourist which, for now, seems to go for very different destinations than those offered by Central America.

According to the World Tourism Organization, in 2016, Chinese tourists spent US$261 billion dollars during their travels, spending the most since 2012. Photo LaPrensa

In a region which for many years has specialized in serving North American tourists and more recently Europeans, preparing to provide the attention demanded by tourists from China will be a challenge, according to the Panamanian tourism entrepreneurs themselves.

The fact that Panama is becoming a hub for air connections with the Asian region does not mean that the tourism industry is prepared to receive the type of tourist which has characteristics that are very different from the tourists that Panama and Central America are used to receiving.

Prensa.com reports that “…According to representatives from travel agencies in Panama, Chinese tourists are still discovering Asian countries and are venturing into European countries such as France and Italy, but attracted by luxury brands. According to official data, 54% of Chinese, who visit the French capital more than British and Americans, intend to go back to Paris within two years, compared to 71% of other nationalities.”

“… Another characteristic of Chinese tourists is that they prefer to stay in three and four star hotels, especially those that offer free internet.”

“… Beyond being a center for air connections for the Asian market, Panama must work on a plan to attract Chinese tourists, who at the moment are not interested in beach tourism or ecotourism, which are the country’s strong points, said Ernesto Orillac, president of the Panamanian Association of Tourism Operators.”