Some 483,000 tourists visited Panama in 1997, spending $368.5m. Both figures were up on 1996 -- by 9.1% and 7.4% respectively -- but the growth in arrivals was well below the 25% of the previous year and below the rate needed to attain the government's target of 1m visitors by 2000. IPAT, Panama's official tourism agency, is now projecting a 12% increase in tourist arrivals this year (a rate which would leave numbers 300,000 below target by 2000) and spending of $400m.
Tourism statistics 1996 1997 % change Arrivals 442,719 482,984 9.1 Spending ($ m) 343.1 368.5 7.4 Source: MIPPE.
-- but investment in infrastructure continues strong
Despite last year's rather disappointing results, plans to develop the tourism infrastructure continue apace. In December a project was approved to develop Fort Amadort, including a commercial centre, a cruise ship dock and a 5-star 500-room hotel; investment of $100m is envisaged. The project is expected to start once the ARI (the government agency responsible for the reverted areas) finishes the infrastructure work, bidding for which is expected in March-April. ARI expects total investment in Amador to reach over $500m in five projects which will create 3,500 permanent jobs.
Meanwhile a number of international hotel chains, such as the Hyatt, Ramada and Marriott, are due to open or install new facilities. The privatisation of the Atlapa Convention Centre will involve 350 new hotel rooms, while 1998 will see new capacity in the country's interior.