Panama hosted half a million people for January’s World Youth Day celebration, and the event showed the country is well-equipped to handle large-scale events.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia—In my visits to Panama during 2018, hoteliers shared their enthusiasm about having Pope Francis in their country for World Youth Day, held 22-27 January 2019. They were excited about the opportunity and visibility that hosting the once-every-three-years event could bring to Panama, but many were concerned about whether the country was ready to host such an event, especially from the logistical point of view.
Knowing this, Panama worked hard to ensure that monuments like the Catedral Basílica Santa María La Antigua were refurbished and looked their best to receive all the young believers, but also public works like the metro and airport were improved to receive the half a million people who arrived in Panama for the event.
In terms of performance, Panama—and particularly its capital Panama City—has been suffering from a lack of demand and strong supply. Occupancies in 2018 were 48.4%, the lowest recorded for STR, while average daily rate remained stable with a 1% increase in 2018 vs 2017, reaching $91.00 USD. (STR is the parent company of Hotel News Now.)
Looking at the performance during World Youth Day week (22-27 January 2019): Hotels saw overall citywide declines in occupancy and increased rates. The city was full, but not its hotels—at least not all of them. STR data shows Panama City upper-midscale and upscale hotels saw a 12.1% year-over-year increase in occupancy to 80.5%, a 73.2% increase in ADR to $125.60 and a 94.1% increase in revenue per available room to $101.10.*
From reports on TV as well as conversations with Panamanian friends and clients, I would say job well done! Most importantly, this should serve as a reminder that the country can host international events. The country has a great central location, a solid hotel supply story, with branded and independent hotels across all classes (STR data shows Panama’s current rooms supply at 5,599,703), and a large amount of event and conference space, which will be upgraded with the opening of Amador Convention Center, adding 630,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Panama’s challenge remains air fares. The country is used often as a hub connecting continents, and direct flights from main source markets to Tocumen International Airport remain expensive. However, the final phase of a multi-year airport upgrade and expansion project is scheduled to be completed this year, which should help drive demand and increase competitiveness.
With a high tourism potential, Panama is more than the Channel and should be seen as such. Its success hosting half a million people for World Youth Day safely, plus Panama City’s new Amador Convention Center, shows that the country is well equipped for MICE events and other professional events in private industry that would have a positive impact on hotels.
* The weekly sample was based on 35 properties and 7,000 guestrooms reporting data to STR.
Patricia Boo is STR’s area director for Central and South America, based in Bogota, Colombia.
This article represents an interpretation of data collected by STR, parent company of HNN. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.