Shamah told the Panama News Agency that the cruise industry is very important for Panama, since it has ports on both oceans, but more importantly, the country is located in a privileged place in the center of America and has an air hub that facilitates conducting business with the home port.
Nevertheless, the challenge facing this Central American country is that it is not yet recognized as a Caribbean destination. Therefore, they are working to emerge into this market by creating the nation's own cruise line, with the participation of Panamanian and regional companies.
This is a true challenge for Panama, and although the project is basically still in the gestation stage, the Panamanian tourism leader believes that in the future there will be companies willing to run the risk and who believe in their potential to operate their own cruise routes.
Shamah said that they have called on local operators like the Colón 2000 cruise port and other nearby international carriers to design a three to four day package, with the support of the Panamanian government, that would generate a steady stream of cruise activity not limited to a single season.
To start, the project could trace a route originating in the province of Colón, located on the Panamanian Caribbean shore, and making stops at the islands of San Blas and San Andrés in Colombia. The idea is to create the country's own route and attract tourists from Argentina, Peru, Colombia, and other South American countries.
Panama's government could support these companies in many forms, such as providing incentives or even helping them obtain the necessary guarantees to acquire a leasing or purchase a 500-room cruise ship to cover this route.
"If private investors take the first step, I would solicit support from up to the highest level in the government in order to help them release their own product and to absorb part of the risk. This would be the only way to achieve this objective, since a 500-room cruise ship costs tens of millions of dollars," detailed ATP's General Manager.
He added that with patience, resources, and the right government politics to implement this project on the long-term, he is sure that within three or four years Panama could have a cruise line covering up to three routes and using a home port on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
"As I am now a part of this government, I would dare to take this up to the cabinet council, since it would give us the control to be able to put together a product that meets the specific needs of Panamanians. What's more, it would provide a tremendous injection into the economy, from the purchases cruise tourists make in hotel nights and shopping," Shamah said.
By May of this year, Panama had received 203,858 cruise tourists, a 1.2% increase over the same period last year, when 201,349 visitors had arrived. In this same period, tourism created foreign revenue for Panama worth more than U.S. $1,023 million dollars.
Shamah stressed that the cruise industry is volatile, and although the ports can not be moved, the president of a cruise line could one day receive an offer elsewhere and would simply take the company's boats to the other destination. That is why Panama should have its own ships on hand.