THINGS are changing fast at Panama’s Tourism Authority(ATP), which finally has someone at the helm with some knowledge of the industry, and an insider's understanding that millions of dollars spent on a four day noise and booze fest on the Cinta Costera does not fill hotels in the city
Lawyer Jesus Sierra is the new administrator of the Tourism Authority of Panama (ATP), designated by President Juan Carlos Varela after chairing the, Panama Hotel Association. He's also a major sharholder in a 22 room hotel in Chiriqui, and grows coffee on a 50 hectare lot in Volcan.
Unlike Shamah, he also has a visa that allows him to travel to the United States, a useful toll when you are promoting your country Sierra carries no political baggage into his new post. He belong to no political party and advised Varela as an independent. He replaces Salomon Shamah, who divided his time as an officer of the ATP and, as one of the henchmen of former President Ricardo Martinelli, the brain of the CD dirty tricks campaign during the last election. Sierra, however, says he prefers not to interfere in politics, but to restructure the institution and develop its projects over the next five years.
During an interview with La Prensa he said that his predecessor was very focused on the city. “We are not going to stop focusing on the city, as it is important as a tourist destination, but we are doing the same with the interior. We will create a new representatives in each of the provinces, to follow up a work plan in which new tourism products are created to sell beaches, mountains, and more.”
The construction of the new convention center in Amador will continue as it is a matter of state. We will also continue with the same branding of the country. “We see no purpose in having to spend money on something that has already been marketed"
Projects that have been tendered will be respected, but those that are not sustainable will be tossed into the garbage can.One that is already there is health insurance for tourists. Sierra is gentle in his comments: “It was a good product at the time, and focused some attention from abroad as the only country that had it.”
But, from what industry professionals tell me it was poorly administered and most arriving tourists were unaware that it existed. The insurance company that was paid big bucks to underwrite the plan. must have been grateful.
Sierra said that many tourists come with their insurance and others can purchase it for a small fee. “There are even insurance agencies that are already offering that service. We can focus that money on other things.
one of the products that is being audited, for cost overruns and others problems is the ATP’s website another massively costly venture that gained widespread criticism. Website designers with connections to the last administration were on a roll, even with the former ombudsperson.
Although his mentor, Martinelli, had vowed to spend not one dollar in supporting Panama’ City’s Carnival,in his five years in office, Shamah invested $10.2 million in the event claiming it brought thousands of visitors, although the city resembles a ghost town during Carnival, as residents flock to the interior to more popular events (not government funded) or to Tocumen, seeking respite from the madding throng in other climes
Said Sierra: “Spending $ 3.5 or $ 4 million [in a Carnival] is probably overkill. We are at the time of the formation of a group in which the ATP [will act] as director of the carnival, but work together with members of the private sector and civic clubs, to help us rescue Carnival “ He wants to see it reflect Panama culture and not deviate to music and culture from elsewhere. And the budget? “Probably with a seed capital of $ 400,000 …maximum $ 500,000. Shamah came close to that with a boondoggle at one Carnival involving a single foreign performer. “We want our own people who know a bit of our history and be able to offer it,” said Sierra.
Unlike Shamah he is a native Panamanian.