Panama is open for business (4): Crazy Airport Schemes

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Maybe the new airport should include a space center?

Instead of focusing on long term sustainable development, Panama is the land of the miracle cure, the crazy schemes, the snake oil remedies that will either bring us instant wealth, propel us into the first world, turn us into a "democratic version of Singapore" overnight, or all of the above. The handover of the Canal and the Canal Zone, the construction boom, the real estate boom, the Canal expansion project - to name just a few - were all touted as wonder medicine that would make Panama instantly rich. Instead it makes only a selected few rich.

It's like herbal viagra; you buy it, when you expect results it doesn't work, but the salesman will tell you not to worry because he has something new and better right here for you, sir!

The latest in this long list of wacky schemes is an initiative to build an international airport in Chitré, a small but cute provincial town in the central provinces. There is even a website dedicated to the project, where not just an airport is promoted, but also various roads, including one to the Veraguas Caribbean coast - which is totally empty. The idea is that - here it comes - an airport will promote tourism and thus develop the area in a sort of one giant blow.

What are these people smoking? Costa Rica has much more tourism than Panama and has four international airports, of which two in the capital San José and one, Limón, with only the occasional international flight to Bocas del Toro in Panama. There are really only two destinations in Costa Rica that are served by international flights; one in the capital and the other in Liberia.

Panama, with much less tourism than Costa Rica, has another phenomenon to deal with: Most visitors stay in and around the capital. They don't go to other areas.

Nevertheless, we have sizable airports already in Panama City (two, or three if you count Howard), and then some all over the country that could be upgraded at a fraction of the cost it would take to build this new Chitré thing: One in Colón that could serve most of the accessible Caribbean coast; one in David that could serve Chiriqui and neighboring provinces; and one in Bocas del Toro. Plus, Panama has already a myriad of domestic airports and strips; much more than Costa Rica.

Yet, Pedasi, a destination that would supposedly be served by this new international airport, can barely fill a small plane flying there on a twice-a-week schedule. So how do they think there is business for big Jumbo Jets flying in every day from all over the place?

It's the same wishful dreaming that makes our authorities and business sector believe that we are somehow the "hub of the Americas", qua air transport, which is utter bullshit if you look at the numbers and only serves to pump scammy Copa Air. Plus, from the countries where tourists come from to this part of the world you get much better and varied flight deals to Costa Rica.

As usual in Panama, the promoters of this new scheme are thinking in reverse. Access to the various regions is easily solved by upgrading existing infrastructure, maintaining a good regional flight network and: stop fucking around and set up a decent over-land transportation network just like they have in Costa Rica. The real issue they should be tackling is not access but that the product they're peddling - tourism to central Panama - is just not good enough. Sure, the beaches are nice, but so are those in Miami, the Bahamas or Aruba and Costa Rica. Sure, the rainforest is nice, but so is that in Costa Rica and it's better set up to receive tourists. "Eco Tourism" is in Panama just a buzzword that usually means that bamboo has been used in the construction of the cabañas and nothing more - for real eco tourism or other alternative forms of tourism Panama offers no answer to the competition.

But you know, dear reader, solving these issues requires hard work and long-term vision and thinking, and that's not something those who take the decisions down here are particularly good at. So expect to hear more from these snake oil peddlers - just don't buy into their schemes.

UPDATE: Another wonder scheme: Where once was the US embassy the government now wants to subsidize its friends in the construction industry and build an enormous financial tower. And, they say, it is a First World Tower! Development! We'll be a real country!

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