February is Carnaval month in Panama, as many returning tourits know worldwide, and it is as good a time as any to discuss the topic of finding lodging in Panama, especially Panama City. Panama is in the midst of an enormous commercial growth, 11% as reported by our governmental agencies, and part of it is the dizzying building boom particularly in upscale, multi-story (high rise) hotels.
With the arrival, however, of more than two million tourists each year, the business opportunities and the emergence of many short-stay accommodations is more evident, especially in sectors that historically were classified as exclusive residential areas. Bed and Breakfast and/or hostel facilities have become the preferred lodging option for most international as well as national tourists and these places have enjoyed a rapid growth process as well in especially the last six years.
Areas like San Francisco, El Cangrejo, Via Argentina and the Banking District have not escaped the surge in the opening of hostels, despite the growing number of formal hotel projects that open their doors annually in the country. Although the hotel industry believes that hostels are not unfair competition, officials warned that the “health” of this economic sector regulates the appearance of new hostels, specifically in Panama City.
The minister of Tourism, Solomon Shamah, confirmed that “there will be a discontinuance of encouragement to the hostel industry in Panama City.” Shamah, who claims to recognize the benefits of this type of business, especially for low-income tourists, reminds us that in the capital city there already exist many hostels. We, however, take what the Minster says with a grain of salt as the tourists proceed to vote with their feet and their wallets as they make their preference for the cheaper and more user friendly hostels.
Sara Pardo, executive director of The Panamanian Hotel Association (APATEL), warned that despite the fact that hostels offer lower rates to tourists, they do not guarantee safety, care and services to them, as do the hotels. Pardo said that as long as these local hostels comply with local municipal regulations, they are not considered disloyal competition. Shamah, on the other hand, highlighted that cost difference is sometimes leagues apart wherein the hostels charge as little as $15 per night, as opposed to $100 in a hotel. Looking through the eyes of the tourist, however, this “cost difference” makes all the difference in their travel budget and plans; they could care less about “disloyal competition.”
Throughout the country there are 180 hostels, of which 61 are in Panama City, 45 in Chiriqui, 22 in Bocas del Toro, 14 in Cocle, 14 in Los Santos, 12 in Colon, 9 in Veraguas and the rest in Darien and Herrera, according to data provided by the ATP (The Tourism Authority of Panama).
It is within the jurisdiction of the ATP to grant permits to Bed and Breakfasts/Hostels, and these are normally granted to individuals or families with homes that have a minimum of three bedrooms and a maximum of nine rooms for use by guests, restrooms, a reception area, lounge, dining, telephone and guests rooms with adequate ventilation.
Bed and Breakfast/Hostel activity, by-the-way, is regulated by Law # 8, of July 14, 1994, amended by Decree Law # 4 of February 10, 1998, which regulates the tourism activity in the country.
In our next post we will review a wonderful, although small, (by industry standards) hostel with excellent attention to guests and a very high level of quality in all the other features sought by tourists both here in Panama and the world over.
Article Source: Hostales en Areas Exclusivas