A new partnership between the Panama government and non-profit organisation, Planeterra, strives to put communities at the centre of tourism
When restrictions do begin to open up, and travellers can start to explore (with the help of travel agents!) again, it’s likely that many organisations are going to have used the pause to change some pretty fundamental things about the way they operate. One of the clearest examples we’ve seen so far is a community tourism initiative in Panama that wants to revolutionise the country’s tourism industry.
The PACT partnership – between the Panama Government, the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO), Fundación Natura and Planeterra, a non-profit organisation that works with businesses including the likes of G Adventures – hopes to “build community tourism experiences that improve the well-being of residents, visitors, and the environment, celebrating the natural beauty and must-have cultural experiences the country offers”.
This is government support for a plan that will put communities at the centre of the tourism industry. And, with a partner like Planeterra, it can ensure that the plan is backed by experts in the field. To start with, PACT will focus on working with at least 10 communities and their tourism enterprises, helping them achieve long-term sustainability through all aspects of the tourism value chain, including business planning, regenerative agriculture and resiliency building in order to ensure each community is set up for success.
“Planeterra is excited to work with APTSO, Fundación Natura and the Ministry of Tourism to launch this groundbreaking community tourism initiative,” said Jamie Sweeting, president of Planeterra. “We look forward to bringing Planeterra’s proven approach to empowering community-led tourism to Panama and, in the process, strengthening local partners to lead this initiative forward.”
We spoke to Sweeting to learn more about the initiative and find out how Planeterra is going to help with the groundbreaking project.
ABTA Magazine: Can you tell me how this partnership came about?
Jamie Sweeting: I met Annie Young, the President of the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO) many years ago in Costa Rica. We stayed in touch over the years and, during the pandemic while tourism was at a halt, we started conversations around how Planeterra might be able to work with them to help scale up community tourism in Panama. We organised a meeting with the Minister of Tourism, Ivan Eskildsen, where we explored the concept of creating a national community tourism network, designed to help support Panama’s local communities through tourism.
What’s the end goal /what is the Panama government’s ambition?
The aim of PACT is to significantly increase the amount of communities directly benefiting from tourism in Panama. The country is pioneering a new national strategy, designed to increase the number of jobs and revenue opportunities for communities through community tourism enterprises. As travel returns, Panama is seeking to demonstrate how this form of tourism can support rural community development, celebrate its diverse culture and history and support the conservation of its rich biodiversity.
What does the PACT initiative mean for those travelling to Panama?
PACT will result in more, and crucially, better community tourism experiences being more widely available to travellers visiting Panama. Travellers will be able to know that their trips are directly supporting the development of the local communities involved while, at the same time, being able to make meaningful connections with local people. The result is a better experience for the traveller, more local people benefiting from tourism and more attractive itineraries for travel companies and travel agents to offer.
Will all travel to Panama be covered by PACT, or do travellers need to keep an eye out for accreditation?
PACT is not an accreditation but is instead an initiative to support the development and bringing to market of more community tourism experiences. The Alliance will work with local, national and international travel companies to integrate these community tourism experiences into their product offerings.
Are there any experiences that will specifically not be covered by PACT?
PACT is specifically focusing on supporting the development of community tourism experiences. These experiences will be community driven and led. We envisage that experiences will range from community home-stay programmes to having a lunch hosted by local women’s co-operatives. Tours of the local ecosystem led by Indigenous guides and youth-led cultural activities are also part of what will be possible through the roll out of PACT. Essentially, travellers will be better able to see Panama through the eyes and experiences of local people, increasing their enjoyment and knowledge of what makes Panama so special.