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Panama Working To Increase Tourism

December 4, 1998

PANAMA CITY (AP) _ Panama hopes to make tourism its top source of revenue through a sweeping project aimed at broadening tourist services while protecting and learning from its bounty of natural resources.

``We are breaking the paradigm under which scientists have seen tourism as a threat to the environment,″ Cesar Tribaldos, director of the Panamanian Tourism Institute said Thursday, the second day of a tourism conference in the capital.

Panama’s Plan of Tourism, Conservation and Investigation is meant to pull together government, private investors and scientific researchers to develop tourism and environmental sites.

So far, hotels have begun to build infrastructure in various parts of the lush, tropical nation. The government is exploring opportunities for adventure and pleasure tourism, as well as ecotourism. One project would establish a cruise ship port near the Panama Canal.

A Panamanian business group will invest $25 million to build a luxury hotel in Gamboa, on the Atlantic side of the canal, which will be surrounded by rivers and tropical forests. A scientific research community will operate in the area, and a cable car will carry tourists over the forest canopy.

``It’s a high-quality project designed to offer an experience of the culture that surrounds us,″ said Hana Ayala, a U.S. scientist who is working with the Panamanian government on the tourism plan.

Most people visiting Panama in the past have been business travelers who take advantage of the country’s financial services, such as its free-trade zone and Latin America’s largest international financial center.

Last year, 510,000 tourists visited Panama, generating about $400 million in income. This year the number grew to 600,000, and income increased by about $25 million.

The government bills tourism as ``an industry without a chimney,″ and hopes it will become Panama’s greatest revenue source by 2000 or 2001.

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