Rodolfo del Valle: This is the engine to rev up the rest of the industry
THE WOW EFFECT OF THIS BUILDING GOES BEYOND ITS INFRASTRUCTURE. THIS IS HIGH-TECH CONSTRUCTION EAGER TO ADD AND LURE BIG-TICKET BUSINESS EVENTS
BY: EXCELENCIAS NEWSROOM PHOTOS: EXCELENCIAS ARCHIVES
Panama has already put its smart money on business tourism as one of the spearheads on the road to economic recovery. In 2021, in statements to Excelencias during the last edition of WTM London, the General Administrator of the country's Tourism Authority, Ivan Eskildsen, commented that "a convention tourist has an average daily expenditure of $609 vs. a leisure tourist who spends $350", which explains why it's such a good business. He added that "Panama is the ideal destination for the MICE product because of its maritime and air connectivity, climate stability and because the capital offers a varied hotel plant of 20,000 rooms; you can choose whether to stay among skyscrapers or surrounded by nature, in the heart of the city". The Panama Convention Center is the way to achieve this objective. José Carlos de Santiago, president of the Excelencias Group, and Armando de la Garza, a specialized journalist and coordinator of Excelencias Panamá, sat down with its CEO, Rodolfo del Valle. Del Valle commented on the role played by the Panamanian government and the Tourism Authority in the development of this center, which took an investment of $207 million and boasts 33,000 square meters of usable space for the organization of events. It was inaugurated on September 1, 2021, and was born with competition. - How are you and Atlapa Convention Center going to divide the business between yourselves and Atlapa Convention Center in a world that is very complex right now, since the MICE and trade fair world seems to be in decline due to the pandemic? —First of all, we must understand that we are a large venue. It is a government building, but professionally operated by one of the largest convention center management and operation companies in the world, which is ASM Global. The theme has always been that competition is not about price or space, but about service. There are markets and buildings that are for a specific market. We are a high-tech building that wants to add and attract large events. On the other hand, the operation of Atlapa stopped because it had to be used as a collection center for the distribution of food to support all Panamanian families. At this moment it has not been reactivated yet, so many of the events that used to be held there are migrating to the Panama Convention Center. Even though they are two different administrations? — Yes, look, Mexico City has five convention centers with five different administrations and the city works perfectly. Each market is located in the building that best meets the needs of quality, service, space and location. The sun rises for everyone. There was a proposal that was a great success and that was to grant free space to companies that wanted to hold an event with more than 100 people at Atlapa. Also, at the same time, it provided health insurance to all passengers arriving directly to Panama City. Are you going to reactivate these measures taken by the government for this center, since a private entity is managing it? — This regulation does not apply to us. Specifically, Atlapa is operated directly by the ATP, so they can make these types of decisions in that building, which they control. We also have to take into consideration that all decisions have cause and effect: if you provide a free service you will not have any income, and then you must continue to cover the operating expenses of the building, such as maintenance. We have PROMTUR (destination marketing organization). They have developed an incentive plan that basically consists of supporting international events according to a calculator based on the economic revenue they can generate for the city. Taking this information into account, PROMTUR assigns a budget so that they can have a return and develop the event in a better way. Convention centers usually involve important investments, because they are a fortress. How has this one impacted the province of Amador? — This building produces many WOW effects. We have an impressive lobby of more than 6,000 square meters, an exhibition hall of 15,000 square meters and we have 1,700 parking spaces. In addition, there is a very large kitchen with the capacity to serve 5,000 diners. The Center is the engine to develop the rest of the industry, and now we are considering developing the province of Amador as an engine for more entertainment tourism. There are plans for more restaurants, hotels and everything else that comes after a large convention center. Who assumed the losses that the pandemic may have generated in its operation? — Our contract had two stages: a preoperative stage and an operation stage. During the first stage, the building was to be delivered to us, which was delayed due to the pandemic itself, and we received the building on September 1, 2021. So, there were no losses because we were just about to start up. How many events have you held from the beginning of the year until now and how many are scheduled until the end of the year? — Within 45 days of receiving the building we had our first event: an international cruise congress. Obviously the country did not receive the number of visitors that was initially planned, however, it was a great start. To date we have held 28 events, and we have 30 more to go for the rest of the year. We have received some 58,000 visitors so far, above the pre-pandemic goal we had set (48,000). The building has had a spectacular response. Our projection is that 72,000 people will attend during the course of the year. We have received congratulations from large hotel chains because we have filled their rooms, and we are pleased to know that we have generated an important direct economic benefit of approximately 250,000 dollars in direct jobs for all the people we hire in addition because, obviously, the more people come, the more people we need to attend them. What would you change or have already changed to make it more operative, and what should be done from now on? — We still have many challenges. I would like to put more rooms in it, a hotel in front..., because nowadays the trends in the industry are more towards sustainability. We are focused on making the building more environmentally friendly and on educating the industry. In June we had an event that attracted between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors. At that time we intended to launch a recycling program, but we failed terribly because neither the contractors nor the visitors were prepared to cooperate. We know that we have a floating population and that you hardly get the same visitors, but the challenge is education.