by Marcela Torres
Visiting the Panama Tourism Expo 2022, held between March 25 and 26, was a revitalizing experience after two years of not being able to attend any event due to the pandemic. In this eleventh version, the Expo had 138 exhibitors that arranged more than 300 business appointments with approximately 150 buyers.
Since my objective was not to do business, but to learn about Panama's tourism offer, I decided to attend on Saturday, March 26, when it opened to the public. I was impressed by the diversity of products especially aimed at nature and promoting sustainability, from ecolodges to excursions to visit Indigenous communities in different areas of the country.
In fact, what I enjoyed the most was my experience with two exhibiting artists from the Emberá people. In addition to showcasing their handicrafts made with fibers, seeds, and natural dyes, they offered visitors temporary tattoos with traditional motifs from their culture using the black ink of the jagua or genipap (Genipa americana), a tropical fruit. In my case, they painted a design that represents the tail of a monkey.
As I waited for my turn, I talked a lot with them about their culture and communities. The Emberá people live mainly in the southeast of Panama, in the Emberá-Wounaan Comarca (a type of Indigenous reserve), which covers 500 hectares and is divided into 42 communities with a total of approximately 9,000 inhabitants of both Emberá and Wounaan origin. Although the Wounaan mainly live in the province of Darién, which borders Colombia, the Emberá are settled along different rivers and some communities have even moved to sectors of the province of Panama, mainly in the vicinity of the Chagres and Gatun rivers.
After meeting these artists, I continued touring the Expo to identify other attractions that caught my attention. The variety is very attractive, from private islands to the Panama Canal visitor centers and . Having taken note of all the information that the exhibitors gave me and enjoyed delicious mountain-grown coffee, I realized that this country has much to offer and that, if the international trend of reducing post-pandemic travel restrictions continues, tourism can be enhanced to achieve a multiplier effect towards other sectors of the national economy.
The positive results of this eleventh version of Tourism Expo - and of the parallel Trade Expo and Logistics Expo - lead the organizing committee to have high expectations for the next event, to be held in 2023 between March 24 and 25. Indeed, Panama has reasons for being optimistic. And so do I!