Although Panama’s logistics industry is its claim to fame, tourism will soon surpass the Panama Canal as a contributor to the country’s gross domestic product, according to the U.S.-Panama Business Council president and government officials visiting here from Panama.

Ricardo Eskildsen, president of the U.S.-Panama council, the largest business association in Panama, U.S. Ambassador Linda Watt and Panama’s vice president Kaiser Bazán, were part of a delegation of some 50 Panamanians who visited Atlanta last week for “Panama Day.”

Mr. Eskildsen told GlobalAtlanta during a luncheon at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce that tourism infrastructure, such as American-owned bed and breakfast resorts on the less developed Caribbean side of the country, is improving rapidly.

A real estate attorney, Mr. Eskildsen said that while beachside property on the more popular Pacific coast costs around $200 per square meter, property on the Caribbean is only about $20 per square meter. That value is sure to increase at least five-fold in the next five years, he asserted.

Ms. Watt agreed, adding that the central regions of Panama, which are rich in history and archaeology, “need small, targeted tourism infrastructure development.”

Tourism will soon surpass the Panama Canal as a contributor to the country’s gross domestic product, Ms. Watt said. The federal government committed some $20 million in 2003 toward development of the tourism industry, resulting in a 12% increase in visitors to the country that year.

Meanwhile, total revenue from the canal during the second quarter of 2004 was $193.6 million, an increase of 12.8 percent over the same quarter last year.

The widespread use of English, Panama’s 100-year relationship with the United States, the “American way” of doing business and the increasing numbers of U.S. retirees and tourists make investment in Panama’s tourism industry very “accessible,” Mr. Eskildsen said.

Panama’s pending free trade agreement with the U.S., for which a second round of negotiations recently took place in Los Angeles, will make tourism even more popular, he added.

Panama already has free trade agreements with El Salvador and Taiwan and commercial exchange treaties with Colombia and the Dominican Republic. It is engaged in talks with Singapore as well and expects to conclude negotiations with the U.S. soon, said Panama’s vice president, Mr. Bazán, who was keynote speaker at the Panama Day luncheon.

The U.S.-Panama Business Council is composed of members of five business organizations in Panama, including the American Chamber of Commerce there, the country’s banking association, a free trade zone association, a realtors association and a U.S. Army business association.

Visit for more information on the business council. Contact Mr. Eskildsen at in Panama or Linda Boyd-Jones, director of the council’s New York office, at 212-613-8816. Contact Mark Ballam at Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research at (404) 894-4379 or for more information.