MLT University 2012 Session Recap: Panama

September 24, 2012

This article is one of our session recaps from MLT University 2012. You can also view recaps on the Puerto Rico and Guatemala presentations.

Panama, A Travel Agent's Guide

Our Presenter

Susan Jones—a spunky, knowledgeable MLT Vacations Business Development Manager—kept us busy for 40 minutes with an overview of Panama and Guatemala as well as going into specifics about MLT’s product line and details that will help travel agents sell the destinations. This article focuses on Panama, but we also have the partner article on Guatemala for you to read up on!

For information on specific hotels, tours, transportation, and to book visit MLT’s agent site—World Agent Direct. For agents that attended MLT U, don't forget about your special promo codes when booking!

Panama Overview

  1. Susan started by describing Panama as beaches and rainforests, full of people who love to dance. Named the #1 destination to visit in 2012 by the New York Times, Panama is a destination travel agents need to know. While the 51 mile Panama canal—a short cut that cuts travel time around South America by 8 days—may be the largest revenue source for the country (cited at $107,000 per ship), tourism is the fastest growing industry in Panama. Things to Know:USD is the official currency.
  2. Balboa is the local term for USD, so don’t get confused
  3. Official Name: Republic of Panama
  4. Temperate climate, A/C not found everywhere

MLT Vacations offers packages to 4 main areas in Panama—Panama City, Gamboa, and the beaches of Playa Bonita and Playa Blanca. We’ll take you through a little of each destination and highlight a few hotels carried by MLT in the areas mentioned.

Getting Around Panama

When you book Panama with MLT Vacations, the transfers are included in the package. You can also look at upgrading your clients to private transfers or setting them up with a rental car through MLT. Susan commented she would feel completely safe renting a car in Panama. We’ve all seen the ‘less organized’ driving you can find outside the U.S. (and, frankly, often in the U.S. too). You can let your clients know, this is not one of those places.

Highlighted Panama Tours with MLT Vacations

A complete list of MLT’s Panama tours can be found in World Agent Direct but here’s a recap of a few from Susan’s presentation:

  1. Gatún Lake Expedition Extremely accessible for those that may not be as physically fit
  2. Boat ride down Chagres River, then to Gatún Lake—a major water source of the Panama Canal
  3. A visit to Monkey Island where, you guessed it, there are some monkeys! Susan’s group also saw tons of birds (hawks, eagles, toucans) so it’s great for bird watching clients. Not to be left out, the tour guide splashed the water near their boat and baby alligators greeted him by splashing out of the water!
  4. Panama Canal Partial Transit
  5. Currently only offered Sundays, so if you’re using MLT’s open voucher system, pre-warn clients so they can plan ahead.
  6. Emberá—Indigenous Village
  7. Give clients the feel of old Panama, highly recommended for those seeking an authentic experience and who are more adventurous
  8. Susan mentions feeling like she was in National Geographic during this tour
  9. Warn clients the way out is not on the best roads
  10. Go up Chagres River with Emberá guide in traditional canoe, crocs swimming along side of you (again, Susan mentions feeling completely safe)
  11. You reach a stream and hike about 1 mile upstream. Make sure to tell clients to bring swimsuits and water shoes, no flip flops
  12. If you’re after me for mentioning crocs swimming alongside you, don't worry, no crocs in the stream since its fresh water!
  13. Head to the town and clients will get to meet some villagers, see how they make their famed baskets out of palm, have a traditional lunch, and end the trip by watching a traditional dance
  14. Beautiful beaded tops/bottoms are worn by the Emberá when guests come

Panama City Overview and Highlighted MLT Vacations’ Hotels

Panama City is metropolitan, reminding Susan of Miami Beach with loads of high-rise hotels. On the edge of Panama City, you’ll find their historical town with Spanish colonial buildings being refurbished. The place to be and be seen is Uruguay Street, full of nightclubs/restaurants for your clients.

Susan shared 2 hotels in the Panama City vicinity:

  1. Le Meridien Panama
  2. High-rise, one of the newer hotels
  3. Sensory experience - all about the touch, feel, smells
  4. One block from Uruguay Street
  5. Rooms have bay or city view
  6. Jr. Suites or Suites available and King/Double beds
  7. Hotel Riu Plaza Panama
  8. Not all-inclusive like other Rius
  9. 7 restaurants on property
  10. Same architectural style as other Rius but more business style
  11. The first drinks in the in-room bar are complimentary
  12. Free wifi (yay!) and breakfast

Gamboa Overview and Highlighted MLT Vacations’ Hotels

This one is pretty easy since Gamboa is a small, sleepy town outside Panama City situated on the 19,000 acre Soberanía National Park. The park has 105 species of animals, 525 species of birds, and 55 species of amphibians. It’s so sleepy, there is really only one property in town!

  1. Gamboa Rainforest Resort
  2. Great for bird watching and nature-loving clients looking for quiet
  3. 4 star, not all-inclusive but meal plans available
  4. The resort offers night safaris, walking tours, and bike rentals complimentary to guests
  5. Also offered is an aerial tram, orchid farm, and snake farm.
  6. Susan did the night tour and saw a sloth, thousands of green parrots resting 2 by 2 in a tree, and a hill will holes all over it, covered in tarantulas
  7. Susan suggested 3 nights here
  8. Rainforest is appropriate word, always raining or misting so tell clients to bring bug spray and rain gear
  9. 3 restaurants, spa, and pools
  10. To prep, have clients watch The Tailor of Panama (with Pierce Brosnan) before visiting. He stays at the resort in the movie!
  1. Every door to hotel room is unique. Hand carved by prisoners of nearby prison that holds perhaps Panama’s most notorious prisoner, Noriega.

Panama Beaches and Highlighted MLT Vacations’ Hotels

Playa Bonita and Playa Blanca both have beach hotels carried by MLT Vacations. Playa Bonita is about 25 minutes from Panama City and Playa Blanca is about 1.5 hours. Here’s a few highlighted hotels located in these areas:

  1. InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort and Spa
  2. EP and AI option
  3. 4 star
  4. Spread out property, very private
  5. Susan was there at 90% occupancy and felt like no one was there
  6. Westin Playa Bonita
  7. AI option
  8. 7 restaurants
  9. 3 infinity pools
  10. As her host hotel, she commented on the view from the balcony at night and being able to see the ships lined up to go through the canal for miles.
  11. Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort
  12. Located in Playa Blanca
  13. All-inclusive, 3.5 stars
  14. Previously a Breezes property
  15. 4 restaurant properties
  16. Tell clients Gillespies is the favorite bar to go to at night.

In Closing

MLT University is a fantastic learning opportunity for agents. It's bustling, it's well-organized, it's full of useful information for selling destinations/products to your clients. If you haven't checked it out yet, make sure you do next year. Newbies with clients in MLT's market, this is a must! With subsidized air and a jam-packed agenda, it's well worth your time.

Photo Credits: Rich YoungYves Picq

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Panama, A Travel Agent's Guide


About the Author
Steph Lee - Host Agency Reviews

Steph Lee

Steph grew up in the travel industry. She worked with thousands of agents in her role as a former host agency director before leaving in 2012 to start HAR. She's insatiably curious, loves her pups Fennec and Orion, and -- in case you haven't noticed -- is pretty quirky and free-spirited.

If you’re looking for Steph, she leaves a trace where ever she goes! You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest as 'iamstephly'. 🙂