The term “Panamax” is used to define the maximum width, draft and height of a cargo ship that can fit through the locks of the Panama Canal. But with the advent of “supertankers” in the 80s, these megaships too large for the Canal had to return to pre-colonial shipping lanes around Cape Horn. This has been a thorny issue since most transit revolves around Chinese freighters enroute to America’s East Coast.
But in 2014 there will be a “New Panamax.” Decades in development, a new set of larger locks will open, bringing a flood of new money and infrastructure into Panama.
For example, the 369-room seaside Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower Panama opened in Panama City in July with a stunning design inspired by the famous “billowing sail” profile of Dubai’s Burj Al Arab. In fact, it’s already become such an icon that local tour operators include it on their tours. Located in the city’s most exclusive residential area, Trump Panama is 20 minutes from the airport and five minutes to ATLAPA Convention Center.
We spoke with Jose Manuel Barreda, international sales manager, to learn more about the new Panama.
Prevue: What is some feedback from your group clients about the hotel?
Barreda: The first thing that they mention is that they are impressed with the architecture of the hotel. The Trump Panama really became a landmark in the city here. We totally changed the architecture in terms of construction that we have in the country and even in Latin America. We have visitors from all over the world, especially from South America, which are our natural clientele. We tend to attract a crowd that’s a mix of families, business travelers, incentives travelers and people who are on honeymoons, so I think that we were a good and new option for everyone who wants to be here in Panama. The moment we opened we had already booked large events. We had weddings, social events and launchings for new products. Business companies wanted to have their sales meetings here and some other incentives, so in terms of meetings and incentives this is becoming the place to be.
Do many of your groups come from the US?
Yes. Actually, I can tell you that about 90% of our clientele is from the US. Especially the southeast and east coasts have been attracted to come here, because of the connection. We have direct flights from Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and Newark. We will have a direct flight from Chicago as of this year and also Toronto, Canada.
What’s the largest group you can handle?
I would say something requiring a ballroom with 600 people in schools or rounds of 10. We have 8,600 sq ft ballroom plus another 4 break outs on the same floor, so as long as it fits we will take any group.
Is it true that this is the largest hotel in Latin America?
It is in terms of construction in the area, more than size itself, that we are the largest building in Latin America. We don’t have anything like that in any other country. We made big investments and it is a big building- over 70 floors.
Is this the most luxurious hotel in Panama?
That is correct. We have not received any official certification yet., though We’re waiting for them to come and give us an official certification but so far people and planners have called this a 6 star hotel. We’re the only 6 star hotel so we’re hoping to get the certification soon.
What makes this a 6-star hotel?
It has to do with the quality of the items in the rooms, the design and the service you will find. We have one service person for every 10 guests in an event so that makes us the highest standard here in Panama. Usually it’s like 1 for every 20 or 1 for every 15 but with us it’s 1 for every 10. We have two large terraces overlooking the ocean, which is the pool deck. We have infinity edge design swimming pools, which is the perfect option for any reception you may have. We have a pool bar and grill that is unique because it is semi open-air. You also have the ballroom with unique design spaces, each equipped with wireless internet connection. The walls are covered in silk and imported wood. So the quality of the items and everything you see has this very elegant feel so you don’t need to put too many items to make it look luxurious. At the same time it’s also practical so it’s the perfect mix.
Where is it located?
It’s in Punta Pacifica. We are the only city hotel with a resort feel. We combine everything you may want to have. One of the main ingredients that we have here is that we have access to a private island called Viveros, located in the Pacific. It is reserved for only our hotel guests and the owners of residences at the Trump Panama. We have a high speed catamaran that we take straight from a pier downstairs to the island. It’s a one-hour ride and when you get there you have a beach club, swimming pools and a restaurant. You can spend the day there and then come back here to the property and make use of our casinos, shopping, bars, dining and anything to complete your experience here. That cmbined with the ambiance of the resort here makes the perfect combination for someone looking for a resort feeling but with all the commodities that you will find in the city.
Could you describe Punta Pacifica?
It’s the most exclusive residential area in Panama City. It’s a new development. It’s close to the convention center. You could actually see it from here. It’s like a 5-minute ride by car. We offer complimentary shuttle service to the convention center in case you are staying here. We are 13 miles from the airport so it’s a direct 20-minute drive here from the airport. We are the second closest hotel to the airport. Actually, on the way from the airport to the city you can see the hotel so it’s a nice image. It’s part of the city tours right now. We’re at the entrance of the city and we are an oceanfront property.
What’s the nicest experience you could create for a group?
I think we can make a combination of tours and spend a day with indigenous tribes. Here there are communities were you can take a group and learn how they live and how to interact with them. They are not actors, this is their way of living. It’s the Embera community. It’s a 1-hour ride that combines a bus ride and a 10-minute boat ride across the river. You can go and see them in their village, which is on the outskirts of the city. They do henna painting, teach you how to cook and speak their words so it’s nice. This is one of the most interesting activities for groups. Right now the trend is the idea of giving back to the community so groups ask me what they can give to the community and we make programs where they use computers or equipment here and at the end you give a donation to the schools or the community so that they can learn. This is the highlight of every single visit here. I think that more than having fun, the new trend is this kind of interaction with the community that you are visiting. We also have dine arounds with chefs from all over the world and the highlight could be a visit to the Panama Canal. In the canal we can utilize one area, the visitor’s center, to organize a welcome dinner for up to 400 people, where you can see the big boats crossing. For smaller VIP groups we can give access to see how the canal operates.