© ATTA / Daniel Santos - AdventureNEXT Panama 2022

Panama’s Roadmap to Becoming a Leader in Sustainable Adventure Travel

3 April 2024

Panama has become a recognized leader in sustainable adventure travel — years of research, education, and partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) culminated in Panama being chosen as the host for this year’s Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS). 

The ATTA recently released a video about a case-study on Panama’s partnership with ATTA over the years, highlighting the country’s long-term commitment to sustainable destination development. By focusing on a strategy that prioritized communities, nature preservation and creating a shared economic value for its citizens, Panama has emerged as a role model for other destinations seeking to shift their own tourism strategy.

The Journey of Panama’s Partnership with ATTA 

The seeds of collaboration between ATTA and Panama were sown in 2016 when Annie Young, President of the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism (APTSO) and an ATTA Ambassador, expressed her desire to host an event akin to AdventureNEXT San Luis Potosí in Panama to showcase the country’s untapped potential. This initial spark ignited a journey of transformation and partnership between the ATTA and Panama’s government and tourism associations that led to a successful AdventureWeek Panama in 2018 and later AdventureNEXT Latin America in 2022.

“Panama has done an amazing job as a destination,” said Gabriella Stowell, ATTA’s Vice President of Regional Development. “[Panama] has developed its adventure travel sector starting with important groundwork of assessments, training, small events, a mid-size event as AdventureNEXT with the next step being ATTA’s flagship event — the Adventure Travel World Summit. The process has even carried forth through the change of administration, with support from the private sector and APTSO.”

Over the years, Panama and the ATTA have collaborated on research, education, and a commitment to community empowerment through AdventureEDU initiatives and workshops. By working together, local tour operators and guides have been equipped with the tools and knowledge to embrace adventure tourism. The result has been transformative: communities have embraced ownership of their tourism initiatives while learning how to preserve their cultural heritage and safeguard the environment.

© ATTA / Hassen Salum - AdventureNEXT Panama 2022

“We have learned a lot from ATTA,” said Young. “Learning what adventure tourism really is because some industry players may think that adventure tourism is just jumping from a parachute… It’s a message of education, connecting, inspiring and learning to work in collaboration.”

Today, Panama stands as a testament to the power of a strategic partnership with the ATTA and innovation in tourism. Evidence of this are the projections calculated from a survey answered by buyers who attended AdventureNEXT Latin America 2022, forging new business partnerships and creating new itineraries as a result. One of the most striking projections was the $45.9 million USD increase in average total spend by guests visiting Panama over the next three years. Additionally, an increase of more than 18,000 guests was estimated over the same period.

By hosting an AdventureNEXT, Panama solidified its position as an up-and-coming adventure travel destination. In the same survey, only 10% of buyers were already offering itineraries in Panama; after the event, 87% of buyers were considering expanding their itineraries to include Panama. But Panama’s efforts weren’t limited to economic gains and an increase in travelers.

Experience Panama at ATWS!

The Impact of Panama’s Community-Based Tourism

A key aspect of the country’s strategy has been sustainable community tourism activation programs that focus on safeguarding its nature and cultural heritage. Panama's initiatives include the ongoing development of 1,000 kilometers of trails that will support community tourism, as well as the creation of a support network and infrastructure for community tourism startups. 

Through these efforts, the country has unlocked its potential as a premier adventure travel destination, which will be shown to the global adventure travel community when Panama City hosts ATWS in October 2024.

© ATTA / Hassen Salum - AdventureWeek Panama 2018

“Indigenous tourism has become an integral part of Panama’s adventure offerings and through the relationships this has also brought a collegial partnership to Panama through Tourism Cares who will have their Meaningful Travel Summit there in June this year,” Stowell said. “We also view this process not ending with the Summit but using that as a meaningful market activation. We look forward to years of collaboration in the incredible momentum happening in responsible adventure travel in Panama.”

As we look to the future of tourism, Panama's story serves as a reminder that with dedication, creativity, and collaboration, destinations can transform their tourism models into a strategy that preserves their unique identities and natural treasures. 

First Steps for a Destination

The ATTA offers business solutions and facilitates partnerships that foster responsible tourism while preserving the environment and cultures of destinations worldwide. 

Ways to begin this journey include becoming an ATTA member and attending a community event — AdventureConnects are great places to start and they take place throughout the year, all over the globe. The next steps could be promoting a destination and engaging the trade by securing partnerships at ATTA events, and building relationships with key buyers and media. Eventually, hosting an ATTA event is an opportunity to direct the eyes and ears of the adventure travel trade to the host destination.

Along every step of this journey are opportunities for market-driven education in the form of in-person or virtual workshops, classes and training for tour operators in a destination. These are organized in partnership with ATTA and led by professionals within the adventure travel industry. Additionally, joining the ATTA community and becoming a climate action leader presents a unique opportunity for individuals and businesses to obtain tools and resources to immediately take action in support of natural and technological innovations for climate.

Learn More About ATTA Solutions

© ATTA / Hassen Salum - AdventureWeek Panama 2018