There have been persistent rumors recently that Walt Disney, Bush Gardens or some other large theme park organization has purchased property in the beach area west of Panama City. This is big news if true, but if false could be causing land speculation that could hurt both the speculators and Panama. I have had many calls and emails asking me if I have heard anything about this so I thought it best to check with some sources I consider to be reliable. Here is what I have found out.
Freddy Nordstrom is the number two at IPAT, the tourism Ministry of Panama. He told me that some time last year the minister of tourism, Ruben Blades, asked him to contact Disney to point out the advantages of Panama as a potential country to develop a theme park. Several months’ later Mr. Eisner’s office responded in writing that at this time they have no interest in a theme park in Panama. Mr. Nordstrom has heard the rumors and believes his office would be aware of any move to do a project in Panama.
From the Ministry of commerce, Vice Minister Jose Manuel Paredes;
There is a large farm between Playa Blanca resort and Anton in the province of Cocle called "Santa Monica" with somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 hectares that has been put on the market. The farm had a potential buyer who made a deposit but apparently failed to come up with the balance of payment and the deal fell through. This was public knowledge according to Paredes. I don’t think Disney would be short of cash.
He knows of an architect who stated that some people claiming to be representatives of Disney had been in the country in the last few months looking at property but they have no confirmation of this.
They are aware of some individuals who had previous connections with Sea World, who have personally purchased some land in that area to do a “small Eco tourist Project”, but nothing on the scale of a major theme park.
However, Jose Manuel reminded me that when Walt Disney made the original purchase in Orlando they sent people in to buy up about 40 large properties before anyone new what was happening.
What do I think? Lets look at it from a practical point of view.
Where are the major theme parks in the world and why do they choose those locations?
Disney: Los Angeles, Orlando, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong. What do all these places have in common? All are located near major population centers with lots of middle class income folks to go to the parks. All of these cities have populations many times that of the whole country of Panama and income levels to sustain the entry fees. They are not entirely dependent on people coming from abroad. How many Panamanians can afford to pay $100 a day for entertainment?
Here is a link to a list of all major theme parks in the world and you will notice they are all located near large metropolitan cities in fist world countries.
Here is a quote from a study on theme parks.
“In Latin America, the stabilization of many of the region's economies will increase disposable income, while rising levels of tourism will contribute to growth in attendance and per-capita spending. However, no major parks have opened in recent years, and none are currently planned, as the region's per-capita spending – at $8.03 in 2004 and expected to rise to $8.51 in 2009 at a 1.2% CAGR – is the lowest in the world, making investment in major parks unlikely. Meanwhile, new attractions at existing parks should help boost admissions; attendance is expected to rise from 31 million in 2004 to 34.6 million in 2009 at a 2.2% CAGR.”
I don’t believe any major theme park will let you in for under $10. You might be able to buy a soda for that.
A few more considerations;
Theme park land acquisition heads would not send in people using their name to buy up property, as this would cause land speculation. They would use third parties who would not even know who they are buying land for.
A project of this magnitude would have to have significant air traffic besides local entry volume, which would require a nearby airport to handle millions of visitors. They would have to build a large airport facility, as Tocumen is to far away from that area. Not easily done without government permits and knowledge.
Projects of this magnitude require sufficient infrastructure and local populations to both build and service the business, which are not available in the area.
Now, if someone out there is seriously interested in building a theme park in Panama, I happen to know of some great properties available of the size needed for such an enterprise and I promise to keep it on the QT!