Panama trade mission hailed a big success; more work to do

February 13, 2014

Eric Snider | Tampa Bay Business Journal
Expanding the number of direct flights from Tampa to Panama City on Copa Airlines is the next step in establishing this market as a “gateway” to Latin America. That was among key talking points at a media briefing about a Tampa Bay contingent’s recent trade mission to Panama.
Copa currently flies four days a week, but Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport, said that passenger interest was “running ahead of schedule” and the airport was tracking toward daily flights between the two cities.
Lopano was joined at the informal meeting, held at a conference table in the offices of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson and head of the EDC Rick Homans. All of them went on the sojourn to Panama, held Feb. 10-12.
Their opening comments hailed the trip as a major success, and raved about the efficiency of the three-and-a-half hour direct flight. “Previously, you’d have to connect in Miami or Atlanta, or suffer the indignity of driving to Orlando to catch a flight to Panama,” Buckhorn quipped.
Amid the feel-good chat came a few specific objectives:
• Within the next 12 months, the Tampa Bay group, perhaps in conjunction with Enterprise Florida, plans to mount another trip to Panama that will bring along specific members of the Bay area business community for direct sit-downs with their Panamanian counterparts. The goal: tangible sales of goods and services produced in the Tampa Bay area.
The Tampa Bay players also intend to invite a delegation from Panama for a similar visit to Tampa Bay.
A similar mission was conducted in Brazil last October and generated $12 million in sales.
• Anderson said one of the port’s goals for the next year is to establish direct service to and from the Panama Canal. Currently, Port Tampa Bay routes require stopovers in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.