In October, the first Westin will open in Panama in Playa Bonita, with a mile stretch of sandy golden beaches available only to guests. About 30 minutes from Panama City and the airport, the 611-room Westin Playa Bonita will offer the largest meeting space in the country at 65,000 sf.
We spoke with GM Francisco Silva, who told us about the $100 million hotel’s meeting infrastructure, F&B lineup, and post-meeting leisure opportunities from rainforest trekking to fishing around thriving coral reefs off tropical atolls.
Q: Can you describe the Playa Bonita beach and its surroundings?
FS: The hotel is located around a beautiful beach with a couple of reefs around it. Playa Bonita is a spectacular private beach. In the back of the hotel, we are surrounded by beautiful rainforests and the view of spectacular mountains. The front of the hotel has a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, and of the islands, Taboga and Taboguilla.
Q: So there is a sense of privacy there?
FS: Yes. Absolutely. It’s all about the guests here. They’re going to enjoy this beautiful beach, which has only two properties: this hotel and the InterContinental.
Q: How does the overall design connect guests with the natural surroundings?
FS: Well, we got accomplished all the Westin standards with a focus that’s very ecological and celebrates the natural atmosphere. Everything is around this concept – public areas, restaurants, bars, meeting spaces and the rooms. Everything is designed with ecological colors: greens, light browns, beige and all of these light colors.
Café Pacifica has a terrace where you can enjoy the atmosphere outside. In the lobby bar we have another terrace.
Q: Is the meeting space designed where groups will have a sense of privacy away from the leisure guests?
FS: Absolutely, yes. We have in total almost 23 meeting spaces, including the grand ballroom, which is for 1,500 people. We also have a beautiful palapa for 600 people that we call Oceanica. It is surrounded by pools and two bars around these pools. Groups can enjoy the views of the beach from the infinity pools, and have it all to themselves.
Q: Wow that sounds beautiful. So you’re saying there’s a palapa where a meeting planner can organize an event for 600 people, and it’s surrounded by the pools and it’s really close to the ocean.
FS: Yes. And behind this beautiful palapa we have another small restaurant with A/C for 200 people. That way, everyone in the group can have a farewell dinner, lunch or breakfast while enjoying Panama’s wonderful weather.
Q: So you have 65,000 sf of meeting space. That’s a lot. What types and sizes of corporate groups are you anticipating?
FS: Right now we have 350 rooms already confirmed for next year and it’s 700 people for this particular convention. Everybody is excited about the size of the meeting space for incentive groups and meeting groups. The hotel facilities are spectacular. We have a lot of breakout rooms–that way you can have your function, your meeting, you can have your break, and then you can go outside of the hotel to the Oceanica or the big palapa. And of course, in the first level of the hotel we have four restaurants with different types of foods: Tierra y Fuego, Asiana, Asoleo and Starfish. With all these facilities, including the auditorium, we can offer and accommodate any type of convention and seminar.
Q: Can you describe something about Panamanian food, something that is really delicious?
FS: In Panama, we are very close to Colombia, so the typical food that we have is the ceviche with corvina, a fish in this part of the Pacific Ocean. We have Ropa Vieja, which are meat strips with a tomato sauce; a Sancocho, which is a chicken soup with vegetables of the region like yucca and patacones, the banana from the area; arroz con pollo, which is the rice and beans and chicken; and of course, the tamales and carimañola, a type of meat pie. All of these types of regional foods are similar to Colombian foods but different from the rest of Central America.
Q: What types of cool group experiences can planners provide for their attendees?
FS: We are 15 minutes away from downtown Panama. There, you can go shopping, you have casinos, you have a nightlife time in Panama. There’s also Casco Viejo, the new area in Panama, a beautiful area with restaurants and bars. In Panama, you have a lot of activities like fishing. You can go to the Pacific Ocean, or the Atlantic when you cross the canal, and you have a couple of lakes where you can catch sweet water fish. There are a couple of golf courses in the area that are beautiful. And we have a property in Gamboa, which is spectacular.
Q: You mentioned two islands nearby. Can you do activities out there?
FS: They’re starting a couple of things that you can do. The main activities are focused around the fishing.
Q: How many people can go out there fishing at once?
FS: There are a couple of big yachts. We can rent them for 80, 100, 120 people. There’s a ferry from Panama to Taboga almost every day. The company we have, Gamboa Tours, they can provide any type of tours for these activities.
Q: Anything else you want to say about Panama?
FS: Panama is an incredible destination. It’s a very important hub destination for South America, Europe and the Caribbean, and we have a lot of activities not only for shopping and casinos and nightlife, we have many other activities. The interior, one hour or two from Panama, is spectacular. You can have a diversity of food, art crafts, and San Blas, a beautiful island in the Atlantic. So you have many, many to stay here after or before your convention.