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25% Off Panama

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Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 05 August 2009 08:56
Panama 25% offThe Republic of Panama is offering 25% Off everything from hotels to restaurants to tours to car rentals. The Panama offer applies only to tourists and is an attempt by the country's tourism board to attract recession-time visitors to the isthmus. The contact website and description outlined below are applicable to tourists from any country.
The biggest discount I’ve ever gotten, if you could even call it a discount, was at a fancy dinner with my girlfriend at the time. We’d decided to splurge in honor of something mundane – like President’s Day or the fact that it had been sunny out for a full week – and made reservations at the nicest place in town abandoning our college attire for formalwear, trading our normal lives for ones of lavishness and delight. Early in the meal, when I found (what I now remember as) a giant pile of glass shards in my salad, the manager arrived with the utmost remorse and disappointment in his staff, ultimately charging us for only two glasses of wine.

That discount worked out to be somewhere around 85% and we left the restaurant feeling as though we had won the lottery. We were college kids. We ate glass all the time. And here we were, getting more or less paid to do so at the snazziest restaurant in town.

I recently came across a portion of Panama's tourism board website - a portion albeit that is not accessible from the homepage - promising a grand discount of 25% for tourists on anything from hotels to tours to airlines between August 1st and October 31st. There was a little crab prancing around holding the 25% coupon as an animated kite and sailboat happily bobbed along in the background.

My first reaction to this was, is this even possible? 25% is a discount I associate with hats or late-season jewelry that didn't sell, not countries. I likened the deal to an ad I once saw in the Baltimore Sun. Amidst the columns of classifieds selling beat up Cadillac's and used toasters was a block completely empty but for the words, in big bold letters, Free Hair. Like the Panama discount, I reasonably expected some sort of qualifier to follow. Something like "Free Hair available to local wigmakers," or "Free Hair for anyone with proof they have leukemia." Even though I would never have actually embraced the offer, I felt somehow deceived and disappointed that such a sweeping promise could be made with no specifications.

The Panama discount page (which you can find here) is surprisingly easy to use and quite straightforward. It leaves the visitor two simple options: you can either print out your discount identification card or you can browse the businesses that will accept it. There are a bevy of hotels, restaurants, tour operators, and rental agencies that have jumped aboard and all you have to do, as the visiting tourist, is print out your ID card to collect. Well, at least that's how simple they make it out to seem. I decided to print the coupon and try my hand, even though I'm not a tourist, at some of the locations listed. I put the coupon in my wallet, beside my JC Penny's card and my Pricemart membership, and set out on the town to get some discounts!

My first attempt at "25% Off Panama" was at Multiplaza Mall. I needed new shoes for a wedding and, upon picking them out and approaching the counter, casually whipped out my coupon as if it to say, "this is a little embarrassing but I'm sorta famous." The cashier looked at me with the type of face I normally reserve for overly-confusing jokes and calculus.

"What is that?" she asked.

"Is my card for to have twenty five percent Panama discount." Quite accurately, the front of the "card" shows three things: the word Panama, the logo for 25% Off, and my name. It doesn't get much more straightforward than that. The woman shrugged and said it wasn't accepted here. I shrugged because I didn't have time to defend what appeared to be a homemade Panama ID. The guy behind me shrugged as if to say you can't win ‘em all. But I didn't want to win them all. I just wanted my Panama 25% Off.

My second effort was at one of the restaurants listed on the IPAT site. The waitress returned with the coupon as if I had accidentally slipped something private in with the cash; something like an outdated check or a picture of my niece. It was like examining the hokey license plate of a Fisher Price toy car one might find in a child's playpen. Something that's meant to say, I'm a big boy now.
"No, this is for you." I told her. "This from IPAT. Means 25% discount for me." The waitress knew nothing of it. The manager knew nothing of it. And to save us all a lot of time and energy, I said I'd pay full price and said I'd come back soon, knowing full well I never would. Had my Spanish been better, or perhaps my arguing skills more honed, I might have challenged them to hold true to the online word. But it was Friday and I had better things to do.

My last and final shot at redemption was in making reservations for some friends at a well-known hotel (listed on the IPAT website). I loomed around the lobby expecting full well to get shut down, so it was with utter surprise and enchantment - the kind that you feel when getting back an old deposit you'd forgotten about or randomly connecting the right wires to fix a clock radio - that she accepted the coupon familiarly as if it was a widely-accepted form of currency. Successfully, my friends received 25% off their entire stay.

One out of three isn't bad in baseball or in Panama. I honestly had little faith that anyone would actually recognize the card, so it was pleasantly startling to have the hotel clerk (and this is how I like to phrase it) fall for the trick. The idea by Panama's tourism board is quite grand and alluring, a direct solution to set itself apart from other recession-bogged travel destinations in the region. In my book, if the coupon is accepted in one third of the places it's supposed to, the project's an ultra success.

Comments (3)Add Comment
I love your writing style
written by carold , August 05, 2009
Matt, it is always a pleasure to read your take on Panama. Your style of writing and sense of humor is outstanding. You really should write a book.

One out of three isn't bad, but we are back too the "over promising and under delivering" which isn't the message Panama should be sending.

Thanks for the laugh.
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Discounts in Panama
written by Lyn McKee , August 06, 2009
It's sort of like trying to use your pensionado discount. We only "try" to use it in the higher priced situations and even then it is questionable what kind of reaction you will get. Better to not tease the tourists - they are likely to get the wrong idea and not return! Seems like IPAT still has a long way to go and we can only hope the new folks at IPAT will make some changes and get something right.
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25% off in Panama
written by Alexander deHilster , August 29, 2011
Does the discount still apply, or was this only available in 2009?
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 August 2009 16:54