09 NOV 2010: The shops: Tiffany’s, Dolce and Gabbana, and Perry Ellis. The view: towering skyscrapers butted beside each other. Hong Kong? Nope. Try Panama City.

There’s a big business boom budding in these tropics attracting not only high-end shops, big blue chip companies but resort chains too.

RIU Hotels and Resorts, the makers of illustrious chic oceanfront properties, is getting its feet wet with the latest launch of its first city hotel there.

Dubbed the Riu Panama Plaza, this 35-story structure opened in true Riu style. The executives of the brand known for its bold-statement-making modern art pieces didn’t bat an eye when they decided to debut the 645-room luxury hotel on September 13th.

“We are not superstitious,” smiled Daniele Camponovo, the regional director of operations whose been brought in from Miami to oversee the five-star property.

Built to the tune of $135-million, the luxury hotel located in the financial district is sure to meet the growing demand among corporate travellers including attracting an interesting crop of leisure travellers who are admittedly currently from other Latin American countries wishing to enjoy the weekend hustle and bustle of Panama City.

And why wouldn’t they?

Visitors will bask in the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal which has an informative visitor center at the Miraflores Locks. Don’t wait too long for this visit though.

The Panama Canal is currently undergoing a massive expansion slated for a 2014 completion date. Once built the $5.25-billion project which involves the creation of a third lane will be able to service the massive post-Panamax ships, and those ultra mega cruise liners, all of which are getting ready to cut through this sliver of land.

Cruisers and other clients visiting the region can also enjoy the countless islands and the Colonial section of Panama City.

For jungle madness, tour operators are more than willing to take clients onto the slow moving Chagres River in a motorized dugout canoe to show one of the last tribes who still lives in the heart of the jungle. When we visited, the Parara Puru tribe performed traditional dances and offered fish and chips Panama-style: breaded tilapia and fried plantain chips wrapped in banana leaves.

Admittedly back at our hotel, we were more than eager to test out the swimming pool, giving it a thumbs up. Nothing beats cool water when you’ve been traipsing through the humid jungle.

Your corporate clients will be thrilled about the other amenities too.

High Expectations

-the executive Riu class lounge is for guests of executive rooms and suites and cardholder members of RIU’s Class Gold and Diamond. It’s laden with complimentary drinks, snacks, newspapers (USA Today and others from Panama), two computer stations and chic furniture.

-WI-FI in all the areas including the rooms.

-a spa

-fitness centre

-four restaurants including a sushi restaurant

-meeting space of 53.184 sq ft spread over 21 conference rooms with a capacity for 1,300 people

Of course, the piece de la resistance, which the big brass is pretty proud to promote is the Presidential Suite. At $5,000 a night I wasn’t going to try it out but the backdrop with the city lights and a special reception that awaited us was just as great.

The decadent but functional two-story penthouse would not be out of place in cosmo chic New York or L.A. A separate private elevator to the 35th floor means discreet guests can come and go as they please. The furnishings remind you of the snaps in a luxury interior design magazine. Dark wood floors, an open concept kitchen studded in stainless steel and granite counter tops overlooking the spacious living area were divine.

The sweeping staircase held its own surprises at the top. There was a guest suite and tucked away on another upper level was the master suite.

Carlos Solis, the director of sales, is pretty confident this presidential suite will book nicely seeing that the nearby Intercontinental only has a Royal Suite. Word has it the King of Spain will be arriving soon for Riu’s presidential treatment.

I’m certain he’ll feel like, well, The King of Spain.

Images by Stephen Smith

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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