The Kalu Yala Blog

Kalu Yala’s Tourism Competition

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November 6, 2012

by Nathan Hingtgen
Posted In: The Creation of a Culture

My internship entails working directly with four other group members (and indirectly with everyone in some way) to create excursions to Kalu Yala’s valley land about an hour outside of Panama City. We have recently conducted our first trial trip  and are currently marketing an additional excursion to take place from November 7-9. Our ultimate goal is to create a business plan for “Jungle Adventures by Kalu Yala” and to have this business plan ready to pitch to investors by the end of the semester. It has been a lot of work so far and there is plenty more left, but things are coming together.


A sample of what visitors to the valley can experience.

One of my principal duties for the plan has been to examine the competition. The way I see it, our company’s competitors can be grouped into three categories: lodging establishments, tour operators, and destinations. As of right now, Jungle Adventures by Kalu Yala aims to provide a nature-based tourism experience to the backpacker market so we must examine related businesses. As Kalu Yala expands what tourists can do in the valley and raises the level of services, other competitors will emerge but for now we are focusing upon nature-based tourism for backpackers.  There are many nature-based tourism experiences as well as backpacker hotspots in Panama, but the nature-based tourism experience designed for the backpacker seems to be a gap in Panama’s overall tourism offerings.

Destinations such as Boquete or Bocas del Toro definitely target the backpacker market but many of the activities available in these places, such as guided hikes, bird watching, or canopy tours, are pricing out the backpacker market. According to our research, backpackers spend $30-$50/ day, leaving room for little else after lodging, food, and party money. It is our goal to offer a 3 day/ 2 night experience that comes close to fitting that budget while delivering more than just a cool place to party. We feel that the value present from offering lodging, food, and nature-based activities in the valley could be greater than a weekend in Boquete or Bocas del Toro. In other words, we feel like we can become an “all-inclusive” backpacker destination by offering so many things that backpackers are interested in at a decent price.

We have a bit more research to do, but eventually we’d like to charge $100-$150 for a 3 day/ 2 night excursion to the valley complete with guided hikes, educational tours, great food, and plenty of relaxation at the swimming holes. Additional financial modeling needs to take place before we can nail down a target price. Most day trips to the rainforest/ jungle currently available in Panama through tour operators charge $100+, so once again we see great potential to offer a longer experience at a lower average cost than competitors. Staying at a jungle-based ecolodge will generally run at least $50/ night, although there are some that offer dorm-style arrangements for $10-$15/ night. There are currently no marketed excursions in the $100-$150 price range for a 3 day/ 2 night all-inclusive backpacker adventure.

I visited Eco Venao (Los Santos Province at Playa Venao) a few weeks ago and was very impressed with their operation as they had lodging available from $11/ night in the dorm all the way up to $150/ night to stay in a brand new house overlooking the beach. There was also beach and jungle access, and many activities were available as add-ons, including horseback riding and surfboard rental. Eco Venao is able to target both the backpacker crowd and those with a bit larger budgets, which is what we would like to be able to do in the future with Jungle Adventures by Kalu Yala. As of right now, however, what we have to offer best fits the backpacker market so we’re starting there, but with the knowledge that we can expand in the future.


Eco Venao's layout. Kalu Yala may want to take a few pages from their book regarding tourism.

Perhaps what has been most encouraging is the response from Panama City’s hostel owners and employees in regards to our marketing attempts. As we have been posting flyers and recruiting from local hostels, we keep hearing that there is no consistent, affordable jungle excursion for backpackers. One would expect the market to be flooded with such excursions given Panama’s rich ecotourism resources, but that has not been the case. The fact that the hostels are willing to work with us and promote us leads me to believe that Kalu Yala could offer the premier backpacker jungle experience for those passing through Panama City and could even become a “can’t-miss” experience.

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