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Can Frank Gehry get people to visit Panama?



photo by Editorpana via creative commons

This year will see the opening of an exciting new building by architect legend Frank Gehry: the BioMuseo in Panama City, Panama.

Gehry’s impact on tourism was famously made in 1997 with the opening of his instantly iconic Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain.  Perhaps more than any other building that wasn’t challenging a height record, his museum became a destination driver. People booked tickets (and overnight hotel stays) to Bilbao just to see a building.  The building was the art — especially compared to the art hanging inside, which few could even name.  (Conversely, consider how many people can name paintings and sculptures in the Louve and MoMA, yet how few can name the architects of these famous buildings.)

But Panama is a little further off the beaten path.  If Panama City is looking for a way to lure Panama Canal cruise ship passengers off the ships for a few hours, they’ve likely hit pay dirt.  The type of passenger who cruises the canal is interested in history and construction — a great fit with a museum in an amazing new structure.  And the cruise lines are certainly looking for new things to spice up their offerings.

The bigger question is if Panama City can get tourists to fly in just to see the museum.  It will be interesting to see the range of the Gehry factor in this case.


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