In just under four weeks, I'll be off to Panama for ten days. I'm looking forward to the trip and the freedom to roam at will, all by myself, in search of investment property. I doubt that I will find anything suitable in such a short time, but it sure will be fun trying.
The internet is invaluable for the planning of any trip, whether for business or pleasure, especially if it is to someplace you have never been. Everything you might wish to know is available, from the personal experiences of past visitors to the area, to maps and other useful resources. Booking hotels, flights and car rentals over the internet is also fast and easy.
One thing I have learned in my travels is that when visiting other cultures they tend to do things the way they have always been done. Often, that means not nearly as quickly as we North Americans might like. That can be very frustrating. Still, in another country we are guests and shouldn't expect things to be just like they are at home. When in Rome...
Being an entrepreneur all of my working life, I tend to see opportunities everywhere. Wherever I have travelled in the past, I have seen ways to do some things better, quicker, more reliably. The problem is that many attempts to improve things can fail, especially if there is no genuine need for the improved version of the service or product you are selling. If time is not something that is valued in a culture, simply doing something quicker than the competition, for example, might not be enough of an inducement to get customers to switch their loyalties.
Still, there are some business practices that I think should be universal. Email should be answered immediately, even if the answer is basically that the problem can't be dealt with right away but will be resolved by Thursday. That way, the customer will know that someone is aware of the problem, that a plan is in place to deal with it, and that by Thursday further information and hopefully a solution will be at hand.
I am already finding that real estate agencies I have approached in Panama have (and I'm being charitable in saying this) very informal attitudes towards developing relationships with potential clients. Information is sparse and a long time coming. Also, the people at Dollar Rent A Car, where I have reserved a vehicle for the time I am in Panama, refuse to answer emails at all. I was overcharged on my reservation and even after having pointed this out twice in emails to them, I have yet to hear back from anyone. By the time I get to the point where I have to make a telephone call to settle the matter, I am going to be really pissed. Can businesses really afford to treat customers like this? This is not a problem unique to Panama, of course. Increasingly, due to poor training of employees in some companies, this is also a problem in Canada and the United States.
Much of the reading I have done about the real estate market in Panama tells me that it is chaotic, disorganized, inconsistent and worse. Agents don't interact with each other, there is no organized MLS system and properties are sometimes misrepresented and often overpriced. Sounds like fun.
I enjoy new experiences and am really looking forward to this one.