COMMENTARY - July 2017
The Gallup organization provides the largest, most extensive opinion surveys in the world. They regularly poll people in more than 150 nations, including Panama. Every few years, they report a very specific and unusual report. In each of those nations, they ask a single question and the answer is either "yet" or "no". Very simple. The question is....
"Ideally, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move permanently to another country, or would you prefer to continue living in this country?"
Note the word, "permanently". That is a strong statement. However, it does not require the person to say they are planning to do it or even if they have the resources to do it. They just ask them what they would if they could do it. In "good years", the percentage is likely to be smaller. In "bad years", the percentage is likely to be larger. So the percentage can rise and fall quickly over a short period of time and that can be very misleading.
Gallup deals with this by what is called a "rolling average" in statistics. They average the results over several years and several polls. That helps eliminate the major high and low points to give us a more stable idea of how people feel. They did this over three years from 2010 through 2012, and again for four years from 2013 through 2016, and reported the results last month. In the earlier survey, they polled 521,182 adults in 154 nations and in the latest survey, they polled 586,806 adults in 156 nations. No one else provides anything close to this.
Here are the results by global region for both surveys, listed from highest to lowest in the most recent survey and showing the change, if any. An asterisk (*) indicates a. statistically significant change. With huge numbers of people involved, a small change in some regions can be significant. "Northern America" means the US and Canada because they have included Mexico in Latin America in this specific poll.
You could call this an "Unhappiness Index", seriously unhappy.
As you can see, the average for the whole world is 14%. Only one region is 30% or more, considered a very negative result. But individual nations in each region can be very different. Gallup provides us with a list of 31 nations where the percentage is 30% or more.
So what difference does this make to us in Panama? Normally, very little, but for the first time, a nation of special interest has broken through the 30% level. There are a few small and troubled European nations on this list (Albania and Kosovo are examples), but only one major European nation. That nation is Italy.
Panama and Italy have had a long and friendly relationship, including a special residency visa for decades, the template for today's "Friendly Nations" visa. However, that visa was not widely used until the last few years. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you know the Italian community in the Panama City metro area has grown.
Italians can be very good investors and relocators in Panama. Their language and culture are close enough to the Spanish to make integration into Panama's society relatively easy. And because they have to take a long and expensive trip just to visit Panama, most of them have financial resources that can boost the Panamanian community without being a burden. Some of them have enough money to be major investors.
I am very familiar with polls. My US company polled more than 120,000 Americans in nine polls from 2005 through 2011 regarding relocation to other nations. That led to two articles in Barron's among others, a CNBC interview with Erin Burnett, and multiple interviews all over the world from Singapore's Straits-Times to French public radio and many others. The reason I first commissioned these polls was that I wanted to share the results with Panamanians, but I found no real interest in market research outside of Panama. When homes were selling quickly, no one cared. When homes were selling slowly, no one wanted to spend the money to do something smaller, but directly useful to them. The problem is a lack of market research.
Some years ago, I was called by an owner of a large real estate firm in Panama City and asked to stop by to talk to him. I did so. He said business from Americans had fallen off and he wanted to know why. I told him the only way he could find out is to ask them. He needed to do some market research.
He very aggressively responded, "But I do market research! I speak to every American who visits our offices. I tell the secretaries to bring every American to me first when they arrive." He almost sounded insulted.
My response was that he was not researching the right "market". I asked him, what about the 19, or 29, or 39, or 49 Americans who saw your advertisements or visited your website, but did not come to your office? Don't you want to know why? They are the only ones who can tell you where you are having problems, but you have to ask them. That takes effort and some money, but it can be done. That is what I mean by "market research".
Well, that was the end of the interview. He was satisfied that his market research was all that was necessary.
Nothing has changed today. Market research is still market research and that means the full market, not just one segment.
But Europe is a special problem for most people I talk to in Panama. It is too big. There are more than 40 nations in Europe, some in the EU, some not. How do you do research in a market that large?
The first thing to do is stop looking at Europe as a single market. Think in terms of 40 markets, each with a different set of requirements. Look for one where the odds are best that you will find people interested in Panama, if they know what is available. And ignore Spain unless you have a special relationship there. Everyone in Spanish-speaking Latin America looks at Spain.
How do you choose that single market? Well, I have just demonstrated one way. That is what we do as consultants at Panama Wave. We get "outside the box", find useful statistics and other indicators, consider the client's needs and help them design their approach. Do we have ideas as to how Italy and Italians might be approached? Yes, we do, but that's business. If you can use assistance in that respect, just let me know.
I first mentioned Italy as an important potential market in the first of my two commentaries in April. I watch it on a continuous basis, as I do several others. I have done this all my professional life, so I am used to it. But of them all, Italy is the most interesting to me. It has the potential of providing a great deal of investment more rapidly than most other nations, but only if we have something to offer and we let them know!