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Discover Puerto Rico gets $15.8M in CARES Act funds to ‘revive tourism’

Destination marketing organization Discover Puerto Rico has received $15.8 million in funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to promote the island as a safe place to visit once the COVID-19 pandemic recedes.

Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean told this media outlet that the funding — which has been granted to many tourism-related entities across the US mainland — must be used to promote health and safety activities underway to spur safe travel and visits to the island, and the resumption of business.

“It’s certainly timely and helpful, as a big part of our challenge is to promote what local businesses are doing to ensure the health and safety of our visitors. And that’s what it will be used for,” said Dean, confirming that the funding was awarded within the last week and must spent during the 2021 calendar year.

The first investments in advertising will likely begin in the first quarter, he said, adding “we’ll use the dollars as it makes the most sense to drive incremental visits to the island.”

Dean said that Discover Puerto Rico submitted a proposed marketing plan to the government several months ago highlighting the needs and opportunities to revive tourism as the island emerges from the pandemic.

Most of the funding will be used for digital advertising in US mainland markets where Puerto Rico has current or returning air service, including New York, Florida, Texas, the mid-Atlantic states, the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore, as well as Boston and Chicago.

Puerto Rico has been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which cut into the high tourism season when it was declared last March and is on track to repeat the hurt this year.

“It’s really unfortunate that our local businesses have lost two high seasons. Last year due to the earthquakes and the beginning of COVID-19 and it’s not going to be optimal for anyone now, which is really unfortunate, because businesses and employees count on the high season to carry them through the rest of the year,” he said.

While he acknowledged that “today is not the right time to travel to Puerto Rico,” it is a good time to plan for future travel.

“This funding will help us promote future travel so that we can revive the local travel and tourism industry once it’s safe to travel again,” he said. “It’s a bit of a challenge today, so we’re going to limit our spending to showcasing what the island has done to protect the health and safety of our residents and visitors and as travel begins to pick up, we’ll ramp up spending accordingly.”

Furthermore, Dean said a big part of Discover Puerto Rico’s focus is targeting responsible travelers, “who recognize that we all have a responsibility to protect health and safety of everyone around us.”

In recent months, Puerto Rico has received visitors who have openly refused to wear masks, which are government-mandated as part of the measures in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. Since March 2020, the virus has claimed 1,555 deaths in Puerto Rico, where nearly 74,000 cases have been confirmed, according to the Puerto Rico Health Department.

Despite the difficult scenario, a positive that will come out of it is that “there’s so much pent-up demand for travel that we’re banking on the expectation that if we position the island as a safe place to travel, those wanting to get away from home will consider Puerto Rico.”

In a normal year, visitors to the island contribute $760 million in taxes to the island, “so the longer the pandemic lingers, the costlier it will be for Puerto Rico,” Dean said.

Discover Puerto Rico’s $25 million budget comes from those hotel room tax collections, which have seen a considerable drop. Dean explained that during the first six months of the fiscal year, the destination marketing organization would normally receive $9 million, but has received $3 million from July through December.

“We don’t know when the next payment will happen. That depends on when tourists start traveling again,” he said.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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