Governor Luis Fortuño’s public support of establishing a Destination Marketing Organization for Puerto Rico took members of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association by surprise Wednesday, but they are ready to take him up on his word, the trade group’s president Ismael Vega said.
“I’ve heard the concerns by many industry leaders as to how promotional strategies are in constant flux, under every administration. There’s no continuity, no sustainable long-term strategy to tap into target markets, no permanent input from the tourism industry as to content and focus. And my reply is: you’re absolutely right,” Fortuño said in his address to the PRHTA.
“That’s why I will tell you here and now, loud and clear, that I wholeheartedly support the creation of a Destination Marketing Organization that puts our tourism industry in the driver’s seat,” Fortuño said. “You know how to market Puerto Rico best. And so I am announcing today that I shall present legislation to make it happen.”
As News is my Business has reported, the PRHTA has been pursuing a DMO for Puerto Rico for the better part of this year, insisting that the independent organization would be responsible for creating a much-needed permanent brand for the island.
“We welcome the governor’s commitment and wholehearted support for the creation of a DMO,” said Vega, during the first day of the PRHTA’s annual convention.
“More than ever, tourism can be the sector of the economy that can respond rapidly and lead Puerto Rico back to growth. If we embrace the changes our time requires of us, if we open up to new possibilities, and we do the right thing, we can meet the challenge,” he said.
Creating the DMO requires submitting a bill, which the PRHTA has already drafted and is ready to present to Fortuño and the Capitol, Vega said, adding that the trade group has gotten positive responses from lawmakers who “see the merit” of the initiative.
“Fortuño said he wants to present a bill for the DMO in January, but we’re saying that we’re ready to do this now. We’ve already put in the bulk of the investment and legwork to get this going as soon as possible,” said Vega, while holding a draft of the bill in his hand.
The bill paving the way for the DMO proposes amending a number of existing laws to transfer powers — and funding — to the autonomous organization, some of which are currently under the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.
“The agency, at least Mario [González, executive director] is receptive to it and is aware that we need something like this,” said Vega, noting that following a realistic timeline, it would take about 18 months for the DMO to be fully operational after the law is approved.
However, that does not mean that it would hold back from starting to work on the island’s branding and marketing, even with a limited staff, he said.
DMO could help address multiple challenges
“The most serious challenge we face today is lack of demand for our product. Lack of recognition of what Puerto Rico is, where it is, and what we have to offer, among other things,” he said. “Our efforts lack consistency and continuity. The bottom line is that people just do not think of us as a first choice when it comes to travel.”
Puerto Rico needs a DMO that can take its brand and add value to it over the years and can be responsible for all marketing efforts.
“It is important that one organization be responsible for the marketing of all segments of the tourism market,” Vega said. “That way we can be more effective in our marketing dollars. We can seek ways of creating synergies between those market segments.”
A DMO, he said, could likely help attract visitor traffic that has been dwindling significantly in recent years, triggering a negative domino effect among industry players who have seen their traffic decrease significantly, along with their revenue.
Puerto Rico, he said, has lost its competitiveness as a Caribbean tourist destination, and industry components, especially hotels, are feeling the pinch. For example, he said the revenue that each hotel room generates in Puerto Rico, or RevPar, has dropped by 21.5 percent in the past three years.
And while there was a slight improvement in average daily rates of 4 percent this year, it is not enough to offset the mounting problems, he noted.