Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization, confirmed that the local drop in occupancy has been “swifter and more severe” in Puerto Rico, with -71%, than the United States’ average of -56%.
Part of that difference has to do with the fact that Gov. Wanda Vázquez established strict restrictions starting Mar. 15 to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. She established a business lockdown and curfew for residents that has been extended through April 12.
Because the island has many luxury and upscale hotels, it is perceived that the impact week-over-week is also higher than the U.S. average, because those hotels got the biggest hit during the initial weeks. Data produced by research firm STR shows that luxury class hotels had seen an 82.3% decline in occupancy during the week ended Mar. 21, with economy-class properties seeing a 43.7% drop during the same period.
Pre-earthquakes, both leisure and group bookings were ahead of 2019 pace, the DMO said. However, as of Mar. 22, group occupancy has seen a 34.4% drop, according to data by TravelClick Demand360.
“Even though there was a decline in the weeks post-earthquake, bookings were running above 2019 until the first week of March, seeing the sharp declines in future bookings in the last two weeks,” said Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean, citing the data.
“The tourism sector will have a new normal after this pandemic is stabilized, and many opportunities will arise. Even though the general sentiment of traveler today is fear, we’re confident that Puerto Rico offers what travelers are looking for when the time is right. With the extreme measures taken by our government early in the crisis, we’re better positioned than other destinations,” he said.
“Though COVID-19 will have the most dramatic impacts in the next two months, losses will continue, attributable to worsening economic conditions,” Discover Puerto Rico confirmed in its presentation.
Total lodging revenues will decline by 32%, on the heels of record first two months, which were up by 16% year-over-year, the entity revealed.
Meanwhile, Destination Analysts conducted a separate survey monitoring traveler behavior in response to COVID-19, where 47% had decided to do a “staycation” this year, while 36% have tentative trips planned for July and August. However, in its presentation, Discover Puerto Rico said convincing travelers to get on a plane will be difficult because consumers are leery of air travel.
Stateside consumers ‘miss traveling’
In another survey, also conducted by Destination Analysts, 63% of American travelers “agree” or “strongly agree” that they missed traveling and can’t wait to travel again.
For this reason, Puerto Rico as a destination, should promote the island with more intensity, Discover Puerto Rico officials said.
During the presentation, Discover Puerto Rico’s Chief Marketing Officer, Leah Chandler, discussed the COVID-19 Action Plan (CAP), which was adapted and implemented specifically in early March.
The CAP is divided into four phases: Impact, Regroup, Rebound, and New Normal. In the first phase the DMO proactively shared safety measures put in place by the government, “but in a positive light, to position the destination as leading by example and clarify any potential inaccuracies with travelers, media, meeting planners and travel advisors.”
In the second phase — in which the island is right now — the DMO is delivering messaging and activations that allude to the current global circumstances and local mandates but keeps Puerto Rico top of mind. In the last two phases, the organization will utilize research to guide marketing efforts and timing and drive immediate travel messages, Chandler said.
“It is crucial for us to keep our destination top of mind amidst the new realities. This is the time to get creative and push newsworthy content to keep Puerto Rico in consumers’ consideration despite the current travel limitations,” said Chandler, during the industry update.
“If people can’t go to Puerto Rico, we will bring Puerto Rico to them,” she said.
Discover Puerto Rico plans to aggressively re-enter the market with revised messaging to drive awareness and keep Puerto Rico top-of-mind.
“We’re developing a new campaign, which will drive awareness, inspire the audience in this time of uncertainty, incite immediate action, and generate demand,” she said.
In the meetings, incentives, convention and exhibitions category, known as MICE, and leisure sales, DMO presented efforts including engagement and customer acquisition. Its focus is on postponing bookings instead of cancelling, re-booking cancelled reservations and giving rewards through loyalty programs, points & airline miles.