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Op-Ed: By partnering with Travel Advisors, Discover Puerto Rico visitors ready to return, post COVID-19

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A year ago, my organization was planning to bring about 40 US-based travel advisors to Puerto Rico, so they would have a first-hand look at the many splendors the island has to offer. Doing so gives them knowledge and insights they can share with thousands of consumers relying on them for travel advice.

But that trip never happened.

When the novel coronavirus struck, non-essential travel ground to a halt, overnight decimating the livelihoods of those working for tour companies, hotels, restaurants, cruise ships and countless other tourism-reliant businesses — in Puerto Rico and elsewhere. That includes travel advisors, many of them independent operators who book flights, hotels, car rentals, guided tours and so much more for eager vacationers.

One day soon, we all hope, the pandemic will pass, and our lives will return to some level of normalcy. Indeed, our own surveys of consumers reveal that 85% of individuals who are interested in taking cruises, for example, are ready to travel again … right now! That’s great news for the ports of Puerto Rico. Pent-up demand for all sorts of travel is at an all-time high, as consumers — weary of quarantining — are desperate to go somewhere. Anywhere!

However, I’m certain that many of the travel restrictions, policies and guidelines put in place to protect travelers and those who serve them will continue in some form for months and years to come. As a result, travel will become even more complex in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved. In fact, our recent study indicates that 60% of travelers believe the planning process for travel will be more complicated.

And to whom will prospective tourists turn for recommendations and advice on how to navigate this new world of travel, and to make the best decisions as they plan vacations with their loved ones and friends?

They’ll rely on travel advisors, more than ever.

And as vacation solution provider, travel advisors will rely even more on the experts representing each destination, so that we can work hand-in-hand to plan and book trips that will delight and provide the best value for the tourists we all serve. 

You are fortunate to have just such an organization representing Puerto Rico. Under the leadership of Brad Dean, Discover Puerto Rico is working tirelessly to educate travel advisors on the virtues of Puerto Rico. It’s one of the finest examples of how a nonprofit Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) can forge strong partnerships with travel advisors, providing detailed facts and promotional material that informs, engages and excites prospective tourists.

The Discover Puerto Rico team did just that, encouraging tourists to return to the Island in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes in 2017, and it’s doing so again as we navigate how to safely travel during and after COVID-19. Realizing early on that travelers would need to stay away for a while, they maximized limited resources by tapping into their creativity, such as launching first-for-the-Caribbean live virtual tours of island destinations led by otherwise-out-of-work tour guides; those have drawn thousands of online visitors, many of whom will be first in line for “real” visits post-pandemic.

These and other imaginative efforts are targeting individuals identified as “responsible travelers,” ensuring that when they do resume their journeys, they will be the most likely to take the necessary steps to protect their own safety and that of the islanders they encounter.

Author Zane Kerby is president of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA).

I believe other destinations could learn a lot from the approach taken by Discover Puerto Rico. By blending marketing savvy with a facts-based approach to responsible travel, they are keeping the Island — and its many charms — top-of-mind for the next wave of travelers.

These grassroots efforts are much more effective and efficient than the splashy and massively expensive TV ads, during the Super Bowl and other events, that are wasted on many viewers who aren’t in the market for travel.

Perhaps most importantly, Discover Puerto Rico is relentlessly focused on educating, informing and partnering with travel advisors. As I’ve seen repeatedly in the decades I’ve worked in this industry, ensuring that travel advisors are well-informed about your destination is the gift that keeps on giving – with bookings.

Tourists are ready to travel. And when they do, Puerto Rico will be high on their wish lists.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.
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