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Op-Ed: Tourism in times of crisis

In recent weeks, our island has experienced moments of great tension that have affected all sectors of our society.

We have seen how the central government has collapsed and with it everything, including tourism. The fact that the Tourism Company remained silent and static is not surprising because the goal of this administration’s public policy has been to implode the tourism industry.

We saw at the beginning of the four-year term how they dismantled tourist transportation to favor trends.

Subsequently they began to make illegal slot machines legal, then short-term rentals. All this without a clear strategy or plan that will ensure healthy coexistence in the new ecosystem of the “collaborative economy.”

Now, the Tourism Co. has become a mere office under the Department of Economic Development and Commerce’s umbrella. This puts the development of local tourism even more at risk.

Travel agencies and tour operators, still regulated by the now tourism office, continue to suffer from poor oversight, affecting our operations and even worse, putting consumer protection at risk.

In this debacle and with this transition, we have not been notified if there will be administrative or operational changes — many doubts, zero answers.

Let’s not forget the chaotic and messy process of creating the destination marketing organization (better known as DMO.) An entity desired by many in the industry, the point of discord and internal division among those pursuing power. As they say out there; “Divide and conquer” and I add: “and let looters, those chasing individual well-being and never for the collective, sneak in.”

In my opinion, the DMO, as it was ultimately constituted, is another great mistake of this administration.

During its disastrous first press conference, over the bad judgment of the Chairman of the Board, we had to suspect what awaited us.

Data manipulation, cronyism, awards for executives vs. for the destination, duplication of efforts, excessive expenses that have resulted in leaving a minimum budget for the reason it was created — to promote and market the “Isla del Encanto” (“Island of Enchantment.”) There is still no brand and now they say that “Isla del Encanto” is associated with Hawaii.

This political crisis has helped us reconfirm the lack of independence that the DMO has from the government. We saw how they remained silent for four long days and two cruise cancellations before issuing a statement.

We have also seen how there was neither a contingency plan nor a crisis management plan, neither from the tourism office nor by the DMO. This is what we invest $28 million for?

According to estadisticaspr, hotel occupancy throughout the island, between January and April 2019, has been at the lowest levels since 2015. The arrival of people to Aguadilla[’s Rafael Hernández Airport] has increased, but at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport it is still below 2016 levels. Even important natural attractions are closed, and the destination management plan is nowhere to be seen.

A headless government, a DMO board with eight members appointed by a governor that does not exist, loyalties on the brink, relationships with providers in check … what can we expect?

Leaders grow and show in who we can trust in times of crisis. I hope that those who have the power to execute do so once and for all

Will tourism be in good hands? That is the question.

Author Daphne Barbeito is an executive of Puerto Rico’s travel, tourism and hospitality industry with more than 30 years of experience.

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