The efforts of Puerto Rico’s Destination Marketing Organization, Discover Puerto Rico, are having repercussions outside the island’s shores, but more work and funding are needed to continue putting the island in the eye of visitors worldwide.
Such were the impressions offered by four former Puerto Rico Tourism Co. executive directors — one of whom also headed the defunct Meet Puerto Rico — during a conversation about the present and future of the island’s tourism industry.
“As a spectator watching from the outside, I think they have created many positive things. They have established the right infrastructure, they have brought the right people, but we don’t know that here,” said Ingrid Rivera, who headed the Tourism Co. under former Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla.
“They need to project themselves locally and sell what they have been doing. They need to proactively share results and hold open sessions where there is an exchange of information,” said Rivera, who is a marketing expert.
“That way, everybody walks hand-in-hand to continue developing an industry as important as tourism is,” she said.
For his part, Milton Segarra, who headed Meet Puerto Rico — the entity that preceded Discover Puerto Rico in marketing the island as an ideal place for meetings and conventions —said he has “witnessed the fact that Puerto Rico’s presence is being felt in the U.S. mainland, through the DMO’s participation in a series of events for groups and individuals.”
“Its presence is not only on social networks and through its booths. I hope all of that is seen in results that are palpable in numbers,” said Segarra, who took over the post of CEO of the Costal Mississippi DMO in July 2018. He headed the Tourism Co. during the Gov. Sila María Calderón administration.
He also said the future of Puerto Rico’s DMO will depend on it having a bigger budget to invest in marketing efforts. At present, Discover Puerto Rico has a $25 million operating budget, which falls short of the $45 million or $50 million it requires.
“But getting a bigger budget will depend on metrics and numbers reflecting effectiveness because we have one of the most beautiful destinations in the world and it deserves to be positioned in a way that attracts visitor traffic,” said Segarra, adding that Discover Puerto Rico’s CEO, Brad Dean, is “one of the most sought-after and respected people in the industry.”
Another former agency Executive Director, Jaime López, said the “seed has been planted” through the establishment of the DMO a little more than a year ago.
“There are many areas of opportunity still, and challenges in the execution,” said López, who served under Gov. Luis Fortuño. “What we’re talking about here is of a brand and selling that brand. The destination must be capable of holding up that brand, and that calls for participation from the private sector, academia and the Tourism Co.”
The Tourism Co. needs to continue developing the island as a product that is not just about hotel rooms, but also about the experience, he said. “The government plays a role in that as well.”
Terestella González-Denton, dean of the Ana G. Méndez International School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, said all of the efforts to promote Puerto Rico “entail an element of sustainability, of destination management, planning and quality.”
“This industry is dynamic and changing, and you have to be up to speed. Our structures, public policy and decision-making powers have to be aligned toward where we’re headed,” said González-Denton, who held the post of executive director under Gov. Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá’s tenure.
“We have to support our structures, and the DMO is there, it was created. It’s not perfect, but we’ll continue perfecting it and we have to support that,” she said, noting that it is up to the academic sector to contribute planning strategies, business intelligence and statistics.
Finally, Pablo Torres, president of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association — which hosted the panel — said the island is going through a “critical period in which we need the DMO. They have to get the budget they need. There are many things that need to be tweaked, but the DMO is a good foundation for Puerto Rico.”
The PRHTA invested $2 million on a campaign to establish a DMO in Puerto Rico, including a viability study that was used to draft the law that created the entity.
He said the DMO needs to improve its communications strategy, so that people on the island understand what it does.