The Puerto Rico Small Inns and Tourism Association urged sector leaders to come together to lobby for an additional funding assignment to the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. and Discover Puerto Rico to “improve the product and promotion efforts.”
“Our tourism sector has experienced great changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we face monumental challenges,” said Jesús Ramos, president of the Association of the small properties known as “paradores.”
“Both the Tourism Co. and Discover Puerto Rico will need a temporary allocation of funds of up to $100 million in two years, while the flow of local tourists, the diaspora and foreigners is restored,” said Ramos.
Puerto Rico’s tourist offer groups 17 industries, mainly small and medium sized businesses, and represents more than 80,000 jobs in the 78 municipalities, he said. The tourism sector has an annual economic impact that exceeds $7.5 billion and produces more than $650 million for the government’s coffers.
Ramos believes that after Hurricane María in 2017, the January 2020 earthquakes and new expectations of safety and hygiene that came with the COVID-19 health crisis, the Tourism Co. has a “great task to align other government agencies, and support the municipalities to restore the quality, safety and operation of our tourism product.”
He said the government must achieve the reopening of several iconic tourism attractions, namely the Camuy Caves, the Boquerón and Añasco vacation complexes, and the Mayagüez Zoo.
“[It] must also responsibly supervise the operation of the 15,000 independent accommodations and hundreds of illegal hotels on the island. If we don’t have a high quality, safe and reliable product, the cost of recovery will be very steep, and thousands of jobs will be at risk,” Ramos said.
Meanwhile, the trade group insisted that more funding is needed to promote and market the island as a destination, to be competitive in the Caribbean region and take advantage of new opportunities arising from the “effective management of the COVID-19 crisis in Puerto Rico.”
In January 2020, the Association said multiple indicators reflected that, over an 18-month period, Discover Puerto Rico, together with all of the industry’s components, had steered the tourism sector’s recovery. The effort peaked in 2019, with a high volume of passenger arrivals and short-term accommodation.
“To recover, it is vital to invest properly in promoting the destination. In a short time, the Discover Puerto Rico has proven to be very efficient and productive for Puerto Rico, and the return on investment is $98 dollars for every $1 invested,” said Tomás Ramírez, vice president of the Association.
“They have a very compact team of professionals, but with the skills and proven experience, coupled with technology and administrative systems, to be very effective,” he said.
“Although today they use 93% of their budget in marketing and sales, the current allocation is very limited to meet the challenges facing the island, mainly when we consider the marketing budgets of other competing destinations, such as the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and Aruba,” Ramírez said.
The Association called on Gov. Wanda Vázquez, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, the Legislature, and the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico to evaluate the budgets of the Tourism Co. and Discover Puerto Rico, as well as of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the Puerto Rico Ports Authority.
“It’s crucial that for fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22, we look for ways to combine the limited funds we have with some federal program to address these important budget issues,” Ramos said. “Our invitation is that together, we promote a coherent agenda for tourism on our island.”