The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is throwing its support behind the government’s most recent attempt to define a permanent identity for the island by establishing a 15-member committee under the Economic Development and Commerce Department that would be in charge of creating and adopting a “national brand.”
Ingrid Rivera-Rocafort, appointed by Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla to head the Tourism Company, confirmed that her duty is to support the committee outlined in House Bill 4 instead of the Destination Management Organization, or DMO, for which hoteliers and other industry components had been lobbying during the better part of the last two years.
“The government’s position right now is not to establish a DMO as it had been proposed, but we will be working jointly with the different tourism organizations and industry to make the ‘national brand’ effort an inclusive one,” Rivera-Rocafort said. “We’re now defining how we’re going to do this in an efficient manner.”
Aside from being widely known as the “Island of Enchantment,” Puerto Rico has historically never had a distinctive brand. Slogans to identify the island change with every new administration, doing away with continuity and familiarity.
The DMO — which was proposed and moved forward by the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association — would do away with the political “flip-flopping” that has stood in the way of having a permanent identity for the island.
The PRHTA came very close to getting the DMO — which would have transferred the responsibility of marketing Puerto Rico as a destination out of Tourism’s hands — as former Gov. Luis Fortuno administration had pledged its support to the proposal. García-Padilla, however, opposed it during his campaign for governor.
According to the bill submitted by House Speaker Jaime Perelló last month, a permanent committee would guarantee the brand’s permanence, so it wouldn’t be exposed to changes every four years.
While recognizing that advertising campaigns must be tweaked in response to specific strategies, the government also acknowledged a need to promote a constant image of the island to the world through the adoption of an official brand.
The measure pursues establishing public policy to that effect, not only to find an identity as a tourism destination, but as an investment hub as well. Ultimately, it will be up to the Tourism Company to “evaluate, conceptualize and formally adopt” the chosen brand.
So far, the measure has already been discussed at three public hearings, according to legislative records.
“We need to have this national brand in place as soon as possible because it’s what is missing from the process of developing and selling Puerto Rico not only to tourists, but to investors and people who want to come live here,” said Rivera-Rocafort, who has been called upon by the governor to apply her marketing expertise to the national brand effort.
While admitting that she had not seen the PRHTA’s DMO proposal, Rivera-Rocafort noted the agency is working with the trade group and “is open to ideas.” She said the permanent committee and brand should be ready this year.Puerto Rico’s participation in the International Tourism Fair in Spain from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.
Advertising and marketing agenda
Meanwhile, Rivera-Rocafort, who has been at her post since Jan. 2, also confirmed the agency is reactivating its advertising and marketing campaign, which had been on hiatus for the first two weeks of this month.
“As with any marketing plan, there are weeks in which we’re on the air and weeks in which we’re not. While we weren’t airing during the first two weeks of February, the campaign is active,” she said, downplaying media reports saying Tourism had put the brakes on the marketing and advertising campaign launched last year by the Fortuño administration.
“We’re working on two goals right now, the national brand and new advertising campaigns,” she said, keeping the new strategy close to her chest.
During the interview, Rivera-Rocafort did share the results of Puerto Rico’s participation in the International Tourism Fair in Spain from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3, during which she said she was able to get a first-hand feel for what Tourism needs to do to attract European visitors and businesses.
“One of the priorities has to be to develop air access, we need to have the ideal routes in place to continue building upon our tourism offering,” she said, calling the elimination of Iberia’s direct route to Puerto Rico a setback in that effort.
“They told us that was a short-term decision, that their desire is to regroup and return to Puerto Rico via a direct route in eight or 10 months,” she said.
In the meantime, Tourism is in talks with other European carriers, namely Air Europa and Air Pullman, to explore the chances of attracting their services to Puerto Rico.
“Europe offers an incredible opportunity to attract tourists who like to experience Puerto Rico in a different way, because the European tourist gravitates more toward ‘green tourism,’ to explore inland, stay in paradores [small inns],” she said. “Then there are also other tourist in places such as Russia and Germany who are wealthy and would like to invest their money in Puerto Rico. That’s the type of tourist that goes for extended stays.”
Hotels and cruises
Rivera-Rocafort’s interview took place one day after Disney Cruise Lines announced its plan to use San Juan as homeport for one of its vessels, the Disney Magic, during the fall of 2014.
With that announcement, the company became the first in quite some time to choose Puerto Rico as a base of operations — a decision that will represent a $5 million windfall for the island’s economy.
However, the Tourism chief said more cruise ship companies are expected to follow Disney’s footsteps.
“Royal Caribbean will be making an announcement soon that will also have an impact in 2014,” she said. “On our end, we’re already in talks to dredge the San Juan bay to enable the arrival of cruise ships carrying more than 5,000 passengers, which would have a significant domino effect on the economy.”
Another area of opportunity the agency is keeping close tabs on is hotels. At present, there are more than 60 such projects in the pipeline, in different stages of development, she said.