New advisory board helps set pace for Puerto Rico DMO
SAN JUAN – With a marked focus on the perception issues the island faces in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO) unveiled the names of the 25 members of its new advisory board.
During a roundtable where they were announced, Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean also indicated that the DMO has hired salespeople to enhance business in Chicago, New York, Florida and Washington, D.C., and a “second wave” of future hirings could include additional salespeople for Atlanta, as well as Latin American countries.
The announcement came after 48-hours worth of meetings with the DMO team and representatives of the local tourism sector. Dean said he “walked away with a long to-do list” after establishing several goals as part of the DMO plan.
“Some of it was very tactical, some of it was very strategic and some of it was centered around the messaging,” Dean said, which he explained will now not only communicate the island’s recovery but will communicate and highlight the island’s progress and the opportunities it offers.
“We’ve got to stop talking about Maria and recovery and start talking about potential and progress. One of the messages that need to carry from the DMO to–not the media here but the media in the states–to cover the progress. Let’s share and show the progress and potential,” the travel and tourism veteran said.
The need to switch gears to counteract the perception abroad about the status of the island’s recovery post-Maria was also echoed by the advisory board members present.
“Perception is people’s reality. If you think something isn’t where it needs to be, you’re not going to go there for a meeting, you are not going to take your family and go on vacation because you think it’s not ready. And our message in the last 48 hours has been, ‘Oh, you’re ready,” said Don Welsh, one of the advisory board members.
Welsh, who has over three decades’ experience in the tourism industry, is the CEO of Destinations International, the convention bureau organization whose annual convention in July gathered more than 1,600 destination marketing professionals from around the world in California.
Welsh went on to argue that it is not just about pushing the message but about actually bringing industry “decision-makers” to the island to see how it has recovered.
Emphasizing the importance of not delaying the process was Sheriff Karamat, who posited that is not about being “in a perfect situation” but rather taking action and being able to surpass failures or setbacks.
“Tomorrow is now. Let’s not wait. Let’s get out of the gate. Let’s not wait for every window to be painted and dressed up,” added Karamat, who is president & CEO of Professional Conference Management Association (PCMA) and was head of the Toronto DMO during the SARS outbreak in 2003. As for the crises Puerto Rico has experienced in recent years, he said transparency and preparedness are paramount.
Regarding crisis preparedness, David Dubois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibits & Events, said he has been discussing safety and security standards with Dean with the goal of achieving related accreditation for Puerto Rico’s Convention Center.
Besides improving standards, the DMO advisory board is also helping to produce an emergency preparedness plan for the island.
The DMO’s other voluntary advisers comprise executives representing airlines and hotels, as well as business and conventions planners, specialized media and private organizations.
- David Audrain, Executive Director, Society of Independent Show Organizers
- David Dubois, President & CEO, International Association of Exhibits and Events
- Jorge Jorge, President, Toro Verde Zip Line
- Sheriff Karamat, President & CEO, Professional Conference Management Association – PCMA
- Rachid Molinary, Sr. Strategist Digital Marketing, Banco Popular de Puerto Rico
- Steven Paganelli, Director Americas, TripAdvisor
- David Peckinpaugh, former President, PCMA Foundation, President, Martiz Global Events
- Manuel Pietrantoni, Esq, Member, Pietrantoni Mendez & Alvarez LLC
- Diana Plazas, VP LatAm, Marriott
- Susan Robertson, President, ASAE Foundation, American Society of Association Executives – ASAE
- Christopher Thompson, President & CEO, Brand USA
- Oscar Cerezales, Managing Director, MCI- Group
- Richard Reasons, CEO, Simple View
- Adam Sacks, President, Tourism Economics, An Oxford Economics Company
- Mariela Sanchez, GM Domestic Inv, Delta Airlines
- Rafat Ali, Founding Editor, Skift
- Marty St. George, Executive VP Commercial and Planning, JetBlue
- Michael Payne, VP Events Services, Smith Bucklin
- Don Welsh, President & CEO, Destinations International
- Marty Balogh, Associate Executive Director-Meetings and Travel Group, American Bar Association
- Roger Dow, President & CEO, US Travel Association
- Richard Harper, Executive Vice President, HelmsBriscoe
- Albert Herrera, Senior VP, Global Product Partnership, Virtuoso
- Denise Godreau, Former CMO SeaWorld, Bahamar
- Noreen Henry, CEO & Founder, Waybrazer
- Michael L. Payne, Executive Vice President, SmithBucklin