DMO Expects Increased Demand for Puerto Rico
Seeks Greater Core Funding to Sustain Momentum
SAN JUAN — In the latest industry update by Discover Puerto Rico, the destination marketing organization’s (DMO) executives presented an image of tourism recovery that began four weeks ago with continued hotel occupancy growth.
“I’m thrilled to share some of the numbers that we’ve been seeing in the last couple of weeks after nearly a year of sharing disappointing news. We’ve seen a dramatically different story for the past month, and I’m sure all of you are feeling it as well. As we’ve seen hotel occupancy more than double where we were at the end of 2020,” said Alisha Valentine, director of Research and Analytics at Discover Puerto Rico.
“The week that included Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day saw 60 percent hotel occupancy, the highest since the week ending March 14th, 2020, before lockdowns for coronavirus were implemented,” Valentine said.
The research director explained that since February, Puerto Rico began to outpace stateside booking levels and the projection is for growth to continue. This is because the data they are receiving from travel data company Adara points to trips to the island being booked for the next 40 days. Airlines have also shown a 17 percent increase since the beginning of January, Valentine said.
But it is not simply about the numbers. Valentine also pointed to short-term rentals.
“We know that rentals have outperformed [hotels] throughout the pandemic as consumers had viewed them as a way to remain more isolated. And while the rental market in Puerto Rico continues to outperform other destinations, the current year-over-year growth is unprecedented. Rental bookings through the end of June are 82 percent higher than where they were a year ago,” Valentine said.
Although it is worth pointing out that the spokespeople from more traditional lodgings such as “paradores,” or inns, have continuously denounced that the growth of the short-term rental market during the pandemic has more to do with the Covid-19 restrictions than traveler sentiment. This is because the restrictions imposed by former Gov. Wanda Vázquez were stricter on traditional accommodations than on short-term rentals.
Additionally, the increase in travelers has not come without controversy as reports of tourists getting into fights or not respecting Covid-19 guidelines continue to surface, with some healthcare experts expressing concern that the dramatic increase in visitors could result in an increase of Covid-19 cases.
Nevertheless, Valentine and other DMO executives celebrated the numbers, and the presentations did not address the controversy.
As for the reason that Puerto Rico is seeing positive numbers, the executives argued several factors, from a successful strategy to ensure that Puerto Rico is top of mind for travelers and travel planners, as well as more relaxed attitudes about the pandemic.
Regarding the former, “we chose to do what many other DMOs in the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland did not do, we chose to be as transparent as possible with planners, advisers and consumers, providing a wealth of relevant information, seeking to be the trusted resource for accurate, timely information,” said Leah Chandler, Discover Puerto Rico’s chief marketing officer (CMO).
Valentine alluded to the Destination Analysts Covid-19 Traveler Sentiment Index, which reveals a more relaxed attitude toward traveling because of the Covid-19 vaccine. The latest index, published on March 21, does show more openness towards travel when compared to the height of the pandemic in 2020. However, the report shows that the new covid variants have caused some increase in travelers’ concerns, among other signs that the pandemic is not over in the mind of potential travelers.
“Those highly concerned about their friends and family contracting the virus rose to 71 percent and 63.3 percent of American travelers are highly concerned about personally contracting Covid-19. Such concern is higher among women, millennials, urban dwellers and those residing in the West and Northeast regions of the U.S.,” reads one of the key findings in the March 21 report.
The industry update reports included the recurrent topic of funding for the DMO, which currently receives the bulk of its funding from a $25 million yearly allocation taken from the room tax. Chandler argued that the DMO needed a greater government allocation or core funding to keep their strategy up.
“Our core media budget is the smallest, totaling only 4 percent of our media investment for the next several months, while funding sources like Cares and CDBG are allowing us to come out of the gate very strongly as we begin to welcome back tourists; the momentum, of course, is not sustainable without significant core funding,” the CMO stressed.
Discover Puerto Rico, together with Ketchum, Miles Partnership and R&R Partners, will host a webinar to present “The Great Recovery: A Playbook,” which will take place March 30 at 10 a.m. Visit https://fal.cn/3e7OY to register.