Thursday, February 21, 2019

[Editorial] The new Casals

By on January 17, 2019

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the Jan. 17-23, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

Puerto Rico tourism got a much-needed shot in the arm this week when Lin-Manuel Miranda—he of “Hamilton,” “In the Heights” and “Mary Poppins” fame—lured Jimmy Fallon to the island to host his talk show for millions to see. During the broadcast, millions of viewers witnessed Miranda in a compelling interview on the set of “Hamilton,” which is running at Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré in Santurce through Jan. 27.

More than a heartfelt conversation about the otherworldly thespian’s motivation in bringing the phenomenal “Hamilton” to Puerto Rico—his goal is to raise $15 million to help grow the arts on the island—the interview offered a glimpse of the best that the island has to offer.

The “Fallon en Puerto Rico Special” featured the flavor of the moment, Bad Bunny; perhaps, el Gran Combo, salsa legends more representative of a musical legacy, might have been a better representation of the uniqueness of our culture. Para los gustos, los colores—there is a market for everything.

During the show, people were privy to the acrophobic Fallon ziplining over Puerto Rico’s landscape on ToroVerde’s Monster, the second-longest zipline in the hemisphere. There were no gangbangers hiding in the countryside trying to shoot Fallon down. Although, yes, Fallon had his heart in his throat for all to see—via GoPro, no less.

Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel and Lin-Manuel’s “Hamilton”—both stars—helped open the eyes of the world to Puerto Rico’s many attractions, in a moment reminiscent of those global advertising campaigns struck by Mad Men Ogilvy & Mather featuring Pablo Casals, the world-renowned cellist, as the ambassador for the island in the 1960s.

Those were the days; the crème de la crème descended upon Puerto Rico—Sammy Davis Jr., Rita Moreno, Liza Minnelli headlined at island hotels. People wanted to see the island and it was promoted as a world-class destination by an army of professionals at offices around the world. With that street cred 50 years ago, Puerto Rico far outpaced the Dominican Republic in number of hotel rooms, with 7,000 rooms compared to 3,000. Today, with its 14,500 rooms, Puerto Rico is way behind the Dominican Republic, which has been growing at a blistering pace to a total of 70,000 rooms. Recent numbers from World Travel & Tourism show just how bad Puerto Rico has slid in the world rankings. In every category, this island languishes at a pace far under its potential. In the category of tourism as a percentage of gross product, we rank poorly, at 7.1 percent, compared with top performers New York, Hawaii and Orlando, Fla. Now that Puerto Rico has its marketing in private hands, observers believe the contribution to our economy could be doubled and even tripled from its current level.

NBC photo

The Lin-Manuel/Fallon tandem drove home a very salient point that Puerto Rico has the shine to bring people to the island. What we do once visitors arrive is just as important as the marketing. You can chart a course and put the shining star of the Caribbean out there. If you fail to satisfy your customers, you will lose repeat visitors and, worse still, you will lose as many as 10 other potential tourists per disgruntled visitor because of the negative word of mouth. Bad news travels fast.

Destinations that thrive are those that have a very clear understanding, from top to bottom, of what it means to deliver excellent service. The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. must make certain that the new visitors receive red carpet treatment wherever they go. But that takes a concerted effort at all levels—from upper management delivering a unified message, down to the foot soldiers of goodwill meeting face-to-face with visitors.

Next time Fallon is in town, take MLB Hall of Famer Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez and Yadier Molina for a little match play. The producers of the show have plenty of world-class links at their disposal—the Dorado Beach Ritz-Carlton Reserve’s famed Hole No. 4, the Wyndham Río Mar’s Hole No. 16, St. Regis Bahía Beach’s finishing holes or the Ponce Hilton’s island green—take your pick. If you market it—the visitors will come.

Once visitors arrive—be they tourists or investors—it behooves us to deliver service and showcase very attractive incentives to generate such desperately needed economic development.

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