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How to get Tourists to Venture Across P.R’s Entire 100 x 35?

By on August 6, 2017

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the August 3 print edition of Caribbean Business.

SAN JUAN — Amid Puerto Rico’s economic crisis, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration has expressed the tourism sector is a key element to jumpstart the economy. For this to occur, tourism growth cannot just be localized in the San Juan metropolitan area; it needs to be across the island.

Promotion of Puerto Rico’s various regions requires the government and organizations to tackle several issues at once. The key, explain experts from both the public and private sector, is to increase travelers’ average length of stay. The P.R. Tourism Co. (PRTC) is also targeting an increase in the flow of internal and domestic tourism across the island.

As a result, the marketing strategy for tourism, according to PRTC Executive Director José Izquierdo, needs to focus on promoting the experiences Puerto Rico offers. This would incentivize travelers to plan for longer trips and locals to venture to different attractions.

Puerto Rico Tourism Director José Izquierdo (CB Photo)

Lastly, accessibility is a topic in the spotlight. This means enhancing the island’s regional airports and increasing the number of cruiseships anchoring at different ports. Accessibility also includes efficient transportation systems to allow travelers to easily move around.

Numbers game

Confidence in the traveler’s economy seems to be consistent with indicators the government is receiving, which show growth of 4%. However, Izquierdo was more cautiously optimistic, explaining that it is not enough to recuperate Puerto Rico’s market share lost during 2016’s zika scare. Aside from bringing the number of travelers up, their length of stay needs to be longer.

The Tourism Co.’s executive director explained that tourists who stay for short periods, such as a weekend, mainly stay in hotel or meeting places and do not explore other more distant or secluded attractions.

“That is the real bet here, because if we have on average a tourist who comes to Puerto Rico, and stays for 2.6 days, then we know that number needs to increase. To see the rest of the island, they cannot stay just 2.6 days,” Izquierdo said.

As for promoting domestic tourism, he noted that it is a mainstay in achieving growth in other regions of the island. According to PRTC numbers, 40% of hotel occupancies come from locals.

To see better results, Izquierdo echoes industry experts, explaining that Puerto Rico’s marketing strategy as a destination needs to expand from sun and beach, and must have a more targeted approach. To help with the latter, the Tourism Co. is developing six profiles of the types of travelers coming to Puerto Rico, such as families with children and millennials.

Hitching a ride

Beyond a successful marketing campaign, Puerto Rico needs to provide the communications and transportation channels for travelers to come here and be able to move around.

According to Izquierdo, in May 2017, there was a 47% increase in tourism compared to May 2016, which represented $9.5 million for the local economy. Izquierdo said the next step was not just to attract more cruises to the island but to also attract homeporting.

“With the cruiseships, we are making a concerted effort to increase homeporting, which is cruiseships starting their voyage here, because those tourists are the ones who can see the rest of the island, not just San Juan,” the PRTC director argued. He then went on to explain that they are also working on increasing the number of cruiseships that anchor outside of San Juan. So far, there are six confirmed cruise visits for Ponce’s Puerto de las Américas.

As for regional airports, Mercedita International Airport in Ponce receives 200,000 passengers a year, and has two routes and 14 weekly trips. Rafael Hernández International Airport in Aguadilla sees 500,000 passengers a year, and has four routes and seven trips.

While these numbers increase during high season, Izquierdo indicated they are looking to bring more airlines to the regional international airports, which adds to the expansion in tourists at San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin (LMM) International Airport.

Once visitors arrive, they need modes of transportation that allow them to explore the island. Some industry experts have argued that is a factor that needs attention, which most likely would include improving collective or public forms of transportation.

“We can’t discard the role of public transportation,” said Prof. Javier Hernández, during a forum with Foundation for Puerto Rico. At the April forum, panelists discussed accessibility issues that tourists confront upon reaching the island.

While agreeing with Hernández, the Transportation secretary, Carlos Contreras, argued that one of the main problems about expanding public transportation is it was not designed with tourism in mind. His example proves his point: People cannot bring their luggage on board a public bus to the LMM International Airport.

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