Puerto Rico marketing organization pitching island’s inclusiveness
Discover Puerto Rico contracts HospitableMe to help turn island into Caribbean’s ‘LGBT Capital’
SAN JUAN — Presenting Puerto Rico as a safe, welcoming and experience-rich destination for the LGBTQ+ communities is part of the efforts the island’s marketing organization is employing to create awareness about the travel destination. Discover Puerto Rico has recruited the help of tourism and hospitality consultant HospitableMe.
Nearing its first anniversary, Leah Chandler, the chief marketing officer of destination marketing organization (DMO) Discover Puerto Rico, and HospitableMe founders Billy Kolber and Kenny Porpora, held a townhall-like discussion with members of the LGBTQ+ community, in which they discussed the progress of their work and what they would like to see.
“As we come up that one-year anniversary, we thought it would be a good idea to gather the community here to kind of share what our goals are like today, what challenges we still face, some of the work we’ve done, some of the significant changes we’ve made and where we are going next,” Porpora said.
Porpora explained that although the Caribbean region may have a reputation as not welcoming of LGBTQ+ people, and could even be considered homophobic or transphobic in some cases, Puerto Rico, by many metrics is at the top for LGBTQ+ offers.
Among the positive attributes Kolber and Porpora mentioned were same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage laws, having two gay pride parades- with a third gay pride parade expected to debut in Ponce next weekend- and the island’s nightlife. Porpora also argued that having gay-owned businesses is also part of what makes Puerto Rico a friendly destination.
As for the target market, Kolber said the need is to broaden the base and presenting Puerto Rico to travelers who have overlooked the Caribbean.
“It’s not that we have to create something [or] market something that isn’t here or spin something. We know that Puerto Rico has what it takes to be known as the LGBT capital of the Caribbean, to be a preferred destination, to be the Caribbean destination for queer people from all over the world. And it’s not just taking people away from other islands here in the Caribbean but other destinations and bringing them to the Caribbean when they weren’t considering the Caribbean before,” Kolber explained.
To bolster Puerto Rico as a queer-friendly destination that could attract travelers who overlooked the Caribbean in the past, Chandler said her organization wanted to define “what can LGBTQ+ marketing look like in Puerto Rico and the first thing we said is let’s do an audit; let’s really understand if we are ready to open up this door to the world.”
Although Kolber praised both Puerto Rico as a destination and the work Discover Puerto Rico has done, he went on to argue that there are some areas in which Puerto Rico needs to improve, starting with having more representatives in the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, also known by its original initials, IGLTA. Another area Kolber said needs improvement is businesses’ preparedness to cater to the demographic.
“One of the things that the audit showed early on in our research was that the island is very very open to LGBTQ visitation, but a lot of our service providers and the hotels were not that comfortable in speaking to the market. I mean literally answering questions about ‘I’m interested in having a same-sex wedding in your property. Do you have a list of queer-friendly wedding vendors?’ Those kinds of questions,” Kolber said.
“There’s nearly 100 percent interest in same-sex travel, about a 30 percent competency level for what we would consider really being fully ready to welcome those kinds of visitors,” he added.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a sustainable LGBTQ+ sector for travelers to Puerto Rico, which Kolber said includes long-term planning not just by the DMO, but also businesses.