Puerto Rico officials stress need for sustainable growth at ‘Tourism Cares’ event
Speak about resiliency, small-business grants as travel professionals meet, explore
SAN JUAN – During the opening of “Tourism Cares for Puerto Rico,” a three-day event presented by Tourism Cares, a nonprofit organization, members of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s cabinet stressed the importance of promoting sustainable tourism as an economic recovery tool.
“[Rosselló] places tourism at the forefront his economic development agenda from the get-go and that commitment has materialized in so many ways,” Puerto Rico Tourism Co.’s (PRTC) executive director, Carla Campos, said.
“We are convinced that tourism is the future for Puerto Rico, that it is the sector in the economy with the most potential for growth. But that growth needs to happen in a sustainable way, that growth needs to happen in way that also influences and impacts and benefits as many people as possible in our society,” she added.
One of the focus points of the event carried out in collaboration with the Clinton Global Initiative, is to reach to small businesses and communities that might be finding it harder to gain access to the visitor’s economy.
During her opening remarks, Campos spoke about the lack of access for smaller businesses. More specifically, the official alluded to the fees and other charges that hinder small and micro businesses’ possibility of benefiting from tax incentives that are easily attainable for larger tourism concerns. To address the issue, Campos said the PRTC was “rolling out grants” to help the small businesses.
For his part, Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín argued in his remarks to event attendees that the administration is aiming at creating the opportunities to reverse the outmigration trend, as well as finding ways for businesses to be more prepared for a natural disaster.
“I think stopping the suffering is what it’s all about, and if we plan properly, if we allow small businesses to be resilient so they can survive, so they don’t have to shut down, they don’t have to get on a plane and go somewhere else to look for opportunities for them and their children. I think that’s our duty as government,” Rivera Marín said.
The secretary mentioned the different funding allocations from Congress and federal agencies to aid in the hurricane recovery efforts and the importance of spurring sustainable growth that endures once outside funding runs out.
“That we can do it in a sustainable way because what [does it] matter if we get federal funds for the recovery but there is no sustainability and then, after [the funds] lapse, we go back to recession. So we must make sure industries like tourism, which evidently can contribute to [helping provide] prosperity; make sure they get traction and keep going.”
The event includes educational panels on creating a value chain and food sovereignty, tours such as a trip to Castillo Serrallés and exploring farm tourism, one of the areas Campos said is being promoted by the PRTC’s Sustainable Tourism division.
Tourism Cares united more than 100 travel professionals for its Tourism Cares for Puerto Rico program, which began Wednesday in San Juan, and then moves south to Yauco and Ponce. The “Meaningful Travel Summit” joined “forces with the formal travel industry, community-based tourism initiatives, governmental officials, the small shareholder agriculture community, and social enterprises to support the development of local economies for a resilient future on the island,” as put by the nonprofit.
“With a growing sustainable tourism portfolio, the Island is seizing opportunities to continue to develop and promote these experiences. The Government of Puerto Rico, through the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, is thrilled to host the Tourism Cares for Puerto Rico Summit, and the more than 150 tourism leaders expected to attend. Aligned with Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s vision to place tourism at the forefront of the Island’s economic development agenda, this event will promote the exchange of best practices, foster entrepreneurship and empower small business owners,” Campos had said in a release Monday.
Program participants will volunteer at Centro de Microempresas y Tecnologías Agrícolas Sustentables Yauco (CMTAS), a community sustainable farm, which was described as becoming a support center for the community after the 2017 hurricanes, providing food and access to clean water.
“Today, they are building a tourism experience at the farm, where they also provide educational and training programs for several disadvantaged Puerto Rican communities,” Tourism Cares’ release reads.
“We’re thrilled that Tourism Cares’ participants will work alongside a WCK Plow to Plate grant recipient—a model community farm still in recovery after Hurricane Maria that is building up its capacity for food production, distribution and sales over the long-term,” added Alexandra García, chief program officer at World Central Kitchen.
“Investing time and labor at this farm is an example of how to support authentic tourism development and help build resiliency. Industry professionals will learn about why issues like food sovereignty are crucial for local communities, and experience how this kind of tourism can also benefit travel businesses,” Tourism Cares Chief Impact Officer Paula Vlamings said. “Understanding and experiencing how we can empower communities through our businesses will help create a more sustainable future in Puerto Rico—and beyond.”
In addition to volunteering, the travel professionals were meeting “community-based tourism leaders and social enterprises to support knowledge exchange and greater integration into the market.” The program includes educational sessions with exhibits and pitches by local entrepreneurs. Sessions will also address how agritourism businesses are emerging across Puerto Rico and identify the challenges and opportunities to include more local suppliers in the tourism value chain.
The organization mentioned as examples of the island’s dedication to sustainability, the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act, which sets a 100% renewable energy mandate for 2050, and the creation of the Caribbean’s first Green Certification Program, which includes 10 lodging options, “while a variety of eco and agritourism opportunities remain available, and growing, for visitors and locals alike,” the release reads.
“Known for our world class beaches, natural wonders and unique culture, Puerto Rico is committed to the growth and enhancement of sustainable practices within our tourism offerings—not because it’s a nice to have, but because it’s a necessity for our industry to sustain the precious wonders found on our Island, for future travelers and generations to come,” Brad Dean, the CEO of the island’s destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico, was quoted as saying.
As a Commitment to Action of the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post Disaster Recovery, Tourism Cares said “monitoring will be conducted throughout the year and reported.”
The Tourism Cares’ CGI Action Commitment is in partnership with the Foundation for Puerto Rico, World Central Kitchen, Discover Puerto Rico, Hilton San Juan and Hilton Ponce.
Besides the aforementioned sponsors, in its release, Tourism Cares said the event was also made possible by AAA, Brand USA, Expedia Group, Rovia, Trip Mate, The Condado Plaza Hilton, Airbnb, American Airlines, Bob Whitley Memorial Fund, Delta Air Lines, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, NYC & Co., the Eric Friedheim Foundation, United Airlines, Viking Cruises, ASTA, Collette, Destinations International, IATAN, MaCher, National Tour Association, Norwegian Cruise Line, Travel Insurance Advisors LLC, USTOA, U.S. Travel Association, and Halo Branded Solutions.