Tourism Leaders Discuss Challenges Affecting Sector
SAN JUAN – Perspectives on the Visitor Economy, a panel presented by Foundation for Puerto Rico (FPR), recently gathered various leaders of the island’s tourism sector, such as Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., and Osvaldo Gelabert, professor of Tourism at Fajardo’s Universidad Inter Americana.
It carried out a panel, whose discussion was framed by a study presented by the foundation, “Visitor Economy: From Knowledge to Action,” which aimed to promote public discussion of the proposals presented by the nonprofit.
The exchange of views was divided into two main themes: 1) the proposed adoption of the visitor economy concept; as well as the definitions and distinctions of traveler, tourist, visitor and trekker to clarify concepts and come up with a common vocabulary for the industry; and 2) the lack of data available and the need to update it to measure the effectiveness of strategies.
The six panelists agreed on the adoption of the visitor economy concept, which was defined by Prof. Osvaldo Gelabert as the “multiplier effect of all tourism activity.” The president of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, Clarisa Jiménez, said the biggest challenge on the island is that people do not speak the language of tourism. “We need to have a common language that allows us to begin to prepare strategies and develop [tourism].”
Federico Stubbe Jr., vice president of the Tourism Council of the Puerto Rico Home Builders Association, pointed out that “we are part of a global economy; we have to compete, and the visitor economy is the foundation to help us.”
One of the biggest challenges to develop the sector is a lack of data. The foundation’s study highlights the importance of building a National Tourism Statistics System as a key element to develop the visitor economy and measure its contribution.
Milton Segarra, the executive director of the Meet Puerto Rico destination marketing organization, emphasized the data’s importance in order to focus and align strategies to generate new demand. “Even…with a 3% to 4% growth in net visitors, we would achieve a significant increase in our economy,” he said.
“We need statistics to prove that tourists who arrive today have changed; visitors are now looking for cheap stuff, and we have many high-end products in Puerto Rico,” Jiménez added.
“It is a problem that our information is based on 1968 standards, and that if the legislature approved a change in 2004, we have to wait until 2018 to achieve it [referring to standards used by the Planning Board for collecting data to feed accounts that measure economic activity on the island],” said Raúl Bustamante, president of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Committee.
“If we can agree on what information the sector needs in the short term, we can begin to plan and develop a proposal for the National Statistics System, and invite them to work together,” Arnaldo Cruz, the research and analysis director for the foundation, said in an appeal to those present.
The foundation will soon be convening a symposium to begin working on promoting the development of the National Tourism Statistics System and working on other challenges mentioned by the audience.
Several attendees noted that the discussion was limited to the traditional tourism sectors, without taking into account local entrepreneurial activity, which is quickly growing, particularly in cultural tourism and short-term rentals, such as through Airbnb, as lodging alternatives.
They expressed interest in being included in the discussions, initiatives and future efforts to contribute to the sector’s growth. The foundation is organizing a panel with cultural entrepreneurs for the end of June.