Prior to the pandemic outbreak, travel and tourism in Puerto Rico generated $5.17 billion in economic activity. Then came the 2020 travel shutdowns, during which economic activity dropped 66.4 percent to $1.74 billion, triggering a 13.9 percent industry employment loss.
The 2020 travel industry job losses, paired with those from Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the early 2020 earthquakes also “confirmed the importance of fast-tracking tourism promotion efforts in Puerto Rico,” said officials at Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s official destination marketing organization.
Those officials met in July with the leadership of Brand USA, the official destination marketing organization for the United States, to address the post-outbreak travel landscape. The “stakeholder day” was described as a comprehensive discussion of “how both organizations are working together to promote travel to the island.”
Following the gathering, TravelPulse spoke with Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico and Chris Thompson, Brand USA CEO, on the organizations’ cooperative initiatives to revamp tourism to the island.
Both contend current consumer sentiment and travel behavior are combining to make Puerto Rico an “ideal” destination for international travelers.
TravelPulse: How does Brand USA work?
Chris Thompson: Brand USA has been in existence for 12 years. In the 10 years I’ve been there our charge was to promote the entirety United States, all 50 states as well as five territories and the District of Columbia. We take that very seriously and are settled into what I would call our nation’s storytelling role.
TP: What is the organization’s storytelling role?
CT: It means the way United States stories are being told. We have many voices to tell the story of the United States. Over the course of [Brand USA’s] evolution, we’ve found several ways to enable those stories to be told [including] constructive consumer campaigns. We also have a USA TV channel and we are creating and licensing content.
TP: How does BrandUSA leverage the stories via online distribution?
CT: It gives us the ability to give all destinations within the entire U.S. the opportunity to tell their story. I would say over the course of our time during the partnership with Discover Puerto Rico under Brad’s leadership they have seized every one of those opportunities to position the unique story that is Puerto Rico.
TP: Of course, Puerto Rico is one of the five U.S. territories you mentioned earlier, correct?
CT: Yes. Puerto Rico feels international because it’s within the Caribbean and is an island destination. But it is very much a part of what the U.S is and tells a unique story.
TP: How has the partnership benefitted Discover Puerto Rico, Brad?
Brad Dean: Puerto Rico has the potential to attract more of a global audience, certainly through cruise but also through land-based vacations. [Brand USA] is an ordinarily efficient cooperative marketer. They create synergies and efficiencies that we just simply could not create on our own.
TP: How else does Brand USA help Discover Puerto Rico promote travel to Puerto Rico?
BD: They open up markets and vertical channels for us that we could not open or pursue, even if we [had] a larger budget. When you think about Puerto Rico, whether it’s Europe or South America and also potentially Mexico, for a destination like ours with a limited budget, Brand USA enables us to enter or explore markets we couldn’t pursue otherwise.
TP: How does this engage an international audience?
BD: Brand USA [creates] opportunities to tell our story on a global level that simply don’t exist otherwise for us. Whether it’s creating movies on the big screen or [social media] stories, they allow us to leverage Puerto Rico’s brand message on a global scale.
TP: What was the focus of the July board meeting between the two groups?
CP: We [reached] out to work with our partners at Discover Puerto Rico to discuss how we can work with our mutual reach stakeholders to talk about what we’re doing and can do together.
TP: Are there other ways Brand USA has reached out to Discover Puerto Rico?
BD: To Chris’ credit he was on island weeks before the board meeting with stakeholders, talking about what Brand USA could do. So they’ve really been an extraordinary part of Discover Puerto Rico’s four-year history. More importantly, they have helped to fuel the recovery of travel and tourism in Puerto Rico.