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Puerto Rican Revival: The Island Has Embarked On A Series Of Tourism Initiatives
May 19, 2003
Jose Suarez was appointed executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) last December, but nobody can accuse him of lacking an ambitious agenda. In the short time he has been onboard, he has established short-term and long-term programs designed to "allow Puerto Rico to increase its tourism market dominance in the Caribbean."
Says Suarez: "We have incorporated into our strategic five-year plan a new vision for Puerto Rico's tourism industry. Our goal is to achieve a 20 percent marketshare of international visitors by 2020." He adds that a crucial element of the plan was the execution of the Tourism & Transportation Forum in April 2002, when 200 worldwide tourism industry leaders came together to assist Puerto Rico with its tourism objectives. "We identified 14 key strategies that incorporate more than 120 initiatives ranging from statistics and business intelligence to infrastructure and product development," he says. "More than 40 percent of these initiatives are already under way."
The island's first regional destination branding campaign is at the forefront of these efforts. "We are diversifying our island offerings by the regionalization of Puerto Rico as a tourism destination," says Suarez. Adds Ramon Sanchez, deputy executive director of marketing and promotions at the PRTC: "Eighty percent of visitors to Puerto Rico stay in San Juan, so it is important that we have broader offers for the consumer.
These marketing initiatives kicked off in January at Caribbean Marketplace with the launch of Porta del Sol, the island's first campaign to promote the western region. "The western zone has been declared a priority for economic development," says Suarez. "Porta del Sol will comprise a public relations, advertising and marketing strategy. This will be the beginning of what will be a gradual rollout of initiatives for the south, east and central regions of the island, showcasing the personality of each area along with key attributes and attractions. These promotional efforts will continue into 2004 and beyond."
Porta del Sol will highlight the Boqueron beach area in the town of Cabo Rojo; surfing in Rincon, with its lighthouse and park; San German, the island's second-oldest city; and hiking in Guanica State Forest, a World Biosphere Reserve. In the east, attractions include E1 Yunque rain forest, Luquillo Beach, the nature preserve of Las Cabezas de San Juan and Mosquito Bay, which is near the island of Vieques and known for its bioluminescent organisms that cause the water to glow at night. Noteworthy attractions in the south are in Pance, with its neoclassical architecture, Plaza de las Delicias main square and Museum of Art, as well as the Marine Wall for divers. The central region is peppered with the slopes of the Cordillera Central Mountain Range, and features colonial coffee plantations, restored paradores, Rio Abajo Forest in Utado and Toro Negro Forest Reserve in Villalba. Since San Juan and the surrounding area is the most traveled region, it is not included in the program.
"There has been tremendous interest from U.S. and international wholesalers to develop packages," says Sanchez. "Some ideas are 'Town & Country' and 'Fly and Drive' combos packaging San Juan with the West Coast and soon other regions. It will give our visitors a completely different experience from what they are used to."
To make drive packages easier to sell, Puerto Rico, in conjunction with the Highway and Transportation Authority, will establish internationally recognizable signage throughout the island's highways. In addition, tourism information kiosks with online access to maps and information about nearby attractions, accommodations and restaurants are being installed at several Esso gas stations islandwide.
The PRTC launched a Web site in mid-March for Porta del Sol [www.gotoportadelsol.com] that is linked to the PRTC's site[www.gotopuertorico.com]. Home pages will be created for the other regions as well. The PRTC also recently released new regional travel planners for clients in English and Spanish.
Beyond the regional branding, the PRTC is breaking down its marketing by niche interests. "We are moving Puerto Rico away from the typical beach destination by elevating awareness of the diversity of activities, authentic Latin culture and other characteristics," says Surarez. "We are grouping activities into four core areas: Beaches and Sports, Nature and Adventure, History and Culture, and Entertainment and Nightlife. We are also developing marketing programs for golf, diving, adventure travel, spas and gastronomy."
A new broadcasting marketing tool debuted in February to reach out to travelers in western U.S. cities. These 30-minute TV infomercials will run on local and cable stations in Chicago (through May), and Los Angeles and Dallas (through June) to complement advertising efforts in Puerto Rico's traditional Florida and Northeast markets.
Travel agents will also benefit from new initiatives. Says Sanchez: "We are working on an online booking engine for our Web site and are in the process of contracting with a provider. Agents will earn the standard 10 percent commission. There is also a newly redesigned travel agent section on the PRTC's Web site." In addition, an agent hotline (800-866-5829) was activated in January to assist agents with collateral materials and late commission payments. The PRTC also established a set 15 percent commission for agents selling pre- and post-cruise land packages. More than 30 hotels are participating.
Puerto Rico's air, cruse, hotel and meeting sectors are undergoing-upgrades as well. On the air end, Suarez says his goal is to position Puerto Rico as a major gateway for international markets. "We had recommendations to create an Air Access Committee responsible for opening new air routes and markets, and improve existing infrastructure and passenger processes," he says.
"The Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla on the West Coast will be developed by Pan Am for routes from North America and as a hub from other islands in the Caribbean. New air service on Caribbean Sun Airlines has already begun between San Juan and Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten and Tortola, BVI. Other airlines already flying into Puerto Rico are also increasing their frequency, including Jet Blue from New York."
Cruise traffic is also very important to the island, as more than 1 million cruise passengers embark in San Juan annually. "Incentives have been established to consolidate and strengthen San Juan's position as a homeport," says Suarez. "These incentives are not only geared to increase cruise passenger traffic, but also to facilitate provisioning of ships in San Juan ports. We are also developing additional ports of call in Puerto Rico, such as the island of Culebra, which received its first passenger cruise ship on Jan. 13 when Windstar Cruises' Wind Surf called there." Puerto Rico has also negotiated an agreement with the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association to encourage passengers to spend more time on the island in association with their cruise itineraries.
Hotels are the most rapidly expanding sector. "An unprecedented number of new hotel projects or expansions are opening this year, resuiting in a 15 percent increase in room inventory by adding 2,261 rooms," says Suarez. New properties that opened this year or are nearing completion include the Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort (Jan. 7), Rincon of the Seas Grand Caribbean Hotel on the West Coast (Feb. 8). Wyndham Martineau Bay on Vieques (Feb. 14), InterContinental Cayo Largo Resort in Fajardo and Costa Bonita Hotel Villas on the island of Culebra (spring openings), Hampton Inn in Caguas (summer opening) and Paradisus Sol Melia in Rio Grande, which will be the island's first all-inclusive hotel (November).
In the planning stages are 56 hotels with 8,627 rooms, says Suarez, adding that this expansion will result in a 56 percent increase in rooms available by 2006. These projects include the Fairmont Coca Beach Resort on the east coast, Mandarin Oriental in Palmas del Mar, Condado Vanderbilt and La Concha are to renovate in the future Ventana al Mar area of Condado, JW Marriott in Fajardo and San Miguel Four Seasons in Luquillo.
"In addition, we are taking a new approach to how we market existing independent properties with the launch of Unique Collection: Luxury Hotels of Puerto Rico," says Suarez. "It is designed to promote our distinctive small hotels as fulfilling the needs of the sophisticated traveler looking for an out-of-the-ordinary travel experience." Unique Collection properties include Copamarina Beach Resort in Guanica, El Convento in San Juan, Horned Dorset Primavera in Rincon and the Water Club in San Juan.
Targeting the meetings and conventions segment is another way for Puerto Rico to attract a new client base. Suarez says work is on target for the Puerto Rico Convention Center, which is scheduled to open in spring 2005. In other initiatives to attract niche markets and transform its current mix of travelers, the island is focusing on sports enthusiasts and environmentally conscious consumers. In December the PRTC partnered with Travel+Leisure Golf magazine to create the Puerto Rico Ambassador's Cup tournament. It was so successful that plans are already in place to host the tournament again in December. The island will also host Major League Baseball this year with the Montreal Expos playing a series of games there. For the ecofriendly market, the PRTC is establishing a Nature Reserves Project, tentatively called Ecoterra, which will transform several existing nature reserves--starting with the Humacao Reserve--into parks dedicated to cultural, leisure and sports activities. The park will have specialized gui des and facilities for climbing, cycling, trekking and kayaking.
For information on the island, call the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. at 800-866-7827 or visit [www.gopuertorico.com].