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Editorial & Column
Puerto Rico Could Be Such A Tourist Haven!
By FRANCISCO JAVIER CIMADEVILLA
August 5, 2004
From north to south, east to west, the island offers visitors a mind-boggling assortment of natural, historic, cultural, and leisure attractions difficult to match. Too bad most of them are either run-down, poorly kept, poorly staffed, poorly marketed, difficult to get to, or even totally inaccessible to the average tourist!
Some of our best attractions are just poorly maintained. Others lack adequate infrastructure to receive visitors, including the most basic sanitary facilities. Many lack adequate signage to help visitorsand localsget to them and/or appreciate them once they do get there. And most of them are poorly staffed, either with too few personnel or with personnel who are inadequately trained to give visitors an appealing and rewarding experience. This includes their inability to communicate in English, the language spoken by the overwhelming majority of our visitors.
Lets face it. With the exception of the fortresses and walls of Old San Juan, the Caribbean National Forest (better known as El Yunque)all under the management of the federal governments U.S. National Park Serviceand a handful of sites run either by private companies or foundations, such as the Bacardi distillery, the Ponce Art Museum, and the Castillo Serralles, most attractions in Puerto Rico have a checkered track record when it comes to consistent, long-term quality.
Whether they are natural attractions, such as beaches, parks, and forests; or human-made sites, such as historic buildings and museums, the quality of many of the islands best tourist sites is very uneven: They are spiffy and well-run for six months only to be poorly attended for years once again. That total lack of quality control is often the result of the government agencies seesaw budgets, (sometimes hefty, sometimes meager.) In charge of operating these attractions, agencies also lack vision and management ability.
The quintessential example of this yo-yo quality is Casa Blanca in Old San Juan, one of many run by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. Built by our first governor and the discoverer of Florida, Juan Ponce de Leon, the old mansion-fortress is one of Puerto Ricos most emblematic historic attractions. Yet, try your luck at visiting the place. Sometimes it is open and staffed; sometimes it is open but unstaffed; other times it is open but only during a few odd hours during the day; and many times, like right now, it is closed.
For all their great contributions as stewards of Puerto Ricos cultural heritage, we believe it is high time we recognize that the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and similar government agencies are just poor museum administrators.
Poorly maintained attractions can prove fatal to our tourism industry as it strives to flourish. Think about the last time you paid your hard-earned dollars for a vacation to a destination where the attractions were poorly maintained or inadequately prepared to receive tourists. What was your reaction? Did you feel like going back? Well, the same thing happens when people visit Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has great God-given attractions, such as our wonderful beaches and coastline, our forests, our underwater coral gardens, and our offshore islands and keys, all blessed by our year-round warm weather. Add to this our historic and cultural attractions, such as Old San Juans fortresses and buildings, historic San German and Ponce, all our art museums and churches, and quaint township plazas all over the island. These are the envy of so many other tourist destinations.
Yet, many other destinations with much less to offer present their attractions in a more appealing, attractive, and accessible way to tourists. As one travels the world, it is amazing to see how many places make a big fuss about the relatively little they have. Yet, they present it to visitors well and with pride. Others dedicate enormous resources to developing new attractions. Meanwhile, we in Puerto Rico, with so many attractions already, do a poor job in how we offer and maintain them for locals and visitors alike.
Finally, we should recognize that when it comes to tourism, Puerto Rico is fortunate to have a lot of repeat business. That should motivate us to develop new attractions all the time. Any businessperson knows you always have to offer new products and services to your customers. Otherwise, you lose your repeat business to your competition.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.