Chairman Makes Pitch During Industry Update, Urges Unity Among Sectors
SAN JUAN – In its January update on the status of the local tourism industry, which has been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, top ranking members of Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), also made a pitch for increased funding for the organization.
The industry update is part of a periodic report the marketing organization prepares for tourism sector members and officials. Although optimistic for later portions of the year, in contrast to the pre-pandemic updates, the figures and charts presented Wednesday showed a massive drop in indicators such as revenue per available room and in the anticipation of travel for the first economic quarter of 2021.
Discover Puerto Rico Chairman José “Peco” Suárez argued that the economic damage caused by the pandemic needs to be considered in the context of several years of setbacks — from mosquito-borne illnesses, to natural disasters — that have hindered tourism’s growth locally.
“In fact, the last so-called ‘normal’ year we had was back in 2015,” Suárez said.
The chairman went on to argue that other destinations that are competing for the same market share as Puerto Rico are putting more money toward marketing and promotion. Suárez’s remarks mirror those of other tourism business representatives who have been advocating for the government to increase its DMO funding allocation. While many in the industry agree with the need, a consensus of opinion does not necessarily exist among all stakeholders or economists, and although he didn’t address skeptics directly, he did call for and insist that unity was important.
“If we want to make up for all the negative events of the last five or six years, we must invest. We all know we need more money to be able to compete. Prior to the current fiscal crisis and the changes implemented by the fiscal control board, Turismo [Puerto Rico Tourism Co.] had full control of its room-tax- and casino-generated funds. Now it’s a different board game and to increase our funding we must work with the executive and legislative branches, ”Suárez said.
“If we as an industry show signs of fragmentation, the government will not support us. We must unite with one voice to demand proper funding for our destination marketing, ”the stressed chairman.
The funding matter was also brought by the DMO’s chief marketing officer (CMO), Leah Chandler. She pointed out that only 5 percent of the marketing effort is funded by the organization’s core budget, while 53 percent comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (Cares) Act. The remainder comes from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program allocation related to Hurricane María recovery efforts.
“I share this to sort of build on information shared earlier by Peco, our board chair. While funding sources like Cares and CDBG will allow us to come out of the gate strongly as we begin to welcome back tourists, the momentum will not be sustainable without significant core funding, ”Chandler assured.