Beyond the Beaches: Discover Puerto Rico Looks to Broaden Destination's Appeal

by Jessica Montevago
Beyond the Beaches: Discover Puerto Rico Looks to Broaden Destination's Appeal

Cueva Ventana, or “window cave.” Photo: Tinapat Kotumrongsak/Shutterstock

It has been a year since the Discover Puerto Rico tourism campaign was established, and it has a lot to celebrate on its one-year anniversary.

The American territory has seen tourism numbers this year at the highest they’ve ever been, according to Director of Sales Ed Carey at Discover Puerto Rico.

The public and privately funded destination management organization (DMO) was established to provide a consistent message when marketing Puerto Rico’s tourism industry. Previously, the brand would continually change when a new administration took office.

Now, they are building a stronger brand. So much so, Carey said, that their goal is to double the tourism economy. 

“The message is simple: We’re better than ever,” he said speaking at an event in New York City last week. “I always felt that was cliché, but with the investment that is occurring post-Maria, more money is being spent on rebuilding the infrastructure and renovating our hotels, as well as some new experiences, it’s true.

“We’re fortunate, recently we’ve had some really big wins,” he continued. In the first quarter of 2019, spend in tourism dollars was the highest it has been in eight years, reaching $373.6 million, up 12%. During that same period, January to April, arrivals at San Juan International increased 24% compared to the same period last year, reaching 1.5 million passengers. The remainder of 2019 is booking at 24.1% higher than 2018 levels.

“There’s a void we think we can fill, and the consumer is going to have a lot of confidence,” Carey said.

There are currently 157 hotels now open and accepting reservations. Any of the few that remain closed, like the Ritz Carlton San Juan, are undergoing top-to-bottom renovations. Other new additions include the District San Juan, a five-acre, $150 million complex with restaurants, shops, a 6,000-person arena, kid zone, and zip line; it will open this year.

Moving forward, the focus is going to beyond the beaches to Puerto Rico’s rich 500-year history. Carey said, “Saying we have beaches is like saying Vegas has casinos — no kidding. What we have that makes us different is the vibrant culture and incredible culinary scene.”

Through its new website and a new advertising campaign called "Have we met before?" Puerto Rico aims to position itself as more than a beach destination, from historic cities Old San Juan and Ponce, to the scenic Cueva Ventana (“window cave”) and Vieques’ bioluminescent bays. Other adventure activities are being promoted as well, including tubing downstream the Tanama River to heading west for Cabo Rojo; seeing the iconic lighthouse or the pink salt flats; and going to the center of the island to experience fresh-grown coffee beans and rolling hills in the rainforest.

“What’s most important to us is to build on and enhance the existing relationships we have with people who we know do business with Puerto Rico,” Carey said. He noted that the travel expert program was just re-launched, and “it’s a place they can go to understand the latest and greatest in Puerto Rico. The program will be continually updated with enhancements and additional incentives. There are currently 15,000 people enrolled.

“If we can provide travel advisors with the right tools, we think we can have tremendous success together, and we’re dedicated to doing that together with you,” Carey said.

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