As the island’s economy continues to grapple with the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Discover Puerto Rico remains optimistic that the tourism industry will see a gradual turnaround in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), recently held a virtual tourism industry update to provide the most recent numbers concerning losses, challenges, marketing plans and outlook amid the health emergency.
Alisha Valentine, director of Research & Analytics of Discover Puerto Rico, reported on the analysis made by the industry’s leading economists at Tourism Economics, which found that the United States lost $340.5 billion in visitor spending between the first week of March and the week of August 15. “While this tourism accounts for 25 percent of the total financial losses, the industry has been the hardest hit in terms of job losses, with 40 percent coming from the tourism sector,” she explained.
In Puerto Rico’s case, the U.S. territory has lost over $1.75 billion in direct visitor spending, more than 13 other U.S. states.
“Local economists have said that Puerto Rico’s economy has lost about $5 billion to $10 billion due to COVID-19, and given additional impacts from the lost visitor spending, it is estimated that the total economic impact of COVID-19 to the tourism sector to date is about $2.5 billion,” Valentine said.
Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean stated that their research confirms that off-island visitors are “eager” to resume traveling and remain interested in the island, but are mainly discouraged by confusion surrounding travel restrictions and government-issued protocols. “With an uncertain opening and consumers unclear about protocols once they do arrive, the door for a potential rebound is quickly closing,” Valentine added.
Despite these impediments, DMO officials assured that consumer perceptions of travel have been improving in the past month. When analyzing the year-to-year forecast and previous industry updates, they have seen “glimpses of optimism,” particularly for October’s performance.
Airlines Adding Seating Capacity
According to Valentine, this perception is heavily influenced by the fact that airlines are adding seat capacity from Discover Puerto Rico’s target markets.
“Though seats were cut after the rollback of the opening [on July 16], airlines adding seats back to the market before the end of the calendar year is a strong signal that they anticipate demand for Puerto Rico to increase. With these changes, airlines are clearly communicating optimism about Puerto Rico in the fourth quarter.
“Airlines have planned significant increases in capacity to the island based on 2019’s record visitation. So, even though seats were cut following the executive order halting travel, there has been such significant planned increase, the total capacity is off only 2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2019,” she said.
However, Valentine underscored that this opportunity may only be optimized with efficient communication on restrictions and protocols to off-island visitors.
Leah Chandler, the DMO’s chief marketing officer, said that the nonprofit continues to work with Aerostar Airport Holdings—which manages the operations at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport—to “amplify the current procedures and help safety measures at the airport.” She added that “communications efforts remain critical.”
With this in mind, the DMO will be rolling out in October a new video series called “Sounds Like Puerto Rico,” which focuses on language and sound to educate potential visitors about the island. The entity is also in talks with social media influencers to promote Puerto Rico swiftly as soon as the island is open to visitors.
Moreover, Discover Puerto Rico’s destination services team and five hotel partners hosted the first virtual destination experience, focused on the Convention Center District, known as “el Distrito,” and surrounding hotels. A total of 120 meeting planners joined the group to learn why Puerto Rico would be a good choice for their upcoming events and how the hosts plan to keep their attendees safe. Since the crisis began, the sales team has seen more than 82,000 rooms requested and have confirmed nearly 17,000 rooms for $16 million in economic impact.
“For us, recovery does not end with reopening tourism, nor does it end with a COVID vaccine. For us, recovery does not end until occupancy rates rebound, planes are full and restaurants and attractions are busy again. We remain committed to making that a reality, hopefully soon,” Dean stated.