From Adjuntas to Yauco, these incorporated cities and towns – and the barrios that comprise them -- are our lifeblood. They are where we live, where we work, where we play… and for the island to be economically viable, they are where tourists come to immerse themselves in our culture.
One of the reasons I love my job at Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), is that I work hand in hand with mayors, tourism directors and businesses in our 78 municipalities to share their stories with the world.
While most travelers know about our luxurious beaches and San Juan’s cosmopolitan treasures, they are also eager to learn about our hidden gems – like the magical waters of Coamo’s hot springs or the legendary floral exhibits in the central mountain town of Aibonito, nicknamed Puerto Rico’s Garden. A personal favorite of mine is quiet Santa Isabel, where I live in a mountaintop home with amazing views of the Caribbean Sea. It’s a relaxing diversion from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Identifying and publicizing Puerto Rico’s diversity is important because I believe it distinguishes the island from other Caribbean destinations. People come to Puerto Rico because of our distinct and amazing culture. And that culture fosters memorable experiences that will last a lifetime.
The information we gather from mayors and other representatives of our municipalities is used to populate our website, and often is part of advertising and promotional content we use to attract potential visitors to our beautiful destination. This is always an important role, but it became even more so when most travel halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our job changed in an instant – from enticing people to travel now, to encouraging them to keep Puerto Rico top-of-mind for future travel, when safe to do so. That is a subtle but important distinction, and – with our municipalities’ help – it has worked: research reveals that interest in our island, as well as bookings, are on the rise.
I’m proud of the work we do at Discover Puerto Rico. And by helping potential visitors “discover” our island, we have also helped Puerto Rico “recover” – from hurricanes, political unrest, earthquakes and most recently, COVID-19. Helping steer the island’s recovery and to positively impact the “visitor economy” is our purpose and the driving force behind our organization.
It was also our impetus for creating a Municipal Economic Development Guide, a detailed handbook that offers sales, marketing and communication tools to assist mayors, tourism directors and businesses to better serve – and connect with – the tourism sector. We’re hearing from them that it is useful in promoting municipalities, igniting economic growth and propelling the creation of additional jobs.
As we continue to work hand in hand with municipalities and other stakeholders, we have the potential to take Puerto Rico tourism to another level. Currently, tourism accounts for about 7 percent of our gross national product (GNP), but I feel certain that this will grow even higher as more people, across the globe, identify Puerto Rico as a dream destination.
Travel has the power to transform the lives of visitors. But even more importantly, it can make a dramatic and positive impact on the lives of those of us who live in Puerto Rico, whether or not they are directly involved in the tourism industry. Tourism has a halo effect, bolstering the economic performance of other businesses and individuals who benefit from it.
I see it every day. And as the world recovers from COVID-19, we’ll all see more of tourism’s impact on our lives in the weeks and months to come.