Michelle Vilas Pica

Michelle Vilas Pica, Marketing Director of Discover Puerto Rico

Soon after I moved back home to Puerto Rico in 2017, after Hurricane Maria struck… I knew I had made the right choice to return.

Seeing the widespread devastation throughout the Island I love, I felt I had found a purpose: to be part of a community devoted to rebuilding and restoring Puerto Rico. And I’m proud to be playing a role that matters in that regard, with the Island’s destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico.

My family made its own “discovery” of Puerto Rico in 1965, when my parents immigrated to this Island from their native Cuba. As a first-generation Puerto Rican, I grew up in – and continually embrace – our unique culture, one that I believe distinguishes us from other Caribbean destinations.

Still, as a teenager about to embark on adulthood, I wanted to spend time soaking up other cultures, too. After graduating from a local high school, I chose to go stateside for college in Washington, D.C., and then enjoyed a five-year career in brand marketing with global beauty brand L’Oreal in the marketing capital of the world: New York City.

As much as I reveled in those experiences and grew confidently in my chosen profession, I never wavered from the belief that I would someday return to my Island. Of course, I missed being with my parents and siblings, but I also yearned for the charms that make Puerto Rico so special – like journeys with my family to the islands of Culebra and Vieques; early morning runs to Old San Juan, or dining on “frituras” at local restaurants in San Juan.

Still, when the hurricane wreaked havoc on the Island, I temporarily wondered if I’d been wise to move back. But those doubts didn’t last long. Seeing our citizens, of all ages and backgrounds, joining together to pick up Puerto Rico’s broken pieces and put it back together again, I had to be part of the solution.

And – happily – Discover Puerto Rico, which officially opened its doors in July 2018, needed someone with my skills and experience to serve as marketing director. I believe it was the perfect job for me, at the perfect time – for my career and for the Island I so desperately love.

Created and funded by the government, but operated as an independent organization, Discover Puerto Rico has one primary purpose – to encourage visits to the Island. Tourism has always been a vital part of Puerto Rico’s economy, and it continues to grow in importance – providing about 7 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP).

In the wake of the deadly hurricanes, and through civil unrest and even earthquakes, interest in Puerto Rico as a destination has grown internationally, and Discover Puerto Rico is a key reason why. I’m thrilled that my area of expertise – marketing – has been instrumental in that growth, as our organization worked diligently to create a brand identity and positioning for Puerto Rico that has resonated with consumers and the travel industry experts who influence them.

2019 was one of Puerto Rico’s best years for tourism ever, and we were positioned to do even better in 2020 … and then COVID-19 shut down our Island, and indeed most of the world.

Our challenge evolved from encouraging visitors to come now, to keeping Puerto Rico top-of-mind for people when they are able to travel responsibly. That has sparked all of us at Discover Puerto Rico to exercise our marketing muscles in new ways, such as creating more than 20 virtual tours of the Island so that curiosity-seekers can still experience our wonders, even when they couldn’t be here in person.

As Broadway star and activist for Puerto Rico, Lin-Manuel Miranda, once said, “Nothing is better for your soul than to visit Puerto Rico.” He’s right. But, naturally, I believe with all my heart that there is one thing better for your soul – and that is to live in Puerto Rico.

Through my work, and my private life as a proud resident of beautiful San Juan, I’ve never been more optimistic about the Island’s future. And my future, too.

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