To paraphrase philosopher John Dewey, a mobile society is full of channels promoting change, and its members must be educated to adapt to those changes.
His comments speak to a group of people, right here in Puerto Rico, who are influencing change by educating others about our Island.
Think of Puerto Rico as a product. And the first link in the channel that connects our spectacular Island with leisure travelers is the travel advisor. Even in today’s internet era, when consumers can book airlines and hotels with the click of a mouse or the touch of a button, the world’s million or so travel agents are regularly relied on for their knowledge and expertise, especially when individuals are unfamiliar with or overwhelmed by their leisure travel options.
Their role in helping consumers decide on where and when to book a trip is becoming even more critical in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Complicated by varying requirements or guidelines with respect to vaccinations, mask wearing, social distancing and COVID-19 tests, the business of booking is trickier than ever.
And that is why our team at Discover Puerto Rico, the Island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), has further increased our focus on educating and building strong relationships with travel advisors as part of our work in promoting our incredible, sun-kissed Caribbean paradise.
When COVID-19 closed in-person meetings with travel advisors here on the Island and at U.S. or international trade shows, we went exclusively virtual – offering dozens of webinars and promoting our Puerto Rico Travel Expert Program with incentives to complete online training courses to keep Puerto Rico top-of-mind with independent travel advisors and those affiliated with major travel consortia, or organizations like ASTA, IATA, CLIA and others.
These courses have been wildly successful in turning travel advisors into experts on Puerto Rico, as 20,500 advisors have enrolled in and over 11,000 have graduated from our Puerto Rico Travel Expert program since its inception.
Based on experience conducting online educational webinars about Puerto Rico in the past year, I see just how valuable they will continue to be, even after COVID-19 becomes a distant memory. Unlike in-person trade shows, where you can meet one or a few advisors at a time, we have virtually “met” up to 300 travel advisors at once during a 45-minute virtual conference, an extremely efficient way of showcasing the rich history and culture, exceptional food, pristine beaches, majestic mountains and countless other attractions of Puerto Rico.
Complementing our team’s work in promoting the Island through webinars, social media and live online events, Discover Puerto Rico also invests in select co-op partnerships (such as Costco, AAA, Virtuoso and other consortia) that enable us to share in the investment of directly accessing their members, and drive traffic to the various booking channels available to them.
These targeted efforts are always important but were especially meaningful during the pandemic so that consumers – eager to travel again and seeking advice from travel advisors – would be inspired to come to Puerto Rico as soon as they could.
And who would not want to come to Puerto Rico? As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has none of the restrictions often associated with other Caribbean destinations, such as passports or a COVID-19 test requirement to return to the mainland. That means it is a lot easier to come and go from our Island, and we made sure travel advisors were informed every time pandemic-related restrictions changed.
I am thrilled to report that… our team’s hard work has paid off! According to data from Global Distribution System (GDS) sources that track results based on bookings by travel agencies, our 2021 second quarter results are showing a growth during the recovery, and reporting from our co-op efforts in most cases are well ahead of second quarter results from 2019.
We have been relentless in our outreach to travel advisors and have bolstered our interactions with them through education, social media, e-blasts and webinars. And we will continue to keep whispering in the ears of any travel advisor we can find; as more people get vaccinated and begin traveling again, they will be looking to travel professionals for suggestions for an easy trip to an amazing destination.
That, of course, is Puerto Rico.