Today is World Tourism Day, enacted by the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization and celebrated every September 27 around the world. In honor of World Tourism Day, and as I join in on the first day of sessions at the Skift Global Forum, I wanted to share a recent campaign that I am proud of; proud because of the underlying impact it has had, and will continue to have, on an Island we have heard so much about this past year: Puerto Rico.
World Tourism Day is a unique opportunity to raise awareness on tourism’s actual and potential contribution to a destination’s development. Many territories and countries depend on tourism as the main contributor to their GDP, with the industry being an essential engine driving their economy.
And, for Puerto Rico, no less. Tourism is vital and drives 6.5 percent of the territory’s GDP. Not only that, but the industry generates roughly 77,000 jobs that fall within the hospitality and food sectors, as noted by the Puerto Rico Department of Labor and verified by the U.S. Federal Department of Labor. But, it does not stop there. Besides the obvious jobs tourism generates like front desk clerks at hotels, or chefs at restaurants, there are the other vocations that have a direct link to tourism that can be harder to delineate. Think farmers, growing crops that are used at restaurants. Think delivery truck drivers, delivering all kinds of goods and services to restaurants, hotels and attractions. Think linen manufacturing companies, providing tablecloths for restaurants and bedsheets for accommodations. Think landscaping companies, transforming the environment of attractions, hotels and restaurants. The effect that tourism has on job creation alone is immense. It is fundamental to the rebuilding and rebalancing of any economy.
As travelers, it is critical we remember that. We contribute to the lives of many while casually exploring a new destination or taking on a new adventure somewhere. And, the goal of the campaign we launched alongside Discover Puerto Rico, a recently established non-profit organization responsible for marketing the destination, was to communicate loud and clear that Puerto Rico is ready for visitors. Unfortunately, you would not know that from news coverage. And as travelers, it is important to be fully informed before making any decision to travel elsewhere.
It has been a little over a year since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, so it is only natural that news outlets commemorated that occurrence with anniversary stories. However, too often, news stories and social media feeds emphasize the negative events: power grid, FEMA, budget. What has been missing are stories of redemption and recovery and hope for the present and future.
We wanted to change that. While the inevitable cannot always be controlled, a call-to-arms for more balanced coverage of the island by sharing positive milestones is what we set out to achieve.
For instance, did you know that Puerto Rico declared itself open for tourism in late December (just three months after Hurricane Maria)? Did you know that flight capacity is on the rise, and by the end of the year, the destination is poised to be on par with 2017 levels? Or that the Island has more cruises than ever before both homeporting and stopping in Old San Juan? And that for the next cruising season, a record breaking 1.7 million passengers are expected? Right now, there are 132 lodging options, and even more iconic luxury hotels will be reopening within the coming months—there’s significant investment happening in the development of new properties, roughly $1.9 billion, which adds another 2,900 jobs locally.
All of the above are amazing stories we needed to tell, because continued negative stories can dampen traveler perception of the Island’s readiness, which will ultimately impact their willingness to travel there, and thus stifle economic growth. Stories of recovery, resilience, comeback, and progress is one of the best ways to honor the communities impacted. This side of it should be highlighted, too, and there are hundreds of them.
So, we shared those positive stories and visuals through our #CoverTheProgress initiative. Not as an attempt to sugarcoat what happened, because it was, after all, one of the most destructive disasters in U.S. history. But, a lot has changed in the past year, too, for the better. Puerto Rico is an Island full of local business owners, hospitality workers and others who depend on tourism. In speaking with many of them while on the Island, these proud citizens want travelers to experience the richness of the Island’s culture, as well as witness for themselves the strength of residents who make the Island unique.
#CoverTheProgress has been about sharing real-time images of what the Island looks like today, which is in stark contrast to what it looked like last September. And, there is no better story than that of Humacao, one of the Island’s hardest hit communities. Remember that S.O.S. image that went viral immediately after the storm as residents pleaded for help? This community has a much different message to share today, and stood in that very same intersection to deliver it. This time it reads, “Bienvenidos” (Welcome).
Given that today is World Tourism Day, I will leave you with one final thought. When it comes to Puerto Rico, I know the Island looks forward to welcoming visitors with a big “Bienvenidos” given the significant impact Hurricane Maria had on its economy. So, remember, as you consider the possibilities for your next vacation, wherever you decide to go, you are contributing to something far greater than you can imagine.
And if you’re a destination that has faced adversity, be bold and brave. Follow Puerto Rico’s lead and ask media to also #CoverTheProgress as they commemorate the anniversary alongside you.