These are sun-filled days for Discover Puerto Rico (DPR), the island’s official destination marketing organization. Puerto Rico was one of six Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) nations to surpass its pre-pandemic visitor arrivals numbers in 2022.
The visitor surge has continued in 2023, as post-outbreak wanderlust has combined with the island’s expanding air links, its array of attractions and a diverse resort base to drive visitor arrivals to record totals.
TravelPulse spoke recently with Lean Chandler, DPR’s chief marketing officer, to discuss DPR’s strategy as it navigated the country’s tourism industry through pandemic-imposed challenges.
TP: How did Puerto Rico’s tourism industry perform in 2022?
LC: We had another incredible year in 2022. We’re so thrilled to see tourists respond to the marketing of the DMO has been activating over the last few years.
We had a record number of passenger arrivals coming through San Juan and a record number of people employed [in] tourism and hospitality in Puerto Rico. It’s now the highest ever at almost 92,000 people.
This speaks to the importance of the work [DPR] is doing alongside our private industry partners. We’re generating a lot of economic value from tourism and have started off really strong in the first quarter as well. We’re hoping to continue the momentum through the rest of the year.
TP: How did the Puerto Rico Sunshine promotion impact the island’s tourism?
LC: Puerto Rico Sunshine has been an awesome activation for us. It was in January of 2022 that we started talking about this concept and it really ballooned into something I think so much bigger than any of us anticipated.
Our partnership with Pantone last year [created] the first color inspired by the color of Puerto Rican sunshine. We actually worked with a physicist here in Puerto Rico who helped us measure the shades of the Puerto Rican sun throughout the day. The color that we landed on was derived mostly through those rich orange tones in sunrise and sunset.
TP: Did the campaign exceed expectations?
LC: Yes. Since then, it’s kind of taken on of a life of its own. We launched the partnership with the Pantone Color Institute and went on to form a partnership with fashion designer Christian Cowan, who developed a beautiful couture piece that he debuted at New York Fashion Week.
We rolled that into lots of other partnerships with local vendors here in Puerto Rico [including] our own nail polish and a line of sandals.
TP: How does the Sunshine Route tie into Puerto Rico Sunshine?
LC: The Sunshine Route is a map of locations throughout the island where you can not only stop in and visit businesses that have the sunshine products, but also the best places [to] see sunrises and the sunsets across the island.
We have a few more to come [with] lot of legs with the partnership. We’re just going to rock on with it. We’re just seeing lots and lots of interest and excitement.
TP: What is new in the key city of San Juan in 2023?
LC: The opening of Distrito TMobile in August of 2021 triggered the explosion of what is a new San Juan, juxtaposed against the historic [district]. San Juan for sure is going to continue to be a cornerstone of all the marketing we do as a destination. But [DPR is] keeping in mind the importance of developing a tourism product that is sustainable for years to come.
TP: So DPR is also highlighting other areas of the island?
LC: Yes. We have 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico and those other 77 municipalities also have incredible tourism [experiences], from dining to outdoor recreation in the only rainforest in the U.S. forest system, to bioluminescent bays and the central mountain region’s coffee haciendas.
We are highlighting communities throughout the entire island. [Visitors] can have a different experience every single day in Puerto Rico no matter how long they’re on vacation.
TP: How did Discover Puerto Rico leverage this focus on Puerto Rico’s diversity?
LC: It’s where “Live Boricua” was born, this idea that we can “own” a word. Boricua is the indigenous name of Puerto Rico and can only be used here by Puerto Ricans. We’ve really leaned into this idea of values-based tourism. Yes, tourism is drinking a pina colada on the beach, but it can be so much more than that.
TP: How is the destination positioned in terms of airlift in 2023?
LC: We recently saw Frontier Airlines launch a number of new routes. We’re seeing the airlines give a vote of confidence to the destination by adding significant routes from markets that haven’t been added in the past, [plus] markets we have already serviced but maybe not from those specific airlines. So I think that’s a huge indicator of the success we’ve seen.
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