Puerto Rico is open for tourism, as the island’s tourism officials have recently declared. There is no doubt that the island continues to be a tropical paradise with amazing, hospitable people and an accessibility, particularly for American tourists, that beats the need for passports or visas that other Caribbean islands require. However, there are still many who doubt they would be able to completely relax and enjoy their vacation there, and they’re right to question.
The strategy behind promoting tourism to an amazing island as devastated as Puerto Rico has been since September should not focus on first-time travelers or families looking for a tropical vacation.
Without leaving behind the attention to its significant cruise industry, Puerto Rico’s strategy to attract travelers during the first quarter of 2018 should be focused on the diaspora (those Puerto Ricans who have left the island for the mainland but are still very attached to it) and voluntourists, who seek life experiences rather than relaxation, pampering and comfort.
Among Puerto Ricans for many years, the diaspora—those millions of Puerto Ricans who left the island for the mainland in search of a better future—has been criticized for leaving, often being called “vende patria” or nation sellers. For decades, this community has suffered in silence the rejection of those who stayed, often voiced through social media when issues or local policy is discussed.
However, after the September hurricanes devastated the island, the diaspora was the first group to massively step in to help. Since then, the locals have changed their perspective on them (us), expressing themselves differently. For the first time, locals are considering the diaspora their brothers and sisters who just happen to live in the States.
This shift represents a great opportunity for tourism officials on the island to, through communications marketing efforts, make the diaspora feel acknowledged by those who in the past rejected them, inviting them to join the wider Puerto Rican family in the island during this season and the coming months. This is an opportunity to go to social media, where these conversations usually happen between the diaspora and the locals and promote a video campaign in which locals directly invite their extended family and fellow compatriots to come home (#bajapacasa) and get some well-deserved love back. #homeiswheretheheartis
Over the last several years, voluntourism has been somewhat controversial. While many see it as an opportunity to effect change in the world and give generously from their heart, some critics say it could be a way of entertainment that frivolously showcases others’ misery and does not really bring long-term relief.
However, in a grassroots way, there has been a wave of voluntourists who have traveled from all over the States and internationally to Puerto Rico, driven to isolated areas where there is scarcity of help, and brought with them food, clean water, basic goods and support, as well as helped to clean up and rebuild. These have been groups of veterans, doctors and nurses, private citizens and regular people who have found a way. They have done it out of the goodness of their hearts, and not only have they been able to help others, but they’ve also gained unforgettable life experiences.
This type of tourist will still, in the coming months, find ways to make an impact, and, being on a mission-type of trip, they don’t require all the luxury and comfort that a regular tourist might desire. For this type of grassroots tourism, a communications marketing campaign focused on stakeholder engagement in select areas and driven through community leaders would be ideal and fruitful.
Given that Puerto Rico has the longest holiday season in the world—there is nothing like Puerto Rican Three-Kings Day or Día de Reyes parties on January 6th and the famous Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián, starting January 18 in Old San Juan—there is a promising, short-term opportunity to target the diaspora and those with voluntourist hearts, who are looking for life-changing experiences, to visit the island during the first quarter of the year. Knowing both of these audiences are driven by feeling, emotion and conviction, a human-based, grassroots, online campaign that appeals to their core can easily make a difference in arrivals to the island in the coming months and help rebuild its tourism.
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