Puerto Rico puts its faith in ads, airlift and agents

Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers talked with Milton Segarra, executive director of Puerto Rico Tourism Co., about the incentives put in place to stimulate travel to Puerto Rico in the post-Sept. 11 period. Her report follows:

uerto Rico is safe, secure, close by, loaded with airlift and ripe with possibilities for getaway weekends and stress-free winter breaks. That's the message industry officials are pushing as Puerto Rico gears up for the high season during a decidedly abnormal shoulder season.

A new $15 million image and ad campaign was launched in late October, the first such campaign for Puerto Rico in three years. Puerto Rico Tourism Co., which came up with the campaign and its theme of "You're Not Dreaming, You're in Puerto Rico," also introduced a redesigned Web site at www.gotopuertorico.com. The site replaced www.prtourism.com.

Puerto Rico map. The campaign and its components are designed to make Puerto Rico an easier sell for agents and consumers, according to Segarra. "The campaign theme plays on the destination's possibilities for adventure tours and travel and cultural experiences," he explained. "Our role since Sept. 11 has been to assure that Puerto Rico maintains its exposure and presence in the minds of agents and those they book."

As a response to the terrorist attacks and to provide agents with a sales mechanism, tourism officials came up with a threefold stimulus initiative. Prior to the launch of the ad and image campaign was a short-term newspaper blitz in 15 key U.S. markets that carried the message: "Puerto Rico, Open Arms. Puerto Rico, We're right next door."

"Our purpose was to show the people of the U.S. that we were with them," Segarra said. "This was not the time for an aggressive campaign, but we wanted to send a message of empathy and sympathy. We lost 800 Puerto Ricans at the World Trade Center."

Next came incentives for the island's tourism industry. These included a 50% reduction in the airline jet fuel tax for a 90-day period through Feb. 15 and reduced landing fees for commercial airlines.

Electricity bills for PRTC-certified hotels and paradors were cut 20% through January, and a wage subsidy to prevent further hotel industry layoffs was implemented. Segarra reported that the tourism initiatives appear to be working: The booking pace is on the rise, occupancies have increased and feedback from the stimulus packages is positive.

How well tourism is faring will be seen in visitor figures and hotel occupancies during the holidays and winter travel season. Segarra said PRTC's Fly Free promotion, which offers 9,000 free airline tickets to clients booking inclusive plans through participating wholesalers, "will provide a good base for the winter season and increase momentum to travel."

More than 50 hotels islandwide are participating in the promotion, valid through Dec. 15. Two free roundtrip tickets on American, ATA, Continental, Delta and Spirit Airlines are offered with packages of five nights or more, booked through nine wholesalers. Another incentive includes cash prizes for agents who book Puerto Rico is Fun packages between Jan. 13 and Feb. 23 for travel from Feb. 3 to April 15.

"PRTC is committed to action," Segarra said. "Our sales reps have doubled the amount of calls in the last two months. "We're doing road shows for retailers, presentations to wholesalers and have stepped up our schedule of fam trips. We're not leaving a stone unturned."

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