Driving Tourism Growth Through Sustainable Destination Management

Carla helped us explore sustainable destination management and how it can be used as a catalyst for development.

To introduce the session, Carla covered six key points to help us understand how Puerto Rico drove tourism growth:

1. Integrated approach to management. This implies understanding the interconnectedness of the industry and its stakeholders.
2. Don't let a good crisis go to waste. Embracing crisis as a catalyst for growth can be scary and intense, but if when played smart can generate unprecedented momentum. For example, they have used social and political challenges as an advantage by being on headlines and leveraging visibility in the news.

In this keynote, Carla Campos, former Tourism Minister for Puerto Rico and Sustainable Tourism specialist, helped us explore sustainable destination management and how it can be used as a catalyst for development, especially amidst crises and turmoil.

To introduce the session, Carla covered six key points to help us understand how Puerto Rico drove tourism growth:

1. Integrated approach to management. This implies understanding the interconnectedness of the industry and its stakeholders.
2. Don't let a good crisis go to waste. Embracing crisis as a catalyst for growth can be scary and intense, but if when played smart can generate unprecedented momentum. For example, they have used social and political challenges as an advantage by being on headlines and leveraging visibility in the news.
3. Sustainability is more than a term. Sustainability pillars, when integrated as a management approach, yield higher benefits than initiative centred programmes. Sustainable Product Development, as a complement, generates momentum. It is necessary to consider environmental conservation through social and cultural development, addressing the biosphere, the society and the economy.
4. Practical idealism as a guiding principle. Navigating politics, hardships and resistance is part of the inextricable reality that must also be managed.
5. Quick to assess and quicker adapt or change. Deeply rooted institutional flaws require swift attention and reasonable remedies. The public and the private sectors are responsible for different management tasks and we must take advantage of each's strengths.
6. Know-how can't be improvised. Assembling a well-equipped and experienced team is the best resource.

Carla then provided a deep dive of what the previous points meant for the destination. When they assessed the situation in 2017, there had been two decades of anaemic growth, which was the result of a growth which wasn't planned. She highlighted that some of the factors which influenced this anaemic growth were that Puerto Rico is more expensive compared to other Caribbean destinations and that it isn't an all-inclusive destination.

The identity challenge was a project to try and get people to identify Puerto Rico and its offering adequately, and thus, be able to attract more tourism.

Regarding the destination’s readiness, Carla highlighted that the destination had a diversified economy and had an inclusive product offering, in the sense that it included and benefited many stakeholders, which in turn made them be ready for growth. Thus, it was a matter of figuring out how they were going to grow in a sustainable way.

She explained that the four years after that were a crisis-ridden reality, with one crisis following another, with the Zika virus, economic turmoil, hurricanes, earthquakes, civil and politic unrest and, finally, the COVID pandemic. All of this called for constant adjustment and modifications based on the situation, which employed a solid crisis management plan.

Carla exemplified some of the issues that the destination has tackled with:

1. Lodging  supply inertia. San Juan is one of the most stable and resilient lodging markets in the U.S. but had an experiences anaemic supply growth. The length of stays was usually of 2.5 days, and tourism centred in main hubs, which caused the strategy to build new rooms, attract tourists to other attractions other than beaches and create more activities so tourists would extend their stays.
2. Institutional inefficiencies. Lack of consistency in marketing efforts as a result of governmental transitions, which meant that the focus on management was not a priority and resulted in a lack of ease of doing business. This was solved by creating a publicly-funded Marketing Organisation which exists independently and autonomously, which has resulted in the destination having the same marketing strategy for 4 years now.
3. Management as a new norm. Crises should be used as catalysts for growth, which requires a proactive approach to planning for these and responding in a timely way.
4. Local involvement lacking. 30% of annual room registrations correspond to residents, but the local spend is of $0, resulting in an all time low service quality as they aren't able to enjoy it and be proud of it.

She then highlighted that Puerto Rico is outpacing most tourism destinations in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, being the most vaccinated place in the United States.

After Carla's presentation concluded, the session took a discussion format during which Nick asked her a number of questions. He asked about what it meant to be in her position and how she found the resilience within herself and the industry.

When you see record-breaking room tax revenues after reorganising Zika in 2017, that was very rewarding and it keeps you going. At the same time, I'm incredibly proud of the work that the tourism company are doing right now [...], there is continuity in the efforts, which are yielding results now.

She also highlighted that using data and anchoring yourself in science can be the best solution. She exemplified this with hurricane Maria, a category 5 hurricane that went through the middle of the island. They started planning as soon as they became aware of the hurricane's approach to the island, which allowed them to prepare a destination recovery plan before the disaster hit.

Key Takeaways

1. Crises can be taken advantage to generate unprecedented momentum of the destination.

2. Timely adjustment and modification of the strategy based on unexpected situations can speed up recovery and minimise disruption.

3. Importance of engaging and informing stakeholders as soon as possible for recovery after a crisis.

Published on:
December 2021
About the contributor

Carla Campos

Carla Campos is an accomplished travel & tourism leader with over 13 years of experience in sustainable destination management and marketing.