The Engima of Puerto Rico Tourism

For me, nothing describes the enigma of Puerto Rico better than it's sorted relationship with tourism. For on the one hand we have our stated goal, which was recently summarized by Governor Luis Fortuño: "Tourism enriches our economy and is a very important focus for us." While on the other hand we have such an ineffective approach to managing our tourism industry that it makes one wonder if there is a coordinated and intentional plan to sabotage that industry.

I remember asking a highly intelligent, well connected, Puerto Rican friend of mine why Puerto Rico wasn't more like Orlando, and his response was "Did you ever consider that Puerto Ricans like Puerto Rico just the way it is?" Now I don't think he was jerking my chain or kidding, so like wine, savor his statement for a while, before reacting.

With recent reports of Governor Fortuño signing eight new tourism initiatives into law, it appears that reform of the Tourism industry is at hand. In this first post on tourism, I'll examine an initiative launched recently by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, again I would like to remind everyone that I don't go looking for things to bash, they come to me. My wife sometimes tells me, "You don't think Puerto Ricans can do anything right," so I guess it does seem like I focus on the negative too much here in Dondequiera. I think for the most part I tend to stick to what I was taught as a child, "If you don't anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." However, what gets my blood boiling is when people make claims that under examination only reveal hypocrisy, vanity, and plain old incompetence .

In my opinion, here in Puerto Rico we accept bad service too easily. I believe the tendency is to avoid a confrontation about "hot" topics like incompetence, bad service, or injustice because we don't want to make anyone look bad. So instead of confronting a situation head-on and calling someone (or some company) out on doing a terrible job, we say "¡Ay Bendito! and let it slide, but then we'll go around to all of our friends talking badly about someone (or some company). Then when presented with the same situation again, we try to navigate around the situation, just to avoid confrontation.

Recently the Puerto Rico Tourism Company announced a new integrated marketing campaign designed to increase awareness and make Puerto Rico a "top of mind" destination. At the center of the initiative is a series of Elliott Erwitt photographs taken during a return trip to Puerto Rico last spring where the world-renowned photographer re-discovered the Islands' essence: romantic, rich in culture and experience.

The $10 million advertising campaign will run on networks like Bravo, Food Network, Fine Living, Travel Channel, CNN and CNBC. Print ads will run in titles like Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, Food & Wine, In Style, Town & Country, and Travel & Leisure. The advertising plan, will run in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta and Miami, consisting of television, print and online webisodes with messaging that evokes a personal connection with Puerto Rico and inspires people to visit the islands.


First of all, and I've said this before, I don't think that big budget advertising campaigns are the answer to reforming our tourism industry. I'd say that advertising is more of the same, and by the way, I'll be getting to the scandal behind us re-adopting "Lo hace mejor" slogan. Now I've not seen any of the print or television ads, although I'm sure they're stunning. Nor have I found any of the webisodes mentioned in the press release. No, I'll be approaching this from a web perspective, specifically the Internet Marketing aspects of the campaign:

  1. Non existent SEO - I hope they take a little bit of the money they are spending and buy their way to the top of any search for "See Puerto Rico", because right now the site they created doesn't even show up when you search for the words in the domain name. Ladies and Gentlemen, you have to try very hard to avoid getting a site associated with the words used in domain name itself.

    In fact, I would submit, only a complete noob would create a web site that couldn't be indexed by the words used in a domain name. Once again, I would point to Adobe Flash as the culprit, but the problem with Flash is usually indexing content inside the movie, I mean you can't even find this site if you search for it. I mean check out the meta name="keywords" collection. Did they leave anything out? Well perhaps one important one "See Puerto Rico."

  2. All rights reserved - Did you know that there is an alternative to the traditional copyright, namely, Creative Commons? On the Flash movie, it clearly assigns the traditional copyright, "All rights reserved" to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC). Now one can assume from that declaration that the photographer Elliott Erwitt transferred the copyright of the images used in the website to the PRTC. So they could license them anyway they want, so the question is: "Why wouldn't they want to "protect" the images?" The answer involves understanding the importance of the Remix culture on the Internet.

    Essentially the logic goes something like this. We assume that the PRTC paid a hefty amount for the world famous photographer to capture these images. Putting a "All rights reserved" declaration on the images only protects them in the United States, those words are mostly meaningless elsewhere. But if they did pay a lot for them, wouldn't you want the most people possible getting a hold of the pictures? If they are, as Jaime Lopez, executive director of The Puerto Rico Tourism Company says:
    "He depicted the true realism of Puerto Rico; he captured our beaches, yes, but he unveiled so much more with images of our rain forests, our architecture and culture that make Puerto Rico so special."
    Then wouldn't you want everyone to have access to the pictures to use as they want, just as long as they promote Puerto Rico as a, how did that go again? Oh yeah, a "top of the mind" destination.

  3. Linking - Now one of the reasons that no one can find the website "See Puerto Rico," is because they don't even link to it from their own website. Go on, go check it out. So riddle me this: "Why would you create a new $10 million campaign and not even link to it from your main website?" Is it sabotage or ineptitude? If anyone has seen any of these ads, can you tell me whether they direct you to the "See Puerto Rico" site or to the main site?

  4. Flash - Again, why Adobe Flash? It takes a long time to load and none of the content gets indexed. When are we going to get over this hammer predisposition, that every website looks like an Adobe Flash nail?
By the way, as soon as I hit publish, I bet this article will be the number one hit in a search for "See Puerto Rico." Why, because Dondequiera is recognized by the search engines as an expert in all things Puerto Rico, in other words, we have a strong search engine optimization strategy that guarantees that our content is indexed effectively. I've also used a few tricks within this post to ensure a high index for the phrase "See Puerto Rico". Get it?

So once again, riddle me this: "Why doesn't the PRTC have a blog which shares information about Puerto Rico?" or "Why does the press link on the have only one news item about No Passport Required?" or "Why doesn't it include a copy of the press release they sent out announcing the See Puerto Rico campaign?" And finally, "What conclusion am I supposed to come to, when you put all of this together?"

¡Ay Bendito! They did the best they could! At least they're trying! No! I'm sorry! If they are going to spend $10 million of our hard earned (and collected) tax dollars, I believe they can do much better. We can and should demand better, and the first step is criticizing them publicly for their shortcomings. I hope you can understand.


Mayra N

22 de diciembre de 2009, 10:59
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All your criticisms are well reasoned, I agree with you. What struck me most were the b&w photos. As artistic expression they certainly are beautiful. But if I'm suffering from the winter blahs, black and white and grey is all I see out my window daily. I want vibrant color, I want shining sun, I want sparkling beaches. You get the "picture."

MC Don Dees

22 de diciembre de 2009, 12:39
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Well, now that you mention it, you have a point. I thought the images were good, but not stunning. As "good" photography, they are a bit on the artsy side. Clearly Erwitt is a Master, but like you said, what people living through a bleak winter want to see is exciting, beautiful, warm color pictures.

Thanks for reading Mayra and sharing your thoughts, they are appreciated.

The Insider

22 de diciembre de 2009, 16:58
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Over promise, under deliver. A formula for disaster.

Instead of throwing millions into a print and video PR budget, why not fix some stuff within? Clean up the trash maybe? Create a reliable method to get tourists from the San Juan airport to the West Coast, perhaps? Make sure public beaches have working and clean bathroom, change facilities?

Western cities like Mayaguez don't have the budget (even shared) to run a daily passenger bus service (free) to get tourists back and forth to the airport? You don't think the money spent by a few hundred travelers would offset the price of gas, maintenance, and driver overhead?

Yes - non-discerning tourists do sometimes fall for the ads and arrive in Puerto Rico, but then have to suffer through the ugliness of urban decay, concrete jungles, anti feng shui, trash-comfortable society.

Result? Why the hell would they return?

Apparently, the marketing guys at tourism didn't understand the translation for "turnover".

Imagine the revenues lost from visitors who will never return, from those who did NOT talk positively about their trip, or downright bashed the experience.

Now you might get lots of first time Caribbean travelers who bask in the heat and are very forgiving of the bad service and unsightly disorder. The the more affluent traveler with an annual budget for sun and fun has lots of other superior options to choose from - and after seeing Puerto Rico - why would then not want to push up the list of priorities places like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, or any of the other popular destinations?

I had a relative visit me in Puerto Rico. They asked if we would considering meeting them in Cuba the following year instead of Puerto Rico! Yes, they experienced Cuba too, and Cuba took care of them. The Hotel Conquistador wasn't enough for them to make the return, even with a family member present there to reduce the cost of their travel. Puerto Rico Tourism... fail...

I would not want to see Puerto Rico turn into an Orlando, although there are many, many things that can be observed and adapted in the logistics of Orlando (theme parks aside).

But Puerto Rico plain and simply has a "losing" attitude. Places like Dubai are building off shore islands and skyscraper hotels in the shape of ships sales.

Puerto Rico can't even install working beach bathrooms, clean up the trash, or keep the fecal coliform out of some of its most popular beaches?


You could take a student from first year marketing 101 in any college in America, and I think they should be able to come up with a better plan for Puerto Rico in about 1 week, compared with the politico appointed jerks floating at the top of the cesspool of ignorance and incapability.

MC Don Dees

22 de diciembre de 2009, 21:27
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Now, now, Mr. Insider, it's not nice to tell anyone that the emperor has no clothes on.

All valid points, some of which I'll get to in this series. However, I'll let you in on a little secret which explains everything.

I'm sure you've heard of Ockham's Razor, well the reason Tourism fails so horrible is because it is nothing but a huge front for politicians and leaders to pay back (pay off) their friends and supporters. Yes, simple corruption, yet very elegantly executed with 100% deniability.

Once again, thanks for reading and sharing your perspective.

Gil C. Schmidt

24 de diciembre de 2009, 12:27
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Here's the Jenius version on this topic: Stupid thieves masquerading as tourism marketing experts blowing $10 million in a way to make Monica Lewinsky take notes.

Don Dees is spot-on in his criticisms and tone. The worst part of this abortion-level campaign is that it is entirely misdirected in terms of market, so a badly-executed waste of money has even a lesser chance of making any kind of positive impact.

Sabotage? Seems to Me you still need a bit of brains for sabotage. I'll call this gross incompetence, or in a simile, Acephalic Monkeyshines.

MC Don Dees

24 de diciembre de 2009, 13:23
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Thanks for popping in and sharing your wit, always welcome.

I'd say you're spot on in the thieves comparison, but miss the point in the gross incompetence. You see for anyone outside of the den of thieves, we assume the objective of the campaign is to promote tourism, but that is just the convenient cover for the real objective.

I bet if we were to do any investigation, I bet that there are no more than two degrees of separation between someone in Ogilvy & Mather or De La Cruz Advertising and either Fortuño or Jaime Lopez. No scratch that, I bet there is direct connection.