In recent months, Puerto Rico has taken visible steps to regain its footing after Hurricane Maria and a debt crisis had halted its tourism momentum.

The work has emphasized making it easier for potential travelers to plan trips, correcting visitor misapprehensions, and helping the travelers who do come to navigate experiences while they’re on the island.

At an event in San Juan on Friday, officials described two additional efforts by the island’s new tourism board — the building of a trip concierge mobile app and the creation of a business intelligence tool for island professionals.

These new efforts follow initial first steps to figure out what work would produce the quickest and biggest return on investment for tourism. Boosting the island’s digital presence on travelers’ preferred online platforms was a key finding.

An August 2018 audit of about 6,000 providers of accommodations, food, and attractions by Foundation for Puerto Rico found that only 39 percent of hotels island-wide made it easy for potential customers to email them. Only 19 percent of attractions had websites. About one in four venues had filled out their TripAdvisor listings.

A field study of businesses along Calle Loíza in the Santurce district of San Juan found that many retailers and restaurant owners weren’t active in free digital marketing via platforms preferred by visitors like TripAdvisor, Google, and Airbnb Experiences, said Arnaldo Cruz, director of research at Foundation for Puerto.

Many businesses also weren’t providing consistent and up-to-date, English-language information on opening hours and other basics.

IMPROVING ONLINE DISCOVERY

Stakeholders prioritized making it easier for businesses to tell the world about their offerings via the most popular online channels. So the Foundation has debuted ViewPR, a visitor information and experience warehouse of Puerto Rico.

The tool is free for vendors and suppliers to use. It maintains up-to-date information on the experiences Puerto Rico has. The effort replaces a lengthy and time-consuming process for the owners of businesses. It gives developers an API (application programming interface) to use for automated data-sharing. As of today, ViewPR lists 713 accommodations, 2,004 attractions, and 5,664 gastronomic options.

SEEKING MOMENTUM
The island’s steps build on earlier changes. In July, the island separated its tourism board from direct government control, with a new branding as Discover Puerto Rico that emphasizes recovery and renewal, as was highlighted by Carla Campos, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, at Skift Global Forum in New York City in September.

By the first half of 2019, the island aims to debut a My Puerto Rico app. The app will use the hotel operations software of Expedia-owned company Alice to enable visitors to the island to text questions to concierges and tourism experts. Sample query: “I’m at Toro Verde. Where’s good to eat around here?”

There will be a cost to participate. But the first dozens of hotels and other visitor economy companies that sign up will receive discounted subscriptions for the first year of participation to test if the Puerto Rico Tourism Company effort, facilitated by Roca Marketing, is worthwhile.