Puerto Rico

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Sports Tourism: a Big Player in Puerto Rico's Economic Recovery

15 Jul, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Experts Say the Island Has Multiple Advantages, But Can Do More to Leverage Itself

When it comes to getting media attention for its debt, Greece is the word. But Puerto Rico, too, has been struggling financially – and tourism (including sports tourism) might be one essential  lifeline – if, that is, the island can take sufficient advantage of it.

Puerto Rico has a $73 billion debt load that even Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has admitted is unpayable.

And while recovery will take intervention from many different directions, it’s time, say some pundits, for tourism to become a bigger player in the game.

The island could be a much more powerful tourism destination than it is, according to the New York Times; many of its Caribbean neighbors, including the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, attract more visitors. Puerto Rico has a large pool of educated and bilingual workers. It simply needs an economic plan that plays to those advantages.

Puerto Rico has been working to draw in visitors, and one essential part of the equation has been its marketing of itself as a sports destination. The island has been actively drawing attention to its facilities, year-round warmth – and the fact that U.S. citizens do not need a passport in order to travel there. (This differentiates it from the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, which require passports of U.S. travelers  – as well as from Cuba, which not only requires passports but allows travelers to enter only under 12 specific categories of authorized and documented travel, including humanitarian, athletic, educational, academic and people-to-people programs.)

So far, there have been strong indications of success. Puerto Rico plays host to one leg of the FINA Diving Grand Prix and USA Diving will be alternating its USA Grand Prix between Fort Lauderdale and Puerto Rico starting in 2016.

Additionally, in recent years, Puerto Rico has welcomed a variety of major sports events; many of these have signed on for future events as well:

Milton Segarra, president & CEO, Meet Puerto Rico, is confident about the Island’s capacity for meetings and events related to the sports market.

“In addition to being the premier destination in the Caribbean for meetings and conventions, Puerto Rico is on the rise as a world-class destination for sporting events. Our destination has a history of hosting international events, and coupled with our solid sports tradition, renowned athletes and our enthusiastic people, we are well-positioned to accommodate most any sporting event,” Segarra says.

One thing event planners fear in an island destination is being unplugged or ‘off the grid’ and as a result, Puerto Rico is also marketing itself as the digital-savvy destination with the development of a new app to help planners find their ideal venue on the island.

According to an article in Successful Meetings, Meet Puerto Rico launched Meeting Matchmaker, an app modeled after traditional match-maker Tinder. It shows users a plethora of potential matches. However, instead of mates, the matches are venues that may match up to various meeting formats, such as large group, beach, casino, adventure, etc. Each "match" is linked to a selection of venues based on the amenities, products, or services they offer. The app is being formulated to add functionality so that sports event planners can find appropriate venues for their upcoming tournaments in the near future.

"Meet Puerto Rico tries to stay ahead of and on top of the trends, and we offer what our planners need before they ask," says  Segarra. "Meeting Matchmaker is a time-saver and a good way to showcase our destination in an easy and fun way."

Overall, Travel Weekly notes, the tourism sector is performing well across the board in stayover arrivals, hotel occupancy and cruise passenger arrivals. While the economic fallout from the financial crisis could be severe, it is not expected to have much impact on tourism, said Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

“We have successfully worked to improve attractions, enhance our cruise piers, open new hotels, attract investors and increase airlift over the past three years and we will continue to do so,” Rivera Rocafort says.

Segarra adds that despite the dire economic news recently, no group has cancelled yet.

But, says NASDAQ, Puerto Rico needs to continue its evolution in order to remain competitive in the tourism market. The number of hotel beds on the island has changed little from the 1970s, and tourist arrivals are down over the past decade, according to a report Puerto Rico's government released recently by Anne Krueger, a former top official at the International Monetary Fund.

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