13 April 2009

(Un)Welcome to Puerto Rico!

You are about to take a much-needed vacation and want to head for the Caribbean. Makes sense. I live here, so the attraction is undeniably high. You whisk your merry way through the GoogleNets and find three offers:

---Four days and three nights in a Jamaican seaside villa; $448 for two, afternoon cocktails tossed in to lubricate your whistle.

---Six days and five nights in seashore resort Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, all-inclusive, two persons, king-size bed: $688.

--Three days, two nights at the Rincón of the Seas, for two adults: $749, plus tax.

Okay, choose.

Uh-huh. I hear you, mon. Merengue and steel drums are calling!

Now before My brethren here on the Island start bitching, I am not saying that Jamaica or the Dominican Republic are "better" than Us. What I am saying is that they have been consistently drubbing Our butts when it comes to price/value for vacationers and We have consistently been screwing up what was once Our world-class tourism position.

Local hoteliers moan and complain that We simply cannot compete with other islands because Our wage structure is much higher than theirs. And that's true. The average hospitality industry wage in Puerto Rico is about $11.40, whereas the average for the major Caribbean islands is closer to $4.00. So yes, We pay more for Our people.

But Our people suuuuuck when it comes to earning that pay with service.

A few examples: Airport personnel who refuse to speak English; cab drivers who openly refuse to take on "short" fares; maids (that's what they are and there's no shame in that) who criticize guests while cleaning other rooms; desk personnel who know almost nothing about Our Island or its amenities... The list could--and does--go on. When to comes to service, to being of service and providing service to others, We act as if doing so violates Our integrity and humiliates Our souls. We confuse service with servility and act accordingly.

No I don't mean everybody, of course, but the number of "servility phobics" is so large and so common to encounter that it tinges everybody. Year after year, intra-island tourism is swamped by stories of beds not made, unclean rooms, restaurants closing at 3:00 p.m., dry pools and a whole slew of other complaints that boil down to one simple conclusion: It ain't worth it. And if you can't even convince your own people the stay is any good, how do you convince others?

Back to prices. Local industry players say that service is better "over there" because tips in (once)good U.S. of part of A. (vapid)dollars--when compared to local wages--are very good. That argument sounds nice, but it neglects two simple points: Tips are not required, they are earned. And tips are mostly relative to established prices and service needs. A dollar a bag in one place is $4 a bag in another. So, no, the "tips theory of lazy service" doesn't convince. It serves as an excuse and I don't know about you, but I am freakin' tired of Our excuses.

So you're on the InterTubes and see those three offers: Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. $448, $688 and $749. Yes, you compare the quality of the hotels (Rincón of the Seas is rated at 4 stars.) You add up the travel costs of getting there and back. And you read the comments of people who have stayed at each place and--yes, you know this is true--you base your final decision on what place has the best reviews.

And once again, you'll find We suuuuuuuck at the new digital world of tourism.

Our Tourism Company has about $22 million a year (or roughly $160 million in the past 8 years), of which almost 60%--ye gods, six-freaking-ty per-freaking-cent!--have been spent on TV ads and magazines. This egregious waste of money flies in the face of the rising trend--now topping 60% in most States--of travelers heading first to the GoogleTubes to check out travel information before doing anything else related to their travel plans. When most of your customers are looking online and finding increasingly negative reviews of your offering, it makes sense, doncha think, to spend your money right where they are looking.

But no, We sling ads on cable TV and glossy magazines that sit on bookshelves. And then when We get visitors here, We slap sneaky taxes on their tushies (about 14% worth, all told), treat them like they are a problem and then We wonder why the Dominican Republic is the #1 Caribbean destination--the championship spot We used to own.

By any measure of geographical beauty and variety, Puerto Rico is a wonder. But instead of developing--extending, really--Our culture of hospitality, We've strangled it with greed and misplaced vanity. Instead of being proud of what We have and how courteous We can be as hosts--hosts, damnit, not "servants"--We literally thumb Our noses at Our guests. And instead of a cohesive strategy to develop the industry and present it to the world in all Our shining glory, We have sycophants and dunces at the helm of a Caribbean Titanic.

Only We're the iceberg, too.

The Jenius Has Spoken.


Anonymous said...

Well written... Gives me a lot to think about... especially since I want to visit PR within the next 2 years.

When we were last there, the maids ate the uvas that we had left on our dresser. And left the empty bag there. No shame at all.

GCSchmidt said...

Ramona, may I remind you--gently--that I will be here in the next 2 years? (You might want to get the Vegas numbers on that, but I'd bet on Me...)

Notice how the whole trip is encapsulated in a small act of petty theft. And now it's online, with the only rebuttal being "The Jenius Lives Here"...