I travel so often that it wasn’t until my daughter was 13 or 14 that she figured out that shampoo comes in large bottles too. Because so much of that travel relates to building compelling tourism brands for destinations around the world, I often sit in the plane on the way home and think about how to construct the ultimate travel destination.
We’d start with a tropical island in the middle of the ocean but not too far from the coast of the United States. We’d enjoy wonderful views and the sound of the surf crashing against our beautiful beaches. Plus, our weather would be at its best just when our feeder markets were experiencing their coldest, dreariest conditions.
Inside our island we’d plant lush rainforests with soaring mountains and burbling waterfalls. We’d stock it with vegetables and trees, fruits and flowers, and all sorts of game and exotic creatures.
Because we’d want our destination to attract tourists from all over the world, we’d fill it with beautiful hotels—both large and small. We’d build in all sorts of activities so our visitors will never run out of things to do. And because nearly 80% of travelers say that shopping is one of their favorite activities, we’d establish a vibrant retail sector with shops and malls rivaling those in New York, Hong Kong, and London.
We’ll fill our island with culture—both indigenous and imported. We’ll have museums, symphonies, ballets, art festivals, folkloric dance, and theater. We’ll also have sports – spectator and participatory – so we’ll need to build golf courses, tennis courts, arenas, ball fields, hiking and running trails, BMX courses, swimming pools, and whatever other facilities our tourists are looking for.
While we’re at it, why not make our island as exotic as possible? Let’s speak a language other than English. Let’s offer our visitors food and art and an entire experience that’s nothing like they’d find at home. But in order to ensure their comfort and convenience, let’s make sure that our residents also speak fluent English and that our US visitors can spend their dollars, use their health plans, and depend on the full faith and credit of the United States. And since less than 20% of mainland Americans have passports, let’s make sure passports aren’t even necessary. Otherwise at $165 per application, a family of four would need to spend more than $660 before they even leave home.
What else? Some travelers like big cities while others prefer small towns, so let’s build both. And let’s connect the municipalities with a superhighway system that makes it easy to get around. Let’s also build state-of-the-art airports and seaports to make it as convenient as possible for our customers to visit.
Because so many travelers say they’re looking for an authentic experience, we’ll build historic regions complete with architecture combining the best of both local and European traditions. We’ll have an old town with cobblestone streets, restored churches and forts, and other charming amenities so our tourists linger and learn.
And since we’ve built an island in the ocean, why don’t we surround our island with other smaller islands where visitors can find an even more natural and personal experience if that’s what they want?
Finally, let’s have our residents travel freely and frequently to the continental U.S. and evangelize our brand. Our residents should include sports stars, politicians, musicians, actors, chefs, and just plain folk to spread the word about what a rich, vibrant, worldly culture we offer.
All that’s left is to name our island. If you live in the US on the west coast, my guess is you’ll name it Hawaii. If you live on the east, maybe you’ll call it Puerto Rico. So why is it that Hawaii is one of the leading tourist destinations in the country while Puerto Rico is struggling to maintain its tourism industry? Especially odd when you consider that Puerto Rico is only two to three hours away from 36% of the U.S. population while Hawaii is more that six hours away from only 18%. Do the quick arithmetic and you’ll realize that Hawaii is twice as far away from half as many people as Puerto Rico.
Like the most popular tourism brands in the country – New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Miami – Hawaii’s brand essence is instantly recognizable and understandable. And therein lies its success. As soon as Puerto Rico figures out how to present a compelling, comprehensive, and consistent brand message to the rest of the United States, their fortunes will soar as well. If you’ve seen the economic news about Puerto Rico lately, you can only hope that it happens quickly.