There has been a flurry of conspiracy theories regarding part one of my series on my familiarization trip to Puerto Rico. Unbeknownst to most, I have absolutely no vested interest on Puerto Rico except to share my account of the trip based on what was given for me to work with. On a personal level, I feel that Puerto Ricans are great hosts and can carry wonderful conversations over great meals. I am indebted especially to Olga Bonnin, Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s (PRTC) liaison, for being receptive during the entire trip, even though the upper tier in the hierarchy of PRTC may have not shared the same sentiment.
However, if the itinerary that the Puerto Rico Tourism Company did not represent the “real” Puerto Rico, then it is easy to argue that someone certainly did not do their job properly in organizing the trip. I worked with what I was given and based on my professional opinion, the article, “Puerto Rico, It Is What It Isn’t” ( http://www.eturbonews.com/21102/puerto-rico-tourism-it-what-it-isn-t ), is an accurate account of my four days spent in Puerto Rico. I have since written two more articles as part of the series that I still am hoping to end with my interview with Mario Gonzales Lafuente, a request that was scheduled and confirmed for January 15, 2011, but ultimately cancelled, then again requested on January 16, 2011, the eve of my departure from San Juan, through Olga Bonnin, who said she would re-schedule the interview. She has not contacted me to confirm whether the interview she said was going to happen will indeed happen or not.
Contrary to some of the arguments about my first article, eTurboNews (eTN) has no vendetta on Puerto Rico. It may come as a surprise to some that it is actually the other way around. We are not “using” Puerto Rican blogger Raul Colon. As a matter of fact, we have several sources from Puerto Rico who have contacted us and/or provided photographs of the animal cruelty and beach erosion problems in Puerto Rico. I have held on to these pictures because I want Mr. Gonzales Lafuente to first acknowledge these issues then make an official statement regarding them. He, as a public official, owes this much to his constituents, who themselves are raising these issues! eTN has simply acted as the catalyst for the ongoing discourse between Puerto Ricans themselves about these issues.
eTN has NEVER claimed that the problems of animal cruelty and beach erosions are EXCLUSIVE to Puerto Rico. It is a topic that is trending on eTN because of the simple fact that people are talking about it. We are still in the process of information gathering, so until a person of authority dispels or makes an official statement, these issues are not simply going to disappear. What might end up happening should Puerto Ricans decide to stay mum about these issues is that we may not be left with any other option than to publish these disturbing pictures sent to us as a form of warning to potential tourists. Seeing a horse run over by a car on the street and it needing to be euthanized is something that will taint a tourist’s memory of Puerto Rico. This was one of the pictures sent to me on the day that I visited Toro Verde, the eco-tourism adventure park that is undeniably going to place Puerto Rico on the sports tourism adventure map. I will write about my experience in Toro Verde in another article because when the Puerto Rico Tourism Company says “Discover Why Puerto Rico Does It Better,” it is without a doubt that zip-lining at Toro Verde is one aspect of tourism that they can say they do indeed do better.
I had hoped to be able to meet with Mr. Gonzales Lafuente at ITB Berlin, because contrary to one of the comments that was made regarding my first article, FITUR is NOT the largest travel exhibition in the world. ITB Berlin is. It was quite shocking to find that Puerto Rico’s only presence there was via Sixt Car Rental. No stand, no representative, and most definitely no Mr. Gonzales Lafuente.
Most importantly, I want to be clear that I do not dislike Puerto Rico as some have so awfully misconstrued. In many respects, I can relate to Puerto Ricans because I, too, come from an island. I have found that Hawaii and Puerto Rico share so many similarities, even that ambiguous “island mentality” that may or may not be a good thing in terms of tourism. On a personal level, the trip was excellent. It is on the professional level that I am having a bit of a conundrum. The itinerary devised by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company simply did not do Puerto Rico any good. Where was that disclaimer form for the San Sebastian Street Festival? Remember, visiting this event was set up by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, not my personal decision. If I was a visitor from New York City and wanted to go to San Juan to relax and avoid the crowds, I would have had a panic attack with the sight that I had seen. I would be lying if I said getting out of the festival was a breeze. It was difficult because of the sheer number of people and for someone who is claustrophobic; they would certainly have had a panic attack. It certainly brought out the beast out of one of the ASTA staffers who cursed to high heavens as she pushed her way through the massive crowd. Of course, alcohol may have played a factor in her behavior as well, but who knows? Demure, she wasn’t that night of January 15, 2011.
Then, there’s the preposterous argument that the article is mean-spirited. Again I am going to say that if that is how the article came across, it is because that is what the PRTC gave me to work with. If I had not been proactive in confirming my flight with United Airlines 48 hours before my departure, I would have not known that my Honolulu to San Juan, and San Juan to Houston, Texas, flight segments were cancelled. I was not informed that I was no longer on the “to-go” list. Had I not checked with United, I would have shown up at Honolulu International Airport on January 11, 2011 for my 5:10 pm flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, via Chicago. What is mean-spirited is the fact that I would have shown up for a cancelled flight! I, of course, contacted the ASTA communications vice president Kristina Rundquist to find out if she was aware of the situation and several email exchanges were made subsequently. She assured me that I was still going on the trip and that she was going to contact PRTC herself.
On the morning of January 11, 2011, I had not heard from either ASTA nor the PRTC, so I ascertained that the trip was a no-go, which is a shame because Zimbabwe had expressed inviting me to Harare for the same period to “see the changes” from my previous trip.
Then, I got an email from Yesenia Nazario from Key Solutions Public Relations, which I am assuming is the PR agency hired for arranging the trip. The email contained an itinerary for travel later that day (at 6:00 pm) on a different airline. The receipt on the itinerary showed that the reservation was generated at 10:00 am January 10, 2011. Interestingly, Kristina Rundquist had said “I just learned that today, January 10, 2011, is a holiday in Puerto Rico, so no one is in their offices.” If no one was working, how did this itinerary magically get booked?
The email came less than 8 hours before my scheduled flight. Now, that to me is mean-spirited. “We really want to apologize for all the inconvenience this has caused you,” said Yesenia Nazario in a separate email. “We really look forward to seeing you in Puerto Rico this week, and we hope you have a great experience.”
Ms. Nazania added: “Also, on a positive note, Annie Rodriguez just informed us that the [Puerto Rico] Tourism Company arranged the one-on-one interview you requested with Mario Gonzalez. It will be Saturday morning, after the round table.”
So with the flight ordeal resolved, on the trip I went. Still with a very open mind and very much looking forward to that interview with Mr. Gonzales Lafuente.
Undoubtedly, Puerto Ricans are very passionate people. It’s in their blood, it’s in the very core of their being, and it’s in their history. It is a known historical fact that San Juan’s El Morro Fort was the site of many battles, after the king of Spain in the late 1500s and early 1600s had set up a post to guard “Puerto Rico” (translated in English as Rich Port), as he believed that whoever controlled what would then be referred to as the “Head of the Caribbean” would essentially control the vast richness of the entire region. Now a tourist attraction, El Morro Fort is the site where “English soldiers in 1598 and Dutch in 1625 attacked,” claims an information plaque at the site. It was a bloody site where thousands of defenders and attackers died “fighting battles that shaped the New World.”
In today’s terms, Puerto Ricans are still somewhat in a fighting mode. The conflicts are sometimes about minor things, sometimes serious; but mostly among themselves and not involving tourists. I was told that just this past Christmas, a man had set his family’s home on fire killing everyone in it including him. Now, whether they admit it or not, the discourse about animal cruelty and beach erosion are issues among Puerto Ricans themselves. eTN is simply acting as the medium to facilitate such discussions.
In case you’ve missed it, my series on Puerto Rico has so far included:
I want to end this article by quoting the highly-regarded former president of the World Travel & Tourism Council, Mr. Jean Claude Baumgarten. In our recent interview, I asked Mr. Baumgarten what advice he considers to be the most valuable based on his 11 years at WTTC. He answered: “Keep your commitments.” Perhaps, the PRTC should take heed.