A new day is dawning for the embattled tourism promotion industry in Puerto Rico, as CVB veteran Brad Dean, who helmed the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce as CEO for 15 years, is set to take the reins of the newly created Puerto Rico Destination Marketing Organization (PRDMO).
The private-sector, not-for-profit 501(c)(6) DMO was created via legislation in March 2017 and will manage a $25 million annual budget to promote and sell the U.S. territory on both the leisure and meetings sides. The PRDMO is basically the merging of responsibilities of the island’s previous promotion bodies, Puerto Rico Tourism, which targeted leisure travel, and Meet Puerto Rico, which handled the meetings side.
The new job Dean will start in late April 2018 is certainly not without its challenges. Puerto Rico has recently weathered everything from massive storms, namely November 2018's devastating Hurricane Maria, the damage from which still has the island’s infrastructure flickering in and out in many places, to a Zika virus outbreak in 2016.
There's also the seemingly entrenched political and economic troubles to contend with.
Why would a DMO executive veteran that was set in a high-paying job—in a destination he was instrumental in developing—take a more than 25 percent pay cut to rally an island that has fallen on hard times?
“I don’t do easy,” Dean said. “It’s three things for me: I started my career in Puerto Rico early on in manufacturing, and fell in love with its people, and met my wife and got married there.
“I’m reversing course to bring back more business and investment to the island, and my wife will be close to her family,” Dean added, referencing that the manufacturing job at the beginning of his career involved off-shoring jobs from Puerto Rico to Mexico. “I’ve always believed in the transformational power of travel.
"Travel, if it’s promoted right, can create careers, strengthen communities and deliver prosperity, and right now there’s no one that needs prosperity more than the American citizens of Puerto Rico, so it was personal and professional for me," he added.
Dean, the first hire of the PRDMO and who expects to officially start the position in late April 2018, with the official start date of the DMO being July 1, 2018, has his work cut out for him.
“The to-do list is growing by the hour, it seems,” Dean said with a laugh. “I have three urgent priorities:
- Puerto Rico is a remarkable destination and it deserves a remarkable sales and marketing effort, and that starts with the people. The goal is to hire the best talent we can attract. It’s kind of like being a new team in the NBA expansion draft, but we need a few LeBron Jameses.
- To swiftly and effectively address perception issues and connect with our customers and our potential customers with an accurate and timely message. The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria is coming up; I can’t influence the power grid but I can affect the narrative.
- While this is a start-up DMO, we know we have to transition away from being a government agency and get some quick wins. We have to establish an effective transition plan from the government agencies and also optimize any short term results—then we accelerate the recovery of Puerto Rico.”
Although his leaving Myrtle Beach is bittersweet, as he grew the combination chamber of commerce and CVB from an organization with a $4 million budget to one that has $54 million annually as of this writing, Dean said he is heeding somewhat of a higher calling by taking the Puerto Rico job.
“At the end of the day we are all called to have an impact on the lives of the people around us., "he said. "I felt there was no opportunity that was as special [as] to change lives and create an era of prosperity for Puerto Rico.
"If Puerto Rico is going to come back we need the travel industry to drive that," Dean added. "That was part of the challenge, and part of the appeal, of this opportunity.
“For me this is not about money," he concluded. "It’s about a unique, once-in-a-career opportunity to create something special, and [it's] great for my wife [to come back] after following me around for 25 years.”
[Related Content: Brad Dean Named Puerto Rico Tourism Chief]