From his first job in his grandfather’s small hotel in Puerto Rico to rising to head of the island’s tourism agency, Milton Segarra sees destination marketing not as a job, but as a lifestyle. Now, he’ll take his skillset—honed by recent challenges in Puerto Rico—to entirely new market: Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, where he begins as CEO this week. Connect caught up with Segarra about what describes as a chance to “continue moving forward.”
What’s one memory from Meet Puerto Rico that you’ll look on fondly?
In the last five years, Puerto Rico went through big challenges. The Zika seclusion was hard. Then, the economic crisis has been another factor. And then [there were] the two hurricanes that affected Puerto Rico this year, especially Maria. We had back-to-back-to-back challenges. And even though we’re talking about negative things that happened in Puerto Rico, what I enjoyed the most is how well the destination came back stronger. We were able to put a plan in place that everybody felt ownership [of], and everybody was committed to make it happen. I think those are the part of the characteristic of being a winner.
What are your first impressions of the Mississippi Gulf Coast?
I know there is a product and I know there is a potential to grow the brand. But what really struck me the most was the kindness and the commitment of the people that I met. I saw a very deep, intense, honest, transparent desire to make things better for the entire Gulf Coast.
What new strategies and ideas do you think you’ll bring to Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast?
I’m going to be meeting with the stakeholders, the political leadership in Jackson and especially with the staff, which has been doing a great job, and we’ll take it from there. I have seen many things that have been done tremendously, but nowadays, two years in this business is what used to be five-to-ten years planning. The idea will be to try to innovate to understand what is the unique thing that the Gulf Coast can offer to make a very different experience. Once we find what I call the “emotional benefit” of the brand—which generates trust, which generates loyalty from visitors—then we’ll step up the number of visitors and the economic impact into the community.
What are some of the major differences between Meet Puerto Rico and Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast as organizations?
We’re talking about two different [locations]. One is a Caribbean destination, the other is— even though it’s a coastal town—it’s within the mainland. It’s part of a very competitive Gulf Coast—from Louisiana, Houston, Alabama and obviously the panhandle in Florida. What we need to do is to make sure we solidify the position within that particular region, but also start expanding the reach and certainly the visitation from other areas in the States, and perhaps some international destinations as well.
What will fuel tourism growth?
In order to make sure we bring in more visitors and [generate] more economic impact to the Gulf, it’s important to [work] together. One of my first priorities will be to try to visit as many community members as possible. I want to know exactly what they think and what they want for the region. You cannot try to do something that the community doesn’t like. It’s important that I have not only their input, but I also have the responsibility to share with them what I would like to do.