As “Despacito” has exploded into a global phenomenon, the glossy image of San Juan presented in its video has no doubt influenced the way the world sees Puerto Rico. In early July, Billboard and local newspaper El Nuevo Día reported that the song was boosting tourism to the island, though those claims have since been challenged by The Washington Post.
Now, however, Puerto Rico may actually see a tourism boom from the global smash. As Univision reports, on Tuesday, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company announced that the record-breaking hit is now the theme song of its upcoming promotional campaign. According to El Nuevo Día, the agency paid Luis Fonsi $700,000 to license the song and his image. Fonsi is also expected to serve as an ambassador for the campaign as he embarks on the next leg of his Love & Dance World Tour.
The announcement comes at a dire time for the island; Puerto Rico is currently grappling with a debt crisis that includes $123 billion in bonds and unfunded pension liabilities, according to Forbes. In a press conference, controversial PR governor Ricardo Rosselló explained that “Despacito” is part of a dedicated effort to improve the island’s economy. “Part of the economic development strategy of our administration is to increase the number of people that visit and stay on the island. ‘Despacito’ presents the ideal juncture to offer a different, safe, and exciting destination to tourists,” he said.
Without a doubt, a tourism boost would benefit the island’s ailing economy. But it may come at a cost, since the video for “Despacito” deals in tropes of island exoticism. It’s safe to say that viewers outside of Puerto Rico may not have context for La Perla, the iconic neighborhood the video was shot in; it is depicted as an endless party, and the video features only a few moments that showcase the life of local residents, offering little space to explore the neighborhood’s history as a home to black and homeless people pushed outside of city walls. Today, La Perla remains one of the island’s most impoverished communities. One hopes that the wealth garnered from a tourism boom would be redistributed back to the neighborhood responsible for the profit in the first place.
The economic impact of the “Despacito” campaign remains to be seen, but as our own Julyssa Lopez notes, here’s hoping tourists “see Puerto Rico as a real protagonist and celebrate the island’s neighborhoods for their cultural contributions outside of a catchy chorus.”