By Brad Kane
When South Windsor-based TicketNetwork decided to launch a Spanish-language version of its sports and concert ticket exchange Web site, company officials thought primary customers would be Hispanics living in America.
Instead, the new site — SuperBoleteria — became a destination for Spanish speakers from all over the world to get tickets to U.S. events. While 99 percent of TicketNetwork’s tickets are sold to Americans, 60 percent of SuperBoleteria’s tickets are purchased by people from Spanish-speaking countries.
“Mexicans tend to travel a lot to the United States,” said Crystal Astrachan, manager of business development for SuperBoleteria.
TicketNetwork soon will expand SuperBoleteria beyond events tickets and provide hotel, restaurant, transportation and other travel products for Spanish speakers unfamiliar with American destinations, Astrachan said.
“What we can eventually become is a company that puts together travel packages,” Astrachan said.
In launching SuperBoleteria and subsequently enhancing its offerings, TicketNetwork tapped into the booming power of the Hispanic market; not just based in foreign countries, but in Greater Hartford and the rest of the U.S.
The purchasing power of Hispanics in Connecticut has reached $9.9 billion, a 325 percent increase over the past two decades, according to a study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, which used 2009 data.
This population segment’s purchasing power throughout the United States hit $951 billion in 2009, accounting for 8.9 percent of the entire country’s purchasing power. By 2013, Hispanic purchasing power will grow 45 percent, double the rate of the non-Hispanic population.
“Companies need to look at how they are reaching the Hispanic market,” said Sebastian Aroca, managing partner for Miami-based Hispanic Market Advisors. “The U.S. has the second largest Spanish speaking population in the world.”
In Connecticut, 479,000 of the state’s 3.4 million people are Hispanic, representing 13.4 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census. The growth rate for the Hispanic population in Connecticut is 12 times the non-Hispanic population.
Hartford is a particularly strong Hispanic market. In 2000, Hartford had 49,260 Hispanic people. By 2010, that number grew to 54,185, making up 43 percent of the city’s population.
“The population shift is definitely historic,” said Werner Oyanadel, acting executive director for the Connecticut Latino & Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. “Still, we do not get the calls from businesses seeing how they can take advantage.”
Puerto Ricans make up the largest percentage of Hispanic residents in Hartford. According to the 2010 census, 41,995 Hartford residents are of Puerto Rican descent, up 39,586 from 10 years prior. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra is of Puerto Rican descent.
Because of Hartford’s largest Puerto Rican population, JetBlue Airways in January launched new non-stop service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.
“There are a lot of ties to Puerto Rico to the people of Hartford,” said John Checketts, JetBlue director of route planning.
Depending on the success of the San Juan non-stop, JetBlue may add other Caribbean destinations in the next three years, Checketts said. That could build toward other direct service to Cancun, Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia, although those would be a longer way off.
“It is important that we continue to grow market share,” Checketts said.
Connecticut’s growing Hispanic population resulted in a boom of Hispanic-run businesses.
The number of Hispanic-owned firms operating in Connecticut reached 14,081, according to the 2007 economic census, which was released in 2011. The number of firms increased 49.7 percent from the 2002 economic census.
Over the same time period, sales at Hispanic businesses increased 98.4 percent and the number of employees at those firms increased 35.5 percent.
Nationally, the growth rate of Hispanic-owned businesses is double the country’s rate, according to U.S. Census.
The Hispanic economic boom means businesses need to start preparing to better serve this market, Aroca said. Company websites should offer a Spanish-language version; the content should be catered to Hispanic needs; and businesses need to develop in-roads to Hispanic communities, through chambers of commerce and trade groups.
Most importantly, companies need employees who speak Spanish, Aroca said. Depending on the products companies sell, having Spanish speakers is paramount to interacting with customers on a comfortable level.
At TicketNetwork, hiring bilingual English and Spanish speakers is important for SuperBoleteria’s development. The company operates a call center, and it is important that Spanish-speaking customers be able to get their issue resolved at the same level as English-speaking customers, Astrachan said.
“We are always looking for Spanish speakers,” Astrachan said. “That’s very important to serving these customers.”
The number of bilingual English and Spanish speakers in the Connecticut workforce is small. An estimated one in 20 residents — 180,854 people in the state — speak both Spanish and English well, according to the U.S. Census.
Astrachan said TicketNetwork is constantly looking for people who speak both languages for its call center, as the company needs to serve its growing audience of Spanish speakers. The company has at least 10 openings paying a premium of $12 an hour for operators and will hire any more available.
Source: Hartford Business Journal