Tourism slowly climbing back in Puerto Rico
Friday, October 13, 2017
The devastation that Hurricane Maria left in its wake will have far-reaching effects on Puerto Rico and its surrounding islands for years. The frightening prospect of no power for months and a lack of basic supplies is resulting in a mass exodus from the island. Puerto Ricans are leaving, perhaps never to return.
In such a scenario, the tourism industry will find recuperation and recovery difficult and slow.
The island depended heavily on tourism for its survival. Nearly every hotel, from the five-star establishments to the roadside inns, is damaged and shut down indefinitely. The staff in some of these places have been laid off for the foreseeable future.
Travel to and from the island is still dependent on a few flights that are operating. Commuting is difficult, too, with most of the roads damaged and under debris.
Left with no option to earn a living, facing starvation and lacking even the most basic of necessities, residents feel they have no choice but to leave their island homes. There is no electricity, no money and not enough aid for the large number of people stranded in Puerto Rico. Those who cannot afford flight fares are waiting for the next ferry that will take them.
With the old electrical grid irreparable and about 8 percent electricity restored in Puerto Rico, things are looking as dark as ever. The island filed for bankruptcy last May. Now, in the wake of Maria, its very survival is at stake.
The world-renowned tourist island of Vieques, one of the few places that was thriving in the otherwise bankrupt state, has little hope for revenue now. Once called the island's tourism engine, it has only a few hours of daylight to get everything done. With sunset each day comes the long night.
No electricity means no refrigeration or air conditioning, and limited cellphone or internet service. It's difficult to attract tourists without these basic utilities in place. Some TV and radio stations have even advised caution to tourists.
Though many are leaving, some still have hope. They are investing in generators to restart their lives and businesses and hold the fort until electricity is back.
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company has stated that they are working hard to restore utilities in the Caribbean destination and that the island is on the road to recovery. They have set up traveler support hotlines and online support portals. In a region reeling with power cuts and zero communication, these are a boon for locals and stranded tourists alike.
The focus is first on everyone on the island, but they are busy formulating a plan to revive the tourism industry. The San Juan International Airport is limping back to normalcy, but it will sometime before it sees traveler footfalls like before. Studies say the island may see some staggering revenue losses, which will include losing out on 700,000 hotel reservations and 1.5 million air passengers in the coming months.
Even with these dire forecasts, some of the hotels are busy restoring their premises and hope to start accepting reservations in the coming weeks. Most of these are five-star brands that have deeper pockets and extensive resources to pour into their hotels.
The local businesses are working with the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA) and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) to assess the extent of the damage and await portions of the regulated resources to get their businesses back up and running. They have faith in the resiliency and strength of Puerto Rico to recover.
Specific neighborhoods like San Juan's La Perla, which was made famous by the “Despacito” video, are working overtime to restore their tourism business. Once known for drugs and violence, this seaside slum saw sudden fame and a rise in tourist footfalls since January. They hope to bring it all back despite the odds.
Wall Street firms that invested heavily in Puerto Rican tourism are reeling from their losses. An Economic forecast by Moody's Analytics shows that the Caribbean island is facing about $95 billion in damage and lost economic output.
The island's economic downturn and then bankruptcy were lucrative opportunities for these investors. They poured in millions of dollars to acquire luxury properties, hotels, condominiums and other real estate investments. Repairs and restoration are issues, but with severe damage to the property grounds and beaches, they may have a harder time luring back tourists to the fold.
Cruise giants Carnival and Royal Caribbean have announced the revival of sailings to and from Puerto Rico. These will offer tangible and positive aid to Puerto Rico's recovery.
Tourism supports more than 60,000 jobs in Puerto Rico, and every move by big travel and hospitality players will make a significant impact on their economy.
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