Is It Safe to Visit Puerto Rico?
Last Minute Travel interviewed Carla Campos, the Acting Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company to discuss Puerto Rico and where the island stands after being directly hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria this past September. Regular media attention with opposing views has resulted in one thing: uncertainty of Puerto Rico’s current status. Carla has answered everyone’s burning questions in order to clear up this confusion.
Last Minute Travel: Why should people visit Puerto Rico?
Carla: Right now is the best time to visit Puerto Rico. We’re officially Open for Tourism, and we’ve already welcomed hundreds of thousands of leisure travelers in the past couple months. We’re seeing more travelers come to the Island as an escape from the frigid cold that many are experiencing, especially because it’s easy and no passport is required for Americans. Tourism is vital to Puerto Rico’s full recovery, and the best way to support the Island is by continuing to visit, staying at hotels, eating at restaurants, and buying from local businesses.
While the Island has endured a lot these past few months, incredible progress has been made. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) just announced major tourism milestones, underscoring that the Island is open for tourism and ready to welcome visitors with open arms. There are 122 hotels, 4,000 restaurants and 120 major tourism attractions open and operating – great milestones worth celebrating as part of Puerto Rico’s comeback.
Lonely Planet kept San Juan on its “Best in Travel” 2018 list for a reason, and that’s because despite some recent challenges, San Juan has so much to offer: everything from beautiful beaches to historical sites and museums, to a booming arts scene, to an amazing culinary scene, just to name a few. Puerto Rico truly has something to offer every type of traveler. We also recently received four nominations in three categories for 2018 USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards; made the list of the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go; landed a spot in the New York Post’s 15 must-visit destinations to have on your bucket list for 2018; and made it onto Forbes’ list of 33 most affordable places to travel in 2018.
Is it safe to visit Puerto Rico post-hurricane? How are relief efforts coming along?
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company continues to collaborate with other government agencies and industry partners to ensure that the vital contribution the tourism industry provides to the economic development of the Island holds steady and continues to grow. The great progress we have shown in the tourism sector is a sign of the resiliency and strength of our people and confidence that travel partners have in us as a destination that has it all.
The capital city of San Juan has been receiving leisure travelers since November 30, and other areas around the Island, like Culebra, Ponce, La Parguera, Mayaguez, Cabo Rojo, Rincón, Vieques and others, are also back in business. Continuing to visit us and supporting our local businesses is the best way travelers can contribute.
How much damage was done to the hotels and where do they stand today?
Currently, there are over 122 hotels operating, which equates to 12,458 available rooms. An exciting 2,670 more rooms will be added to that inventory after undergoing renovations. For example, the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve and El San Juan Hotel. Looking ahead, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company estimates 25% more rooms in the pipeline for development, which equates to 3,800 new rooms. Some of the hotels in the pipeline are the JW Marriott, Aloft San Juan Convention Center, Aloft Ponce, Serafina Beach Hotel and Four Seasons Cayo Largo, among others. Approximately $1.9 billion will be injected into new developments and renovations, which contributes to adding roughly 3,831 new jobs.
Are there regular flights to/from the island?
The airline industry is rapidly restoring and growing. Two weeks after Hurricane Maria, the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport had 20 daily flights, but today, there are on average 110 daily flights. Capacity is on the rise with a current monthly seat volume of 391,000. By July 2018, seat capacity will increase by 81,000 more. Very promising is that by early summer 2018, air access will be on par with levels this time last year, and Puerto Rico is growing at a faster pace than comparable destinations that have gone through similar situations. Growth is driven by newly established routes and existing frequency, in addition to larger aircrafts that will result in higher seat capacity.
What activities/sites are still closed?
A month after Hurricane Maria, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company announced that 22 attractions were open, however, today there are more than 120. Additionally, 13 golf courses and 15 casinos are also open for recreation.
Part of El Yunque, the largest rainforest in the U.S., remains closed for now. This is one attraction that we must allow nature to take its course. For those looking for a thrill, Toro Verde, one of the world’s longest zipline recently open to the public or Cueva Ventana, an enchanting limestone cave set into the side of a cliff, are just a few of the nature-focused options currently available for travelers.
What steps are being taken to revive travel services and how are those efforts coming along?
Puerto Rico is incredibly excited to continue to welcome travelers in 2018. The first weekend of January, the Island welcomed Brian Kelly, The Points Guy and Forbes’ No. 1 Travel Influencer of 2017. Brian brought 15 of his staff, and another nine travel influencers came along to be a part of the comeback. The group experienced the traditional Three Kings Day festivities in Juana Diaz, visited the Puerto Rico Children’s Hospital and helped rebuild the colorful community in La Perla, located on the shore of Old San Juan.
La Perla has become a tourist attraction for visitors looking to get a glimpse of this community where the record-breaking summer hit song “Despacito” was filmed. In partnership with Love in Motion, Local Guest’s non-profit focused on providing the necessary tools and empowerment through hope and education for the development of community-based tourism in the Caribbean region, and in collaboration with the Asociación Impacto Comunitario La Perla Inc., Casa Sol and Wanderlust Tours, we joined local efforts already underway to help revitalize the iconic La Perla neighborhood. With this group trip to Puerto Rico, Brian is hoping to send a message to travelers everywhere that traveling to destinations impacted by natural disasters, like Puerto Rico, is the best way to take in the most meaningful travel experiences in 2018.
We are seeing continued commitment from partners who are choosing to keep their big-ticket events in Puerto Rico, like the DIVAS Half Marathon and 5K, PGA, Ironman, and MLB Series, all events happening in Q1 and Q2 of this year alone.
It is hard to put into words how life changing this past weekend in Puerto Rico was. I was lucky to be able to take a majority of TPG employees and work with @seepuertorico, @ketchumpr and @jetblue to bring some incredible influencers who donated their time to bring awareness to Puerto Rico (it’s safe and FUN to visit!), visit the Bayamon Children’s hospital on Three Kings Day and help clean up La Perla neighborhood. Travel is meaningful when you can actually meet locals, make a difference and have some FUN! While Puerto Rico still has a lot of rebuilding to do, I learned one thing for sure- the people of Puerto Rico are resilient and will never be defined by any storm. 🇵🇷❤️🙏🏼 @lejuanjames @camilaainc @lemomjames @erubes1 @lesleyannemurphy @phiphiohara @theplanetd @beccaden @jri2 @cgccampos
Are there restaurants and beaches that tourists can still visit?
Travelers need not worry about being hungry while on the Island because Puerto Rico has 4,000 operating restaurants. Popular spots like La Factoria (where the infamous summer hit song ‘Despacito’ was filmed), Barrachina, Taberna de Lupulo, Marmalade, and many others are operational and eager to receive new visitors. We encourage travelers to let Puerto Rico re-enchant them.
Puerto Rico’s top beaches, including the San Juan beaches among the most popular tourist ones, were cleaned up just a few days after Hurricane Maria and have been open since. More beaches on the Island like Combate Beach in the west coast and Seven Seas in the east coast are also open to the public! The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources is working hard to make sure all of our beaches stay safe and clean for the enjoyment of beach goers and swimmers. We’re in close contact with the them to ensure we have the latest information on which beaches are open and when others are expected to reopen, so that we can share this with visitors and our industry partners.
Are the roads safe? How about the drinking water?
Yes, the roads are safe! The best way to move around the Island is renting a car. It gives travelers the flexibility to explore the Island and experience the culture through a local lens. We have 24 major car companies open for business, with 84 dealers distributed in the Island.
All hotel properties that have resumed operations and many local businesses in San Juan have safe drinking water and are either connected to the power grid or working on generators to ensure an ongoing supply. As clean-up and rebuilding efforts continue on the Island, we encourage visitors to only drink bottled water as a precaution when venturing off hotel property. We’re in close contact with the Department of Health to ensure we have the latest information to share with visitors and our industry partners on the Island.
Are there any diseases or health problems around the island as a result of the hurricane that people should be aware of before visiting?
No. We are continuing to work closely with the appropriate health and government bodies.
What would you recommend that travelers pack when traveling to Puerto Rico?
Travelers should pack for the activities they have planned! Beach goers should be sure to bring bathing suits and plenty of sunscreen. Adventure seekers should be sure to bring sturdy, flat shoes. Those looking to lend a helping hand while traveling to the Island should bring long pants and long sleeved shirts.
What can people do to keep themselves safe if a hurricane hits and what is Puerto Rico doing to ensure everyone is safe in the case of potential future hurricanes?
The safety of our visitors is an utmost priority for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. Puerto Rico has reached incredible milestones that couldn’t have been achieved without Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s leadership and the immense support the Island has received from travel industry private sector partners since day one. We will continue to collaborate with these key stakeholders to ensure the safety of our visitors. The Island is adequately prepared for any future safety issues pertaining to hurricanes.
During this difficult time, do locals still welcome tourists to visit?
Locals are incredibly excited to welcome tourists and host them at their restaurants, hotels and small businesses. We want visitors to experience the spirit and hospitality of our community and share that with their friends and family when they’re back home.
What can tourists do to help?
The best way to help Puerto Rico is by visiting Puerto Rico. The tourism industry represents 6% of Puerto Rico’s total GDP, and this will be an essential driver in our recovery. Travelers can best support the Island right now by visiting, staying at hotels and other accommodations, eating at restaurants and buying from local businesses.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
For more information including details on open attractions, accommodations, Puerto Rico’s most popular restaurants and more, visit SeePuertoRico.com. And, for information on other Island updates (related to hospitals, ATMs, supermarkets, etc.), visit http://status.pr/.
Though there is still progress to be made, you should not be apprehensive about coming to Puerto Rico. You can still enjoy yourself to the fullest and, by merely visiting, you will greatly help bring the island back to where it was prior to the hurricanes.