Puerto Rico positioned itself 55th out of 141 of the globe’s most tourist-friendly countries listed in the World Economic Forum’s global Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index released Wednesday.
Although the island slipped three notches since the release of the last report in 2013, the change was attributed to a change in methodology applied to this year’s rankings. For the first time, the WEF index measured a country’s branding and digital presence on a global level.
Puerto Rico placed on the high end of those two elements, taking the 20th and 21st spots, respectively. The report also placed Puerto Rico in a favorable position in terms of the government’s priority of the tourism sector (16 out of 141), representing a two-point improvement over 2013’s results.
“Puerto Rico has a good policy and tourism regulatory framework, skilled human resources, experience and knowledge in the hospitality and tourism industry, good infrastructure and environmental regulations,” said Francisco Montalvo-Fiol, Coordinator for WEF through one of its partners institutes on the island, the Puerto Rico Institute of International Competitiveness.
Moreover, he added “the island faces challenges in terms of its operating cost structure, security situation, labor law flexibility and protection of natural and cultural resources.”
Globally, Puerto Rico has an advantageous position in terms of the stringency of environmental regulation (19), quality of air transport (25) and port (22) infrastructures — indicators that drive the competitiveness of the island in the tourism sector.
“We’re seeing great opportunities and great results that we’re very focused on giving continuity to,” said Puerto Rico Tourism Company Executive Director Ingrid Rivera-Rocafort. “The data helps us to identify what we’re doing well, and areas of opportunity that we can use to continue driving Puerto Rico to higher levels.”
Meanwhile, the island faces competitive challenges for the tourism industry including issues of safety and security (101), competitiveness of prices (87) and the international opening (135), when it comes to the island’s opportunity to carry out international tourism treaties. However, that is somewhat limited because of its legal relationship with the United States.
Rivera-Rocarfort attributed many of the negatives to the “perception” of the group that provides local data. She said surveys in which off-island residents participate show that in terms of pricing, Puerto Rico is a “fair value,” something she said is supported by an increase of between 2 percent and 3 percent in hotel room occupancy.
“The statistics we’re seeing are supporting us and people are coming to Puerto Rico based on price,” she said, adding that in general there was a 5 percent increase in tourist arrivals and a 3 percent increase in what they spent during their stays in 2014.
Finding a niche
According to the report, Puerto Rico has a number of competitive advantages over other territories in the America, which it could use to further its grip on niche opportunities, such as medical tourism, said Cristina Cardona, director of global markets for the Medical Tourism Association.
A government-sponsored initiative is already underway, through a project that seeks to certify 47 medical institutions and organizations, 20 hotels and 100 professionals in complementary areas to provide medical tourism services.
“It’s a sector that generates $100 billion annually and has shown 35 percent growth. It represents a magnificent opportunity for Puerto Rico because it not only generates jobs and economic development, but it also establishes quality standards on the island that benefits both local and international tourists,” Cardona said.
The expectation is that in three years, Puerto Rico’s medical tourism sector attracts 30,000 patients, generates 3,000 jobs and pumps $300 million into the local economy, she said.
Spain topped this year’s WEF report for the first time ever, thanks to its cultural resources, infrastructure and adaptation to digital consumption habits.