Op-Ed: Tourism is our main comeback tool and we all must protect our destination
A few days ago, The Guardian published a serious but accurate story about the aggressive and reckless behavior displayed by some of our nonresident tourists.
While the article emphasized the lack of police enforcement as a key concern, it poorly reflects on our destination, potentially affecting the 6,000 businesses and 80,000 employees in our 17 industries that are working hard to trigger a healthy rebound of the tourism sector.
Most certainly, it’s a very troubling situation, but it’s a reality — and we all must assume ownership of the problem and establish countermeasures to mitigate its impact in our fragile economy. We know that there are limited police resources, and other surveillance agencies like the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, are in difficulties. So, if we want to recover tourism and protect our businesses, we must collaborate and contribute to minimize these deviations.
Last Friday, I took a little tour through Condado, Loíza St., and the Convention Center, and there were many non-residents walking in groups and without masks. Also, there were groups of young locals, without masks. On the other hand, most restaurants and stores appeared to be following the health and safety guidelines brought by the pandemic.
Then, when travelling back to Cabo Rojo, along Route 2, I saw several small businesses, full of people — inside and outside — and drinking in groups, without masks. There was a gas station selling liquor to go that had more than 20 cars parked there and several groups outside, having fun, without masks. These events were normal on a social Friday afternoon, prior to COVID-19. But now, it’s a NO-NO and puts all our businesses in danger.
At this point, and five months into a phased reopening of the travel and entertainment sector, we cannot continue to assign responsibility for these disgusting events to the ultra low-cost airlines. Similar situations are occurring in other destinations in the Caribbean, and personal observations indicate that noncompliance in Puerto Rico is not exclusive to nonresidents.
Throughout the pandemic, the press and social media reported multiple incidents of large local groups having parties at independent short-term-rentals.
Based on the strategies that Discover Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company have been implementing to stimulate tourism, along with the reopening of the Aguadilla and Ponce airports on April 1st, we’re projecting a strong summer season in most regions, in addition to San Juan. So far, several indicators reflect that the first semester of 2021 will be close to the first semester of 2019 — our best tourism year in a decade.
We Puerto Ricans are quite hospitable, and we want to attract and welcome as many responsible visitors as we can. Therefore, we must up our act and be prepared.
At Combate Beach Resort as well as other small inns, we’ve reinforced our security systems and protocols, and trained our staff to provide education and friendly reminders to all guests, and if merited, take the necessary steps to ensure compliance at our hotels, restaurants, and surroundings. So far, it’s working, as more than 98% of the guests desire and want to have fun in a comfortable, safe, and healthy environment.
All tourism-related businesses were severely hit in 2020, and cannot absorb a setback in the reopening program, due to a minority with a reckless behavior. Paradores de Puerto Rico are committed to do our part at our properties, and we’re encouraging all business owners and the municipal agencies to step-up to the plate, and responsibly do their part.
We all must lead by example — our families, employees and communities are counting on us to protect our destination.
Puerto Rico needs a rebound of our travel and entertainment sector to have a sustainable economic recovery post COVID-19.