Op-Ed: Tourism’s great dilemma — Achieving sustainability amid a destructive lawlessness
Puerto Rico tourism capabilities are being attacked from multiple angles, threatening our ability to continue growing and expanding in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Recently, a municipal legislator and a small group of San Juan merchants were complaining about the newly enacted Municipal Public Order Code. While the new Code addresses multiple important needs, their claim focused on the new requirements and restrictions applicable to businesses selling alcoholic beverages.
We have also witnessed the abandonment, destruction and brutal attacks on our natural wonders in the southern and western regions. Meanwhile, a state legislator, along with various investors in the tourism sector, claim that we should all “PLAY FOR THE TEAM.”
So, as we see these and other recurring events, we must ask ourselves: Which team are these people playing for, or referring to?
As a local entrepreneur in the tourism sector, we propel the continued growth of sustainable tourism, for the benefit of all residents, communities and businesses in the 78 municipalities.
During the past five years, under the innovative leadership of Discover Puerto Rico (our DMO) and the Tourism Company, we have enjoyed exponential growth in tourism activity, becoming the benchmark for North American post-pandemic recovery, by reaching record numbers of nonresident travelers that are injecting more than $8.5 billion to our economy annually and employ more than 93,000 people in the sector. Today, every municipality includes tourism in their main economic development strategies.
Simultaneously, this success story has attracted dozens of irresponsible and unscrupulous people to the sector, creating significant challenges for our people, requiring immediate intervention from the government agencies.
Amongst these, thousands of commercial activities and lodgings flourished without the corresponding permits and licenses, along with significant issues like gentrification, environmental violations, noisy activities and improper solid waste disposal. Furthermore, we have seen an increase in serious and unfortunate accidents and crimes involving tourists, while the tax collection effectiveness has been greatly diminished.
We already have the laws, regulations and ordinances to address these and other known gaps. Unfortunately, our legislative process is heavily influenced by powerful interests, while 85% of the tourism operators are small businesses; our monitoring and regulatory agencies have been severely weakened; and the justice system is slow, cumbersome and dysfunctional when investigating and prosecuting unlawful tourism-related activities. This combination has fostered an environment of anarchy and impunity, benefiting a privileged few.
Puerto Rico is an inclusive, friendly and diverse travel destination with thousands of awesome attractions and restaurants. It also needs and welcomes all responsible investors and has the systems to incentivize new capital investment.
Nowadays, tourism has become one of our key strategies to generate economic activity and to create new jobs in the short and medium term. Therefore, we shall and must protect our assets and continue amplifying tourism.
So, it is imperative that we all — industry, academy, government and trade and nonprofit organizations — collectively join toward one goal: improve our game by properly funding our DMO, strengthening our attractions and service quality, and raising the level of regulatory compliance, always focusing on the common well-being of all our residents and constituents, especially for our future generations. OUR TEAM IS PUERTO RICO!