The Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association called Gov. Luis Fortuño’s decision to move Mario González-Lafuente from his Tourism Company post to the head of the Roosevelt Roads Redevelopment Authority project a “grave mistake” that will affect the sector’s recent progress.
In a statement issued late Monday, PRHTA Chairman Ismael Vega said González-Lafuente’s work as Tourism Company executive director has been “commendable, and has been recognized by the PRHTA and the industry in general.”
“At the PRHTA we believe it would be an unwise move for the tourism industry as we were beginning to see positive results from the [agency’s] efforts and such a change will be adverse to the continuity of this work,” said Vega.
“At this point in the administration’s four-year term, it is a decision that will do irreparable harm to an industry that has not recovered in recent years, and therefore to the island’s economy,” the hotelier said. “This kind of untimely change breaks the continuity of the government’s efforts, a determining factor that has prevented us from creating a brand for the destination.”
Fortuño said Monday he will recommend González-Lafuente, to head Roosevelt Roads Redevelopment Authority, while announcing he will issue an executive order establishing that the public corporation will now also report directly to La Fortaleza.
“With the transfer of 1,350 acres of land in the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Base on Jan. 26, efforts to redevelop the former military base take on a higher priority and enter a new stage in which, beyond planning and conceptualization, call for developing and marketing a treasure that is now in the hands of our government,” Fortuño said. “There is no one better to lead that effort than the official who, in the midst of the deepest and most widespread recession in our history, successfully led efforts to bring Puerto Rican tourism to their highest levels of economic activity.”
Under his leadership, Puerto Rico is now the fourth destination in the hemisphere in terms of hotel occupancy rates.
González-Lafuente would finish his tenure at the Tourism Company after the Puerto Rico Open taking place in Río Grande ends this Sunday. But before shifting gears, the Roosevelt Roads Redevelopment Authority must approve the appointment.
If that were to happen, the PRHTA asked Fortuño to also keep González-Lafuente at the head of the Tourism Company, “although the industry would prefer it if he remained focused on the sustained and consistent development of Puerto Rico as a tourist destination.”
The redevelopment plans for the Ceiba property call for establishing the so-called “Caribbean Rivera,” a mega-tourism complex at the former base that comprises hotels, cruise ship facilities and other attractions. The project would also establish a natural reserve on 3,340 acres of land.