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Puerto Rico tourism achieves record-breaking figures 

The island’s tourism and cruise sectors showed strong growth in the year’s first quarter.

Puerto Rico’s tourism sector data for the first quarter of 2024 showcases “very positive historical figures,” Carlos Mercado-Santiago, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC), said at a news conference with reporters, where he discussed the sector’s growth over the past three “very interesting months,” including the current record in direct employment of 96,000 jobs, an increase of 9,000 since 2021.

Mercado-Santiago described Puerto Rico’s tourism industry as “extremely resilient,” having been strengthened through “emergency after emergency, from the hurricanes and the earthquakes to the pandemic” over the past eight years. 

He emphasized that the latest numbers “overwhelmingly exceed” previous records in key areas such as hotel room tax collections, the recovery of cruise ship visits, new air routes and increased frequencies, alongside greater passenger movement at the island’s main airports.

The Tourism Co. director said an “example of this is the magnitude of the figures in [hotel room] occupation tax collections for the month of March 2024, with a preliminary total of $16.4 million, which makes it the highest collection month in the history of the tax. This figure surpasses the $14.3 million in the month of February 2024 and the $13.7 million in the month of March 2023. The increase in these collections is constant, exceeding the numbers from previous years.”

Mercado-Santiago also highlighted the PRTC’s efforts to boost Puerto Rico’s profile as a hub for air and maritime access in the Caribbean, which has resulted in increased passenger traffic, available seats and markets reached. 

San Juan remains the leader in Caribbean capacity, with a 16% share above Punta Cana and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and Montego Bay, Jamaica, the director said.

Currently, 23 airlines operate 118 direct routes from Puerto Rico, including 86 domestic and 32 international flights, with an average of 183 daily routes offering 21,000 daily seats, “reaching 60 unique markets,” the official said.

It is projected that passenger traffic this year at the island’s three international airports will surpass the record $13.3 million reached last year.

The PRTC has been active at major industry events such as ROUTES, Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA) Jumpstart, the International Tourism Trade Fair (FITUR, in Spanish) and World Travel Market (WTM), leading to potential service launches with Latin American and European operators and significant developments such as Frontier Airlines establishing a crew and aircraft base, which will have a “significant impact on jobs, payroll and the island’s economic development,” Mercado-Santiago noted.

In the first quarter of 2024, announcements included 13 new Frontier routes; the year-round Avianca flight between San Juan and Medellín; “the increase of 10 weekly frequencies from Bogotá to San Juan; the increase in frequencies of Iberia flights between Madrid and San Juan to seven weekly flights for most of the year, and the increase in COPA [airline] flights during the peak summer season,” he said.

Cruise ship sector 
The cruise ship sector also showed growth, with an estimated 545,564 passengers received in the first three months of the year, marking a 3.4% increase over the first quarter of 2023. 

January was particularly active with a 20.6% increase in passengers compared to the previous year. Total projections for this year anticipate an 8% increase in passenger arrivals and a 2.2% increase in cruise visits, for an estimated total of more than 1.4 million passengers on 466 trips from 26 cruise lines.

Similar to air access efforts, the PRTC participated in Seatrade Cruise Global 2024, engaging with top executives from major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Azamara, Norwegian, Disney and MSC. 

Among the most noteworthy developments in the first quarter included the docking in Ponce of the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, for some regulatory inspections, equipment loading and off-loading and final touches before the start of its inaugural season in Florida. There was also MSC Meraviglia’s arrival, the return of summer homeports with Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, and the selection of Puerto Rico to host the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association annual convention in 2025 and 2026.

Royal Caribbean also announced that its new ship, Utopia of the Seas, will dock in Ponce for a technical stop before its inaugural season. 

Additionally, the tourism infrastructure in Puerto Rico is undergoing significant transformations to maintain its competitiveness. These include the repair of the Army Terminal, the dredging of San Juan Bay and new developments such as the first dual-branded hotel by Hilton, the construction of the Hampton Inn in Ponce, the Square District tourism project in Mayagüez, and the opening of the Fairfield by Marriott Hotel in Luquillo.

Mercado-Santiago concluded with satisfaction at “the success achieved in our objective of increasing the reach of the tourism industry for the benefit of the economy and the projection of Puerto Rico as a premier global destination.” 

This success, he noted, is the result of collaborative efforts with Discover Puerto Rico, the Economic Development and Commerce Department, the Puerto Rico Convention District Authority, the Ports Authority, municipalities, trade groups and private sector initiatives.

Author Details
Author Details
Maria Miranda is an investigative reporter and editor with 20 years of experience in Puerto Rico’s English-language newspapers. In that capacity, she has worked on long-term projects and has covered breaking news under strict deadlines. She is proficient at mining data from public databases and interviewing people (both public figures and private sector individuals). She is also a translator, and has edited and translated an economy book on Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis. She worked as an interpreter for FEMA during the recent recovery efforts of Hurricane María and earned her FEMA badge.

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