U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has approved the start of direct flights between Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and Cuba, local Ports Authority officials said Tuesday.
LMM is part of a very short list of airports — along with seven others, including John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Los Angeles International Airport, and Miami International Airport — authorized to fly to the neighboring island nation.
The new market opens doors for carriers to launch routes between the islands, something Panamá-based Copa Airlines expressed interest in doing, in a press conference earlier this year.
“We’re celebrating. This is an excellent opportunity for Puerto Rico,” Ports Authority Executive Director Alberto Escudero said. “New routes are opened for travel and without a doubt it will result in an improvement for the air industry, tourism and the economy.”
The approval of the new points of traffic between Cuba and the U.S. responds to the Obama administration’s vow to loosen travel restrictions, to allow students and church groups to travel to the communist country that has been under economic embargo for nearly 50 years.
The CBP’s approval comes a day after the World Economic Forum’s Centre for Global Competitiveness and Performance released a survey ranking Puerto Rico among the world’s 50 most competitive travel and tourism destinations.
Puerto Rico grabbed the 45th position among 139 global destinations — moving up eight notches since the study was last released in 2009 — and the sixth spot as the top performer in the Americas, getting high marks for its regulatory framework, business environment and transportation infrastructure and its human, cultural and natural resources.
“We’re seeing and reaping the rewards of the joint effort by all of the government agencies who are working hand-in-hand to improve the airline industry and tourism. It’s good to see that our efforts is yielding results for Puerto Rico and we’re going to continue improving,” the Ports chief said.
PRHTA sees it as “an opportunity”
The news drew reaction from tourism executives who said Tuesday they knew the time would come.
“We see this as an opportunity for both islands, as opportunities for collaboration would be beneficial to the Caribbean region,” said Clarisa Jiménez, executive director of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association.
“We’re maintaining the same position that we must continue to provide excellent service in Puerto Rico as a destination and continue with the implementation of the Strategic Tourism Plan. That way we will succeed in our quest to position ourselves as a competitive, world class destination,” she said.