A scuffle that broke out Tuesday morning between United Tour Guide members and private tour operators when the Disney Fantasy cruise ship docked unexpectedly in Old San Juan could cost Puerto Rico $2 million in products and services and could damage the island’s reputation as a destination, tourism executives said.
American Society of Travel Agents President Daphne Barbeito blasted the UTG and its leader Germán Vázquez for allegedly blocking private tour operators from offering their services to Disney Fantasy passengers, and urged the government to take action.
Essentially, when the ship anchored after being detoured from its regular route due to bad weather in the Atlantic, UTG members blocked the entrance to the pick up area to prevent other bus tours from accessing passengers. Union members allegedly threatened competing drivers, creating a situation that required Police intervention.
“We’re in a democracy, with free trade, and such a self-imposed monopoly by the UTG affects the industry as a whole,” said Barbeito, who exhorted all tourism industry sectors to express themselves on the matter because, “it is not the first time we experience such a terrible situation.”
Through its actions, the UTG also violated Law 173 of 2012 that protects Puerto Rico tour operators, so they are able to provide services to any client company. Transportation companies are authorized by the Public Service Commission and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.
Attempts to reach UTG representatives were unsuccessful Tuesday. However, according to a story aired on Univisión at noon, UTG members said the tour operators lacked permits to offer services, something the Puerto Rico Tourism Company rejected.
The UTG represents about 60 percent of Puerto Rico’s tour operators.
Meanwhile, Barbeito estimated that approximately 45 percent of Disney Fantasy passengers — approximately 1,840 of the total of 4,000 — had signed up for tours, from picnics on the beach with lunch, to kayaking and walking tours at El Yunque.American Society of Travel Agents Puerto Rico chapter President Daphne Barbeito
“The negative economic impact for local businesses that had been hired for the services, is disastrous. Worse still is the image that Puerto Rico offers passengers on the cruise line and the thousands of people who must be reading what happened through social networks,” she said.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association President Ismael Vega also lamented Tuesday’s incident, saying “situations like today are what make us wonder why Puerto Rico lost its place with the cruise industry. We can not afford to lose about $2 million because of the irresponsibility of groups who take away instead of add to our industry.”
“Transportation companies, stores, restaurants and even the ‘piragua’ vendors, to mention a few, are among those who lost income due to this unfortunate incident,” Vega said.
“We ask the government to take action on the matter for the sake of Puerto Rico. These have been dragging these situations with the unions for years and if they’re not resolved in time, can continue to adversely affect the island,” he said.
The Disney Fantasy first visited Puerto Rico in November 2012, making sporadic stops in Old San Juan since. However, earlier this year Disney Cruise Line confirmed plans to use San Juan as homeport four times in 2014 with visits by its Magic ship, which already makes a local stop on Wednesdays.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if Disney decided to cancel its four homeport visits scheduled for 2014. What happened will have serious repercussions,” Barbeito said.
Disney Fantasy’s first visit to Pier 3 in Old San Juan in November 2012. (Credit: www.facebook.com/disneyfantasy)