Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Puerto Rico, which has been buffeted by the Zika crisis and a $72 billion debt crisis, has some good news on the leisure-travel front.

Bookings for the fourth annual Summer Is Easy promotion are outpacing last summer's numbers, according to Ingrid Rivera Rocafort, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC).

"We launched the campaign in April, a month ahead of last year, and it will run through Labor Day," she said. "The intent of the campaign is to promote the destination and drive demand.

"That, combined with our aggressive Zika education program, is working to mitigate any fears visitors may have and to ensure a worry-free vacation during peak summer travel months."

The Summer Is Easy campaign offers incentives such as discounted room rates, free room nights and discounts on attractions and tours through participating wholesalers and other travel sellers. The campaign generated an overall 6% jump in room night sales in May and a 7% rise in June by participating wholesalers.

Bookings through Expedia, one of 17 partners participating in the Summer Is Easy promotion, are running 9.7%  above 2015 bookings.

While the booking picture is bright, the aggressive campaign to educate travelers about the Zika virus has run into rough waters as confirmed cases on the island continue to mount, most of them involving local residents. A statement from the PRTC said that "less than one half of one percent of the population of 3.5 million" had been infected with the Zika virus, and it added that the majority of cases were concentrated in areas away from typical tourist destinations. 

"We've been aggressive in educating residents and visitors re: Zika." Rivera Rocafort said. "Our message is clear: protect yourself with repellent; don't come if you are pregnant or plan to be. We've coupled that with weekly updates and bulletins from the CDC and our Department of Health, island-wide pesticide spraying and public service messaging."

People who travel to Puerto Rico are being told to avoid mosquito bites by using Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellents, wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and staying indoors in air conditioning where possible.

Summer travel will peak in the next month or so, and along with that comes cooler weather, which health officials are hoping will lower the breeding patterns of the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The PRTC is hoping that the early success of the Summer Is Easy campaign suggests that informed travelers will continue to book Puerto Rico.

Tourism officials  already have their eye on the upcoming winter season.

Ingrid Rivera Rocafort
Ingrid Rivera Rocafort

"We want this to be a great winter," Rivera Rocafort said. "Our message to travelers will be: When you think winter, Puerto Rico owns it."

Regardless of the debt issue, Puerto Rico has competitive advantages over other Caribbean destinations, including frequent airlift from the U.S., no travel restrictions, first-class convention and meeting venues and cruise port capacity for mega-class ships.

“The debt will be managed, restructured and supervised and overseen by the U.S. There has been a turnaround now and we have hope that new investors will see Puerto Rico as a viable investment opportunity,” she said.

Meanwhile, key real estate investors have been meeting in recent weeks with Puerto Rico's Economic Development team.

"We hope to have news of new hotel ventures in the near future," Rivera Rocafort said.

This report was updated Aug. 2, 2016, with more information about the Zika virus.

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