Puerto Rico tourism, after the street protests

Rio Espiritu Santo Waterfall in El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, which is accessible to visitors.
Rio Espiritu Santo Waterfall in El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, which is accessible to visitors.
Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

How has travel fared following the past few chaotic weeks in San Juan, where massive riots led to the governor's resignation on Aug. 2?

For the latest, I turned to Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, the island's destination marketing organization.

"The biggest financial impact was the five canceled cruise stops," Dean said. "Some stores, including those in Plaza las Americas mall, temporarily closed during the protests but quickly reopened afterwards.

But, he said, "flights, ports, hotels, airports, restaurants, shops, attractions and taxis are operating normally.

"We've been assured by authorities that safety measures, as always, are in place, and we're confident that Puerto Rico will move forward to mitigate the possible adverse impact this situation may have had on ... tourism activity."

Dean called that tourism activity in the last several months "record breaking," and indeed, lodging data indicated that Puerto Rico still is on track to have a record year in tourism; hotel partners reported very limited interruptions during the protests, with demand down less than 1% from the week before the protests began in July, according to Dean.

In addition, the Puerto Rico Convention Center experienced no cancellations of scheduled events.

"Puerto Rico's tourism continues to thrive, and we are not expecting setbacks to tourism beyond those from July," Dean said. "The reality is that political shifts will not impact the experience that tourists have here or the memorable experiences we offer. We are open for business and are welcoming tourists every day."

Earlier data indicated that the destination was on track to set records this year.

The number of room nights in hotels and independent rentals in Q1 increased 17% over the same period in 2018, and revenue through May totaled a record $445 million, according to STR.

The island received 1.7 million air arrivals at its airports in San Juan, Ponce and Aguadilla in the first four months of 2019, the highest number of airport arrivals in that timeframe to date, according to tourism officials.

The destination annually receives more than four million air and cruise visitors each year, but 2018 numbers are still not available due to the hurricane recovery and incomplete visitor counts.

The projection for cruise arrivals in 2019 is 1.8 million passengers, which would be an increase over the 1.65 million passengers in 2018.

No projections are available for the stayover visitor count for 2019.

Helping to boost all arrivals next year will be the opening in early 2020 of the District San Juan, a five-acre hospitality and entertainment area that will be located near the Convention Center. Anchored by a 50,000-square-foot covered central plaza, the venue will host special events, nightly fireworks and daily programs with live performances, DJs, bands, dance shows and comedy acts.

The District will offer a rum microbrewery, several restaurants and bars, eight movie theaters, an urban zipline experience, a Puerto Rican coffee shop, a kids activity area and a nightclub.

Another of San Juan's many attractions for visitors is El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service system. While recovery within the rain forest continues from the hurricanes, some trails, recreational areas and services now are accessible to visitors, including Rio Espiritu Santo Waterfall, also known as Salto Guzman. A full list of trails is available.


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