Carla Campos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC), was in Denver last week for the U.S. Travel Association's annual IPW event, during which the PRTC officially introduced its partnership with the newly established Puerto Rico Destination Marketing Organization. Eight months after Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico, Campos sat down with news editor Johanna Jainchill to talk about the PRTC's strategy to enable the island to emerge stronger than before.
Q: Do you think Puerto Rico could emerge with a stronger tourism product?
A: Without hesitation. We know we have an opportunity to reimagine our destination, to be able to renew our inventory, to strengthen our partnerships with a lot of companies that do business in Puerto Rico. Our recovery plan has had as an ultimate vision to secure a promising comeback and make this an opportunity rather than a crisis. Indicators show that we are on track. The hotels are renewing their product. We will receive more cruise passengers this semester than what we did in same period of time last year; there will be record-breaking passenger figures for May and June. [Three] weeks ago, JetBlue announced that they will return all of their capacity to pre-Maria levels by early summer. It's a testament to increased demand and recovery at an accelerated pace.
Q: Tell me about the plan to bring back Puerto Rico's tourism industry.
A: From the beginning we said, "How do we build back stronger and seize the opportunity?" We are using the opportunity to make sure that we can prepare to have a better product. Out of 15,000 hotel rooms, 12,000 are fully operational and receiving leisure travelers. The other 3,000 are being remodeled. They are all remodeling so that we can rebuild and relaunch the destination.
In October, the St. Regis, El San Juan and the Ritz-Carlton will all come back. That will be very important in our luxury portfolio.
Q: You said the negative media about Puerto Rico's condition can actually be positive. How?
A: This increased awareness in Puerto Rico and the fact that people now know where Puerto Rico is and that it's a U.S. territory and you don't need a passport to go there, that there is easy access from U.S. cities. That puts us in this position to seize the opportunity to capitalize on this increased awareness and convert it into awareness in travel.
There is also an increased empathy and connection with Puerto Rico. We want to tell these travelers who want to help that the best way is to visit us. Spend locally, stay at hotels, eat at restaurants. We don't need aid in the traditional sense anymore. We need the economy to flourish. Tourism is a sector that can enact change immediately.
Q: Just last month, in April, there was an island-wide blackout on Puerto Rico. With hurricane season around the corner, is the island ready?
A: Only 5% of the population is without electricity right now, and those are in the very rural, remote areas. Our whole grid collapsed. We had to build an entirely new grid. At this point, the grid has stabilized. It's supposed to be a better grid; the government is committed to that. Coming into hurricane season, we want to make sure the work is finished. I feel the government has taken the necessary precautions.
Q: When I was on the island in December, so many residents had left the island that some of the spas and restaurants couldn't open. What's the status of the workforce?
A: There was a recently released mobile-data study that mapped out where people were before the hurricane, where they went, and it shows that almost all of them have come back.
(The study by Teralytics said 407,000 left and 360,000 returned between October 2017 and February 2018).