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Puerto Rico’s booming tourism follows a curve quite different from the US Mainland

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Hazel Heyer , eTN  Dec 06, 2007

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (eTN) - The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, fondly called the Island of Enchantment, is showing exponential growth in the tourism sector, since the government’s more active involvement in an industry beyond the traditional economic powerhouses dominated by coffee, rum and pharmaceutical exports. In tandem with the state, the private sector has taken the lead in advancing the progress of tourism trade.

Tourism in Puerto Rico has seen dramatic changes in recent years producing the result of over 5 million visitors in 2006, with 87 percent of the traffic coming from the Continental US, 3.5 percent from the Caribbean, 1.3 percent from Central and South America and 2.9 percent from Europe. Tourism generates an economic impact of $3.4 billion, employs nearly 60,000 people and makes up 7.1 percent of the island’s GNP.

Although the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) World Tourism Barometer reports that Puerto Rico experienced the heaviest declines in overall traffic at -7 percent until May 2007 (second only to Cuba and St. Lucia, both at -8 percent) despite the Caribbean island being excluded from the US Western Hemisphere Initiative passport requirement, Puerto Rico’s Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila reports the island has today surpassed most of its competitors as a destination.

During the first Puerto Rico Tourism Investment Conference held in the capital city December 4 to 5, 2007, the governor said the mere fact that the number of travelers through one of the major international airports has reached 5.7 million - translating into 1.7 million more than the 4 million people living currently on the island, is a positive enough sign. To this regard, he alluded to his administration’s commitment to one goal: to position Puerto Rico at a level of global competitiveness.

One of Acevedo’s thrust is to turn the local tourism industry into an engine for economic development. Calling it New Tourism, he said they have secured Puerto Rico’s standing not only as the leading Caribbean destination, but also as a premier site for global tourism operations.

As Commonwealth of the US, and a solid democratic destination for investment and development of major tourism projects backed up by the protection and benefits of the world’s largest economy, Puerto Rico guarantees sound investment in infrastructure and hospitality development. “With the government’s commitment in to investing more than $11 billion in advancing first-class infrastructural improvements, we are also upgrading existing facilities and building new ones, particularly in the areas of aqueducts and sewers, power and energy, roads and transportation, ports and communication,” said Acevedo.

The Puerto Rico Ports Authority has invested more than $1.2 billion in improving the San Juan International Airport, regional airports and the island’s seaports, especially in Isla Grande where a new $31 million cruise ship pier is being built.

Another world-class project, the San Juan Waterfront, a $1.5 B multiple use destination soon online, will provide access to the seaport, an integrated transport system including a train, and the 5.5 million square foot development of multiple phase projects including 1,000 new hotel rooms, 1,500 condominium units, and a 500,000 square-foot commercial space. All, within the framework of an urban complex designed for the use and enjoyment of pedestrian activity, said Governor Acevedo.

Puerto Rico’s progress chart has been drawn on the basis of growth by attracting new investments for tourism development projects that respond to the needs of Puerto Rico’s future, said executive director for the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Terestella Gonzalez Denton.

According to Denton, Puerto Rico is now considered a premier destination as the island has the best infrastructure in the Caribbean, a high level of education and job productivity among the local population. “The World Economic Forum has rated Puerto Rico as the second most attractive for investment in Latin America and ranked thirty-first out of 160 countries as concerns investment capacities throughout the world. “One of the pillars of the government’s economic agenda is to capitalize on the high level of sophistication our tourism industry has reached and turned into an engine for Puerto Rico’s economic development. Our island is supported by a strong government and economic stability, as well as first-class infrastructure with $3.4 billion in visitor spending, representing a 77 percent increase during the past decade,” she said.

Around 2,308 hotel rooms are in the process of building, representing over 50 percent of the government’s goal of 5,359 new rooms to be delivered by June 2008, totaling nearly $1.3 billion in new investments, generating an additional 3,774 new jobs. Furthermore, Denton said the island is uniquely served by 21 airlines flying to and from 62 destinations. “Puerto Rico is the main hub in the Caribbean to and from the United States with over 518 weekly flights from the US,” Denton added saying the increase in flights represents $120 million boost to the economy.

The World Travel and Tourism Council reports that 2006 was a good year for Puerto Rico with most categories exceeding the 10-year forecast. Growth over the next decade is expected to average 3 percent per year, although falling below the world and certainly the regional average. However, the WTTC recommends that the government now prioritizes the industry and targets visitors from the other regions of the world outside the Americas - making the US territory an attractive investment haven.

WTTC president Jean Claude Baumgarten said Puerto Rico has great potentials as the government takes an active role in promoting, marketing and developing the tourism product. “It has been slow; however today, top government officials believe that travel and tourism is the main priority of Puerto Rico,” he said.

Puerto Rico’s booming tourism follows a curve quite different from the US Mainland

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