Although the tourism industry in Puerto Rico has suffered a severe blow with the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recovery is not expected until at least 2022, the last months of 2020 exceeded the projections drawn up by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (CTPR).
According to preliminary data, in the last months of 2020, hotel occupancy reached 40%, while local tourism activity was 50% and record numbers were seen with 80% occupancy in paradores in a weekend. The new director of Tourism, Carlos Mercado, established that these numbers showed a percentage a little higher than what they had expected when the pandemic began, which he says is a “positive sign” within the difficult panorama they face.
“Already in the situation (pandemic), the projections that we made in April and May were that we were going to have lower numbers in October, November and December, and we had an increase. The projection was a little lower than what we actually had … The projection was that we were going to be at 35% and this year we were a little higher, it was 40%. This is obviously a positive sign, because we see that the sector is responding faster than we expected. We understand that if there is no closure or some type of stronger measure in the use of beaches, swimming pools, etc., those numbers will continue to be higher and higher and that recovery may come faster than we understand ”, he explained Mercado, who hopes that, despite the pandemic and that they are not promoting Puerto Rico as a suitable destination today, these first months of the year, a large number of tourists will arrive. On the other hand, local tourism has been fundamental to sustaining somewhat the crisis facing this industry, which houses 80,000 workers on the Island.
“Mainly, in the last months of the year, what we saw was that local tourism increased a lot compared to previous years. In terms of what is November to December, the participation of the local market, which was usually 30%, now rises to 50%, which means that local tourism has been activated from the beginning of summer until now to 50% of what is the tourism activity as such ”, affirmed Mercado.
The impact that this local movement has had on the industry was demonstrated when in recent days the Puerto Rico Paradores Association announced 80% occupancy in a weekend.
“Those numbers have never been heard. The Puerto Rican, due to the situation and the desire to begin to return to normality, is doing domestic tourism basically every weekend, ”Mercado said. According to the director, these numbers could remain the first months of 2021 or perhaps until the middle of the year, although they do not outline reaching normal figures in tourism in general until well into 2022.
“We understand that most of the beginning of the year we will be with internal tourism. The numbers will be similar and increasing from the best numbers we have had in the pandemic. But, to reach 75%, we understand that this year it will not be like that. We could set that early next year, the next peak season of January and February. I think we are all going to work so that it returns to those healthy numbers ”.
However, Mercado announced that they will maintain their promotions to foreign tourism, but focused on starting to see Puerto Rico as a destination. It will not be until the third quarter (August, September and October) when they begin to promote it as a destination suitable to receive tourists.
On the other hand, he announced that his approach to the agency will be aimed at ensuring that the industry, including tourists, comply with the protocols against COVID-19. In addition, it will be focused on giving continuity to tourism development plans, openings, construction and expansions of new hotel projects. At the same time he says, he will seek to prepare the destination, working hand in hand with the mayors to meet the expectations of those who decide to come to the island once the pandemic passes.