Thursday, October 22, 2020

Fee cut to lure cruise lines to lay up ships in Puerto Rico ports

By on September 25, 2020

An aerial view of San Juan Bay’s cruiseship and cargo ports three days after Hurricane María, Sept. 24, 2017. (CB photo)

Another Covid-19 lockdown ‘would be the end of tourist activity,’ says president of Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association

SAN JUAN — Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced announced Thursday an amendment to the Puerto Rico Ports Authority’s (PA) Maritime Rates Regulation (M-1-8) to offer a discount on the docking fee to cruise lines that dock their ships in Puerto Rico under commercially non-operational conditions. 

“Given the impact that world tourism has suffered due to Covid-19, many cruise companies have chosen to suspend their commercial operations and safeguard their ships in different ports until it is commercially viable to restart passenger trips, in what is known as lay-up,” the governor explained. “For our ports to become a competitive option for the prolonged docking of cruise ships temporarily out of commercial operations, it was necessary to amend this regulation” and offer “attractive special rates for medium and long-term docking.”

The amendment to the M-1-8 regulation was approved by the Ports Authority board, which may make changes, effective immediately, to the general fee structure if necessary in case of a temporary increase or an emergency. Originally, the regulation did not take into account the possibility of a fee reduction to encourage cruise ships to lay up at the island’s ports. 

Ports Executive Director Joel A. Pizá Batiz said that given the “new fiscal scenario as a result of the pandemic, it was necessary to make adjustments in the M-1-8 regulation. Besides providing an additional source of revenue for the agency, the amendment will help generate “important economic activity for companies that offer products and services to cruise ships, such as the sale of fuel, supplies and garbage collection, among others,” he said. 

“It also helps us to strengthen commercial ties with cruise lines, without exposing the general population, given that the risk of Covid-19 spreading during lay-ups is almost non-existent,” Pizá said. 

Vázquez said that the change to the local maritime regulation was “important” due to the decrease in Ports’ revenue, which was leading the agency to face a “difficult fiscal and operational situation.” 

“A delay in this amendment going into effect would have substantially threatened the income that could be received from cruise companies for the use of our marine terminals at this time of economic crisis,” the governor said. 

Tourism industry issues warning 

In fact, tourism industry executives in Puerto Rico have been sounding the alarm regarding the possibility of another lockdown preventing tourism activities, given reports of increasing Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA) President Pablo Torres said during a press conference Thursday that the industry would not be able to survive another lockdown and many tourism-related businesses would be forced to close permanently. 

“We are on the verge of a total collapse of the economy, if a total shutdown takes effect again. Our industry has already been affected enough in the past months. The employee layoffs have been in the thousands [and] the income loss for the government totals $271 million when compared to the same period last year, according to data from the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. This would be the end of tourist activity in Puerto Rico,” Torres cautioned, stressing that the industry employs more than 80,000 people. 

Torres called for better enforcement of the Covid-19 executive order by the police, even mentioning the option of activating the Puerto Rico National Guard.  

“We want to request the law enforcement agencies to begin to enforce the rules indicated in the executive order, strengthen surveillance, establish limits and, if necessary, issue fines. We cannot continue to pay for others’ violations when we have only been operating for a few days after the new order was issued, while the decisions appear to be being made with information prior to the limited reopening date,” he said, noting that infections of the often deadly virus are are not related to the island’s tourist activity, citing Puerto Rico Health Department data stating that outbreaks have been linked to family gatherings and campaign rallies held during the recent primaries. 

Torres said the tourism industry has only been operating for two weeks after having been paralyzed by lockdown orders for months. He called on the government to increase Covid-19 molecular testing and the speed of results to determine “the reality of the situation in a timely manner” and control outbreaks where they originate. He also said that virus monitoring programs need to be shored up to provide accurate and reliable data.