Puerto Rico gov: Island’s pick as No. 1 in NY Times ‘Places to Go’ rewards efforts

San Felipe del Morro fort in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (Courtesy)

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares was pleased Wednesday with the New York Times (NYT) having selected the island as its top recommended travel destination this year.

“Once again, we see rewarded the effort we have made to present Puerto Rico to the world as a world-class destination, to present the attractions of our beautiful Island, as well as highlighting the resilient nature of Puerto Ricans. We steadily continue on our path to a full recovery, showing a strengthened Puerto Rico that is open to doing business,” Rosselló said in a statement.

The governor highlighted the work done by the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) and Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s government-funded but independent destination marketing organization, for their work to showcase the island as “a renewed alternative for tourists.”

Read the New York Times’ “Why Puerto Rico Is No. 1 on Our Places to Go List.”

The executive director of the PRTC, Carla Campos, said in the governor’s office release that “holding the first spot on the New York Times’ list of 52 destinations to visit is an indicator that the marketing and communication efforts we launched before July 1, 2018, and the efforts directed by Discover Puerto Rico have succeeded in successfully projecting Puerto Rico as a world-class destination,” adding that, “now, more than ever, our island is open to receiving visitors and to offer them a tourism experience of the highest level.”

“Tour operators say that those traveling this winter to Puerto Rico and other islands damaged by Hurricane Maria tend to be ‘repeats and loyalists’ going back to what they already love,” the Times notes.

Among the newspaper’s examples of things to see and places to go in Puerto Rico are “an art installation of colorful umbrellas hovered above pedestrians, triggering countless selfies” on Fortaleza Street in Old San Juan, which the governor’s release explained was an initiative of the Office of First Lady Beatriz Rosselló; as well as the experience of eating roasted pig in Guavate or seafood in Salinas; and even mentions “chinchorreo,” or small-bar hopping.

The Times added that the “trend in travel has skewed in recent years toward more awareness and sensitivity — eco-tourism, voluntourism, agritourism, the idea that as visitors we should not cause harm and should seek out authentic experiences that get us deep into the local culture.”

The governor also recently lauded the record numbers, of more than 600,000 passengers, set by Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla.

Puerto Rico homeport among Cruise Critic Editors’ picks

Puerto Rico Tourism Co. urges participation in Airbnb Open Homes program

(Screen capture of https://www.airbnb.com/openhomes)

SAN JUAN – Airbnb and International Rescue Group are holding events Monday and Tuesday “to learn how you can better prepare for and respond to a disaster, and use your extra space to help your community respond and recover,” according to the event webpages.

The events are intended to promote Airbnb’s Open Homes program, in which extra space, such as a spare bedroom or guest house, is offered to those displaced or relief workers deployed to respond to a disaster. Those “who are in need of free, temporary accommodations” can search for and request to book available space on the hospitality marketplace.

The sessions will be held Monday, Aug. 6, at 6:30 p.m., in Room AE 242 of the Business Administration area of the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez University Campus and on Tuesday, Aug. 7 at 6:30 p.m., at the Engineers & Land Surveyors Association, at 500 Ingeniero Antolín Nin Martínez St. in San Juan.

After disaster preparedness sessions, Airbnb will give a brief presentation about the Open Homes program.

“The extension of the Open Homes program to Puerto Rico demonstrates a firm commitment by Airbnb to join the preparation and response plans for emergency situations or natural disasters. Since a formal alliance was established between the Tourism Company of Puerto Rico and Airbnb in August 2017, not only have they managed to raise about $2.7 million to date in room-occupancy taxes through the platform, but we have also kept working in close collaboration to bring innovative concepts and programs to the island that allow us to strengthen our tourism offer,” Tourism Co. Director Carla Campos said in a release issued by the government corporation that deals with internal tourism and its regulations.

“Airbnb is committed to ensuring that our hosts are prepared for disasters, as well as ensuring that our Open Homes program is available to communities affected by these crises,” Kellie Bentz, senior Airbnb Response and Disaster Relief manager, added.

“International Rescue Group is proud to partner with the world’s largest hospitality platform to help shelter Caribbean residents and rescue personnel after hurricanes and other regional disasters. While Open Homes is just beginning in the Caribbean, we hope to reach hundreds of thousands in the region, and invite all interested parties to get involved in this powerful initiative,” IRG Housing Director Carol Greenhouse said.

Since 2012, the Airbnb host community has provided free temporary housing to thousands who have been displaced by disasters, conflict and other unexpected situations.

To RSVP to the event in Mayagüez, go to www.abnb.co/prmeetup1. For the San Juan event Tuesday, go to www.abnb.co/prmeetup2.

For more information, visit airbnb.com/openhomes

Carnival Fascination sailings from Puerto Rico canceled until January

SAN JUAN – The Carnival Cruise Lines’ Fascination, which was scheduled to depart from the Port of San Juan this weekend, has postponed sailings until January, the president of the Cruceros To Go travel agency, Daphne Barbeito, said Thursday.
The cruiseship will be docked in San Juan, its homeport, until then, but it will serve as lodging for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel.
Barbeito expressed concern over the economic impact this would have on the island.

Carnival’s Fascination (Screen capture of www.carnival.com)

“This decision [affects] taxi drivers, transportation providers, tour operators, tourism guides, travel agents, wedding coordinators, companies that sell supplies, among other services that due to this decision are impacted directly and could lead to a larger exodus of Puerto Rico workers and entrepreneurs as well as bankruptcy filings,” she assured.

Carnival and Royal Caribbean–with its Adventure of the Seas, whose homeport is also San Juan–both had announced they would restart operations in Puerto Rico, and were expected to bring a combined 5,000 tourists over the weekend.
Royal Caribbean executives visited the island this week to assess the state of the port after Hurricane María, as evidence of their “commitment with the industry on the island,” Tourism Co. Executive Director José Izquierdo told Caribbean Business.
During their stay, Royal Caribbean Chairman Richard Fain, President and CEO Michael Bayleh, and President and COO Adam Goldstein met with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
Homeport cruise ships are a priority in the promotion strategy of Puerto Rico because studies, such as one by Aruba’s destination management organization, reveal that tourists spend more at those ports than on the rest of the sailing route.
Barbeito said the government must reach an agreement that doesn’t keep Carnival’s Fascination docked for so long.
“The Tourism Company, the Ports Authority and the governor himself must speak with FEMA and Carnival Cruises to immediately find an alternative plan that doesn’t deprive the destination of the little economic recovery that cruise visits give us,” the travel executive said, adding she understands the importance of lodging staff that is helping with the island’s recovery efforts.
“We know that FEMA has an important job in rebuilding Puerto Rico and we are not minimizing it. However, allowing FEMA to take over all tourist segments like hotels, the Convention Center and now Carnival’s Fascination without measuring the economic repercussions that this represents for our island isn’t responsible,” she said.
Other cruiseships are expected to resume their visits to the island in November, but Barbeito indicated that Holland America and the Celebrity Cruises charter expected in Ponce at the beginning of November also postponed there arrival until the end of that month.

Another record number of cruise passengers arrive in Puerto Rico

Comptroller points out irregularities in Tourism Co.

SAN JUAN — An opinion issued Tuesday by Puerto Rico Comptroller Yesmín Valdivieso revealed that operations related to regulations, advertising, disbursements, filing of documents and a required plan from the Promotion and Marketing Office of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. were not carried out in accordance with applicable law and regulations.

The report signals out five findings, including payments for advertising services without formal purchase orders or contracts having been produced. From a sample of the $275.8 million disbursed from 2009 through 2016, the findings reveal that purchase orders were prepared up to 592 days late.

Puerto Rico Tourism Company (Agustín Criollo/CB)

Puerto Rico Tourism Company (Agustín Criollo/CB)

In addition, the comptroller’s report indicates that ads worth more than $500,000 were placed in newspapers and magazines without any of Puerto Rico’s official names included, while the agency was unable to provide fiscal documentation nor a media-marketing plan before 2013.

In addition, Tourism’s 2008 operations manual for marketing and promotions had not been updated, and agency directors did not submit reports to management, as required by the manual. In addition, the agency issued 16 resolutions in recognition of debts for $1.9 million without a contract having been formalized. This happened from Oct. 19 2009 to March 26, 2010.

The audit notes that Tourism did not comply with the Government Accountability and Program Execution Act of 2010 and that its budget division lacks written standards for operations.

See also: New Report Underlines Tourism’s Role in Economic Growth

The report also states there was an increase in occupancy at Tourism-backed lodging and that an official registry with the properties that comprise the island’s hospitality industry does not exist.

In addition, the report says that the decline in the island’s rank, from 53 to 55, in the Global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, is due, among other things, to not evaluating the quality of the tourism infrastructure and transportation, and that the agency did not include objectives or strategies to strengthen competitiveness subindexes such as safety and security, health and hygiene, international openness, tourism infrastructure, information and communications technology, and price competitiveness.

The comptroller’s report covers the period from Jan. 1, 2009, to June 30, 2016.

Allegiant Begins Nonstop Service to Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Director Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort announced Wednesday the launch of Las Vegas-based Allegiant airline’s flights from three stateside airports to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport starting Wednesday.

allegiant-flightsThe three new routes connect San Juan with the Sanford-Orlando International Airport in Florida, the Pittsburgh International Airport in Philadelphia and the Cincinnati International Airport in Kentucky.

“The expansion of Allegiant into Puerto Rico solidifies its position as a Caribbean access hub with reliable and convenient flight options for travelers,” Rocafort said in the written announcement. “We are confident our partnership with Allegiant will continue to stimulate demand and open new opportunities for Puerto Rico in the United States and beyond.”

The new service is expected to bring more than 37,000 visitors to the San Juan area annually.

“We are pleased to begin our first scheduled service into the Caribbean via San Juan with new nonstop service from three major cities,” said Jude Bricker, Allegiant chief operating officer adds in the company’s release. “Puerto Rico is a top vacation destination for travelers, and we anticipate our new, affordable nonstop service will be very popular.”

Nonstop service from Muñoz Marín Airport (SJU) to:

  1. Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) – begins Dec. 14 with fares starting at $69
  2. Cincinnati International Airport (CVG) – begins Dec. 17, 2016 with fares starting at $79
  3. Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – begins Dec. 17, 2016 with fares starting at $79

Puerto Rico police to crack down on Uber in tourist zones

SAN JUAN — Police in Puerto Rico say they will crack down on Uber drivers who attempt to pick up passengers in designated tourist zones in San Juan including airports.

In this July 15, 2015, file photo, Uber driver Karim Amrani sits in his car parked near the San Francisco International Airport parking area. Uber said Thursday, April 7, 2016, it will pay at least $10 million to settle a case in which California prosecutors alleged it misled passengers over the quality of its driver background checks. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Tuesday’s announcement comes after police met with Uber employees and cab drivers following a weekend protest that paralyzed traffic in the capital of San Juan. Cab drivers organized the protest after accusing Uber drivers of encroaching on their territory.

Police urged cab drivers to take down the license plates of Uber drivers instead of physically confronting them. Cab drivers have increasingly clashed with Uber employees since the ride-booking company began service in Puerto Rico in July.

Police said Uber drivers could face penalties ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 if they violate a law that bars them from tourist zones.

Wi-Fi made available at various tourist locations

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) President Ingrid Rivera Rocafort and Telecommunications Regulatory Board (TRB) President Javier Rua Jovet inaugurated Friday a wireless internet (Wi-Fi) connection system at three sites of great tourist interest.

It was announced that the system is already available at Paseo La Princesa and Plaza Dársenas in Old San Juan and is expected to be available at Ventana al Mar in Condado later this month.

Rua Jovet said that the implementation of Wi-Fi would increase the services offered to tourists visiting the island—particularly visitors who don’t come from the United States and whose internet coverage plans don’t apply in Puerto Rico.

“Tourists expect to reach a destination and have connectivity. There are many tourists from other countries who expect to make their free calls over the internet using such platforms as Facebook and Whatsapp,” the TRB president said.

“The TRB has a ministerial duty to support connectivity and broadband penetration and during this four-year period we have expanded this effort. Efforts were very municipally-based before; we worked with municipalities to create Wi-Fi-enabled town squares, but we have expanded this effort to collaborate in an interagency manner,” he said, adding that this effort has made it possible for all State Elections Commission’s (CEE by its Spanish acronym) Permanent Registration Boards (JIP by its Spanish acronym) to have free connectivity.

Rua Jovet explained that an easy-to-access dedicated Internet system was installed along Paseo La Princesa.

Users will have to search for Wi-Fi connectivity with their mobile devices, look up the Tourism network called “Turismo Princesa” (if they happen to be at Paseo La Princesa) and, by choosing it will, enter a website bearing the logo of the PRTC and the TRB. There users, must agree to the terms and conditions and continue to www.seepuertorico.com, where they will be welcomed and given free and relevant information about the destination.

The TRB president explained that installing the system is extremely simple and consists of strategically installing the transmitters throughout the site and supplying the connectivity. The TRB said it invested $31,000 in the connectivity devices.


Tourism Co. President Ingrid Rivera Rocafort and Telecommunications Regulatory Board President Javier Rua Jovet inaugurate a Wi-Fi system at three of the island’s tourism sites. (Agustín Criollo/CB)

Rivera Rocafort said the WiFi connectivity project is part of the PRTC’s efforts to offer a better service to the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the island each year. She also announced remodeled restroom facilities at Paseo La Princesa.

“At PRTC we are at the forefront of improving the conditions for visitors and that is why we have made improvements in these facilities. We have remodeled the restrooms at Paseo La Princesa, a building that has an architectural personality that is very in tune with the ambiance of Paseo, as well as the restrooms at Ventana al Mar. They were adapted to comply with the ADA Act for people with disabilities and this one in particular had not been remodeling in over 20 years and is very necessary since it is an important service for visitors,” Rivera Rocafort said.

The executive director said the restroom improvement project was done using the bidding process stipulated by law, resulting in $42,000 invested for the Paseo La Princesa facilities and $18,000 at Ventana al Mar.

Aviation Conference Kicks Off in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN – The Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA ) began its CCMA & Aircraft MRO Conference at El Conquistador, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, in Fajardo. The three-day event is hosted by Puerto Rico Tourism Co. and Meet Puerto Rico, with support from the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco).

The large aviation conference brings together airline technical buyers, industry suppliers and airline representatives. This year, the CCMA is joining ALTA’s MRO Conference for the commercial air transport maintenance, repair and overhaul industry. More than 800 people are arriving in Puerto Rico for the event, including more than 100 airline participants, as well as nearly 700 representatives from hundreds of aviation suppliers from around the world for the sold-out conference.

The  agenda features meetings, panel discussions, airline and supplier committees, as well as table top displays and an exhibition area.

ALTA Conferenece“This conference provides the ideal platform to facilitate the coming together of airlines and suppliers, as well as airline technical and maintenance teams, to discuss key challenges that areas within the aviation industry are facing,” said ALTA Executive Director Eduardo Iglesias.

According to a release on the conference, the Latin American and Caribbean aviation industry creates more than 4.9 million jobs and contributes $150 billion in GDP toward the region’s economies.

“The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is proud to host this year’s ALTA CCMA/MRO in our beautiful Island, and remains committed to building partnerships that will promote the growth of our tourism industry,” Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., added in the release.

Economic Development Secretary Alberto Bacó Bagué is quoted saying, “The aerospace sector is becoming a key player for economic development on the island, with a whole ecosystem developing around this cluster. Having this opportunity for networking and discussion in Puerto Rico is a great example of that.”

Pridco will be present at the conference for the possibility to network with “industry executives of the region that could consider the island as their next investment destination. We look forward to taking advantage of that and leveraging the opportunity with Puerto Rico’s value proposition for aerospace,” Antonio Medina, the agency’s executive director, stated.

In addition to airline partners Copa Airlines and Avianca, the primary sponsors for the conference are Airbus/Satair Group, Embraer, Honeywell, UTC Aerospace Systems, and Wencor Group.

Other sponsors include Aero Controls Inc., Aeroman, Air Cost Control, Air France Industries/KLM Engineering & Maintenance, Aviation Inflatables, Avio-Diepen, B&W Aviation, Bombardier, Fokker, GA Telesis, Global Airtech, Hansair, Heico, Kellstrom Materials, KLX Aerospace Solutions, Lufthansa Technik, Panasonic, Professional Aircraft Accessories, Solair Group, SR Technics, STS Component Solutions, Thales, TIC Logistis, TP Aerospace, VAS Aero Service, and Zodiac Aerospace.

Tourism Co. Intervenes with Unauthorized Travel Agents

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) has issued orders to show cause against people who were functioning as travel agents without its authorization.

The first cease and desist order was issued April 13 against Héctor López and Carmen L. Rodríguez, doing business as Viajes & Excursiones in Cayey. Another order was issued against Nelson Iván Román, who offers travel services from the town of Isabela.

“It is our duty to enforce laws and regulations. I recommend being alert and require people to have Tourism Co.’s license to operate,” PRTC Director Ingrid I. Rivera Rocafort said in a statement.

PRTC Holds Fair Touting Innovative Tourism Offerings

Feria productos Innovadores 2SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) held a business fair spotlighting  “innovative tourism offerings” on Friday, specifically programs involving ecological, agricultural and sustainable community-based tourism.

During the event, held in conjunction with activities related to Earth Day, various companies that have received certifications in said programs met at the PRTC central offices in Old San Juan and explored business opportunities.

“This is an incentive that the PRTC has carried out in our role to serve as facilitators for these businesses and community organizations to present their offers and products to tourism industry players that specialize in exposing our destination abroad,” said Ingrid I. Rocafort Rivera, executive director of the Tourism Co. “Many of the companies involved are those that give the extra mile in ensuring their sustainability and harmony with the environment.”

Some of the ecotourism companies that participated include Aventura Cueva Ventana in Arecibo, Batey Zipline Adventure in Utuado, Blackbeard Sport in Vieques, Pure Adventure in Ceiba, Rent the Bicycle in Old San Juan and Water Sport and Eco Tours in Humacao.

In the segment of agricultural tourism, Hacienda Don Carmelo in Vega Baja, Hacienda Muñoz in San Lorenzo, Hacienda Tres Ángeles in Adjuntas and Quesos Vaca Negra in Hatillo attended the event.

Finally, when it comes to sustainable, community-based tourism, the Maunabo Pro-Development Commission in the Punta Tuna Natural Reserve in Maunabo, the eco-lodge Cantar del Bosque de Río Abajo in the Río Abajo state forest in Arecibo/Utuado, and the eco-lodge Iniciativas de Eco Desarrollo de Bahía de Jobos in Salinas, also participated.

Several workshops were also given to the general public, some of them highlighting the PRTC’s Green Certification program, the Water Sense and EnergyStar programs, as well as a Solid Waste Management and Pesticides program given by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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