Tourism Contribution to Puerto Rico GDP Grows to 7.1%
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC) Executive Director Ingrid Rivera Rocafort revealed some of the latest numbers regarding the island’s tourism sector on Tuesday, showing a segment that is “transforming,” reaching record figures and a significant increase in hotel occupancy. “Tourism has been the only industry on the island to escape the current economic recession,” said a PRTC release Tuesday.
Among the most noteworthy findings is that the contribution of the tourism industry to Puerto Rico’s gross national product (GNP) has grown to 7.1% from 6% some years ago. The PRTC’s objective is to increase this percentage to 8% in the short term. For 2016, Rivera Rocafort expects airport visitors to Puerto Rico to reach the 10-million mark. “Puerto Rico received more than five million visitors in 2015, and has seen visitors’ expenditures increase to $3.8 billion, representing a 20% growth in each metric since 2012,” she said.
On the hotel development front, Puerto Rico’s room inventory recently broke the 15,000-room mark, with about 1,000 new rooms made available in the past year and more than 3,850 more rooms in financing, permits and construction stages. “New hotel chains have arrived in Puerto Rico, among them Nayara, from Costa Rica. Carolina’s Isla Verde sector has kicked off its own transformation with a $40 million injection to remodel the San Juan Hotel, the recent acquisition of ESJ Towers to develop a new time-sharing concept, and the remodeling of the old Empress Hotel,” said the PRTC executive director. By the same token, the Convention Center District has seen the inauguration of two new hotels recently, the Hyatt Place and Hyatt House.
Rivera Rocafort also highlighted the creation of new products to support local small businesses, such as “posadas” (inns in Spanish), bed & breakfast (B&B) locations and programs related to agritourism and ecotourism. “This goes to show there is space in this industry for everyone, not only for big chains and operators,” she said. “Successful projects such as Hacienda Tres Ángeles in the agritourism category and Casa Sol in the B&B segment are prime examples of that.”
When it comes to air access, the PRTC has been able to attract airlines that had exited the Puerto Rico market years ago, as well as airlines that had never flown to the island, with the support and collaboration of Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport operator Aerostar, Rivera added. “In total, 10 new airlines arrived to the island from eight different destinations,” she said. “Iberia returned to Puerto Rico, as did Avianca after 10 years of absence. Puerto Rico also gained a direct connection with Mexico for the first time in 15 years with the arrival of Volaris. For the first time in history, there are direct flights connecting the island with Nordic countries, courtesy of Norwegian Air. Also, after decades of not having an airline based on the island, Seaborne Airlines moved its operations to Puerto Rico and increased its routes to 17 destinations, turning Puerto Rico into the main hub in the Caribbean.”
The cruiseship industry also saw a transformation, according to Rivera Rocafort, having broken the annual record with the arrival of more than 1.5 million passengers and gaining back cruise lines. She said the expansion of Pier 3 in Old San Juan was a key factor in bringing in so-called “mega cruiseships” such as the Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas and the biggest cruiseship in the world, the Oasis of the Seas, which is scheduled to arrive on March 20.
“The 45% growth in the arrival of crusieships to Puerto Rico was mostly due to the level of trust regained with industry members,” Rivera Rocafort noted. “Communication was strengthened, petitions were addressed, and the existing incentives law was modified to optimize and suit it better to the needs and competitive dynamics of the industry nowadays.”
The groups and conventions segment also saw healthy activity, the public official said. The first tourism fair, dubbed the International Tourism Expo (ETI by its Spanish acronym), was held on the island this past year, during which close to 90 local and international exhibitors participated, as well as more than 700 travel agents from the U.S. mainland, Europe and Latin America. In all, about 2,300 people attended the event, generating an economic impact of nearly $1 million. The island was also the host of international tourism events such as the Caribbean Hotel Investment Conference and Operation Summit, the Latin America and Caribbean Air Transport Association Leaders’ Forum, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Caribbean Marketplace and, more recently, Routes Americas.