A REPORT BY JOHN HOPKINS FOR PASQUINES.
The United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico top AirBnB’s list of most rented destinations in the Caribbean this year. Since the devastation of Hurricanes María and Irma last year, many feared it would be years until the islands regained their reputation as top vacation spots for sun-seeking tourists. This is optimistic news for two territories whose economies rely heavily on the travel and tourism industry. In 2017 it was estimated that 10.4% of Puerto Rico’s GDP came from travel and tourism and about 11% for the US Virgin Islands, with about 10% of both territories citizens working within the industry.
Recent statistics, provided by the online marketplace for home rentals, have stated that Saint Thomas specifically has had the highest rate of rented houses in the Caribbean, a 600 %increase in bookings since last year. Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan landed in second place seeing a 400% increase over the past year and Grand Cayman ranked third with a 100% increase. CEO of government owned destination marketing organization Discover Puerto Rico, Brad Dean, stated “The tourism industry has recovered, and we are ready and willing and eager to welcome visitors,” The 110 daily flights to Puerto Rico from the mainland United States occurring now reflects a dramatic increase from last year’s 20-30 daily flights at this time of year. Before Hurricanes María and Irma, there were between 120 and 130 daily flights, showing the industry’s ability to recover quickly.
With many seeing this increase as an optimistic look at recovery, others are reluctant to call this a solution. Although this will help impact that region around San Juan, the majority of Puerto Rico will not be seeing this boost in tourism. Puerto Rico’s economy is not as heavily reliant on tourism compared to other Caribbean islands, and because of this the tourism industry had not diversified from the coastal regions. Visitors often come to stay at hotels and AirBnB’s in coastal regions, but often overlook Puerto Rico’s mountainous inland regions.
Last month, Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló visited New York to discuss Puerto Rico’s current economic state, as well as expanding on its tourism plan. He expressed plans to capitalize on the potential of tourism in other regions outside of San Juan, with plans to increase capacity in international airports in other regions of the main island to promote more visitors. The governor also plans to increase public interest in some of the many community festivals Puerto Rico currently has to offer. With alternative interests off the beaten path, there are hopes that money from tourism can be spread throughout Puerto Rico.