Puerto Rico is looking to attract new tourists to its pristine beaches and natural wonders, but it will need to reach markets outside of the northeast U.S., where 90 percent of its tourists currently come from, in order to do so.
In an effort to diversify and expand its tourist based, Ingrid Rivera, the Government of Puerto Rico’s head of travel and tourism, is focused on access — specifically the planes and boats that bring visitors to the Caribbean island.
“We are looking to diversify by improving air access,” says Rivera. “Once you have air access, vacations become easier, business transactions become easier.”
Air access to Puerto Rico has been steadily improving over the past year and a half.
Spanish company Air Europa started two weekly flights from Madrid to San Juan in May 2014, the first direct flights between the two capitals in several years. Direct flights between Mexico and Puerto Rico started for the first time in 13 years in May 2013. And Avianca recently started flights between Bogota and San Juan. Frequency is expected to reach 5 flights a week by the end of the year.
Rivera’s goal is to boost airport arrivals from 8.4 million to 10 million annual passengers and progress is already being made. In the first four months of 2014, Puerto Rico already experienced a 2.2 percent increase in passengers, for a total of 60,000 passengers.
But to become a hub, Puerto Rico needs to provide airlines and travelers an easy transfer to other Caribbean islands.
To this effort, the government encouraged Seaborne to change its headquarters from St. Croix to Puerto Rico. Through partnerships with American Airlines and JetBlue, Seaborne is able to connect flyers coming from the states to small islands with minimal hassle for customers.
Puerto Rico also attributes at least part of its air traffic growth to its its latest marketing campaign in which TripAdvisor reviews are read by local celebrities and spread around social media.
Another major focus for Puerto Rico’s tourism minister is drawing more cruise ships and their passengers to land, even just for a day at a time.
Cruise arrivals are expected to growth 16 percent between July 2014 and July 2015 putting the island on track to welcome 1.5 million cruisers in one year, beating previous records.
Rivera isn’t concerned about pollution or overcrowding caused by cruise ships parked nearby the old town of San Juan.
“That is not an issue. We can receive an increased amount of tourists,” she says.
To maximize the impact of cruise tourism, Puerto Rico is encouraging ships to port earlier and leave later, giving visitors more time to take advantage of nature tours and spend money on goods or meals.
Although a large effort is being put towards improving the country’s tourism infrastructure and attracting new visitors, tourism only makes up 6 percent of Puerto Rico’s GNP. Manufacturing is the most prominent industry, accounting for more than 40 percent of the country’s GNP.