For decades, Puerto Rico has enjoyed a reputation as an easy-to-visit tropical getaway thanks to its status as a U.S. territory. There’s no passport needed, the U.S. dollar is used, and English is widely spoken.
But the news has been bleaker over the last couple of years. First came the debt crisis last year, followed by this year’s spread of Zika. The U.S. declared a public health emergency in August because of the virus; nearly 20,000 people have been infected in Puerto Rico, according to The Atlantic. Zika poses the biggest threat to pregnant women because it causes microcephaly and other birth defects.
On today’s episode of the Skift podcast, we’re talking about the double whammy blow to tourism in Puerto Rico, the island’s efforts to keep visitors coming, what tourism officials have learned about coping with crisis, and how Caribbean destinations are sharing information.
Our guests are Ingrid Rivera, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, and Clarisa Jiménez, president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association.
They join Skift podcast host Hannah Sampson and reporter Andrew Sheivachman.
Given their roles promoting tourism on the island, Rivera and Jiménez expressed frustration about Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projections in February that estimated about 20 percent of the population could be infected by the end of the year — a figure they thought raised unnecessary alarm. We should also note that while Rivera said during the August conversation that no babies had been born with microcephaly in Puerto Rico, The Atlantic reported recently that 13 pregnant women with Zika there had miscarried or terminated their pregnancies, and that many of those fetuses had brain damage.
Rivera said the tourism organization has shifted some of its marketing focus to travelers for whom pregnancy is not likely to be a priority, including baby boomers and LGBT visitors.