Puerto Rico is gearing up for their reopening on July 15.
“We are no strangers to challenges… the resiliency of our people is unparalleled. And, now as we prepare to emerge from the pandemic, we are prepared to right yet another amazing comeback story,” says Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico.
He adds that, “The early estimate suggests that the COVID pandemic will actually have three times the impact that hurricanes Irma and Maria had on our industry. But, while challenges lie ahead, we are eager to show the world that nothing can keep Puerto Rico from reaching its potential.”
Puerto Rico is currently in Phase 3 of reopening; on July 1 it will move to Phase 4, and finally on July 15 the island officially reopens for international travelers. There are currently a variety of guidelines to help protect the public health among those are social distancing to limiting the group sizes to an island wide curfew.
“Puerto Rico,” says Dean, “was also the first destination to implement thermo dynamic screening within the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan,” where the National Guard has also been activated to assist with the enhanced screening of all arriving passengers. “Good news is, it’s all working,” says Dean.
The screenings include the thermo dynamic, which monitors the temperatures of passengers, the National Guard will also be asking passengers if they’ve experienced symptoms of COVID or been exposed to COVID, and there will also be COVID testing at the airport.“A year or two from now, when we shut down or when we reopened will matter far less as to how we managed this,” he says.
The Four Phase plan is set to help business owners rebuild their businesses and prepare. Upon arrival, guests can expect stringent procedures in place throughout the island such as not reusing menus and physical distancing being implemented.
“On July 15 we will officially be open for inbound tourism,” says Dean. “As we approach that reopening date, some of these precautionary measures are being gradually lifted.” He adds that, “Sunbathing in some beaches and some nature reserves are allowed, but we are limiting group gatherings to those within the same household. Spas, museums, and theatres are open. Restaurants are operating at 50 percent capacity, and the curfew has now been relaxed and covers the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Face masks remain mandatory when in public and social distancing measures are being enforced with specific floor plans and capacity adjusted island wide. And, as of today there’s an executive order that runs through June 30 that does incorporate a 14-day self-quarantine measure for all arriving passengers at the Luis Munoz Marin Airport in San Juan. This measure was placed early on to protect all residents and visitors, but we do anticipate that changes will be made to this executive order as the governor of Puerto Rico announces its new executive order in the coming days,” adds Dean. Regional airports will open in Aguadilla and Ponce on July 6, he adds.
New Communication Plan for Travelers
Puerto Rico is currently in Phase 3, which is the rebound phase, of it’s crisis communication action plan. “In this phase we start to see travel restrictions loosen, and there’s a critical mass of tourism businesses that have either opened or are in the process of reopening,” says Leah Chandler, CMO for Discover Puerto Rico.
She adds that the island’s “hotel occupancy fell much faster and more severely than the rest of the United States. Last week’s STR data shows lodging can actually increase more sharply than the rest of the U.S. We saw a six percent increase in demand, which was bigger than any weekly increase across the U.S.,” she says. Adding that, “We are also starting to see airlines start to add capacity back with most predicting more flights and more passengers as we head into fall, obviously signaling an increase for potential visitation and economic growth.”
However, Chandler says that at this time, “Setting traveler expectations is paramount.” She adds, “We recently released a consumer version of our health and safety guidelines to help guests understand the main mandates surrounding these new protocols.
“Consumers are starting to transition from that dreaming phase into the planning phase. We are enticing travelers now with a call to action to book their trip and we are providing some tangible incentives to choose Puerto Rico as part of our ‘It’s Almost Time Campaign,’ which launched last week. And, then in July as we inch closer to the opening date, we’ll launch the final phase of the campaign where we can finally proclaim, ‘It’s Time,’” she adds. “We are no longer inspiring travelers, we’re giving people permission to act on that pent up demand for travel and supporting that with proof points such as ease of access—and as we are part of the U.S.—there’s no need for a passport, as well as delivering on a new standard of safety, which consumers are going to expect from us and every destination.”
Ed Carey chief sales officer for Discover Puerto Rico, says the destination will continue to push webinars to inform the travel trade of its messaging and teach them about the destination. “We are aware that the leisure market will be the first to recover on the island. So, we’ll continue to push education and engagement to the travel trade,” he says.
Clarisa Jimenez, president and CEO of Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association adds that hotels have adapted their cancellation policies. “In Puerto Rico, we have a very strong local market. I feel that for the next few months local, internal tourism is the one that’s going to help us. In June you can start to see the numbers start to be a lot better; the occupancy went from 5-6 percent to maybe 30-40 percent. June was a good month for internal tourism and July is looking even better,” she says.
When it comes to leisure travel, Carey says, “One thing that we learned is that in times of uncertainty, consumers turn to trusted advisors. And, those advisors in this instance are travel advisors. So the more we keep them informed, the better the results are for everyone.”