puerto rico travel

Hike to the mouth of Cueva Ventana in Arecibo. (Photo: Michael Hess)

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Proves the Best Way to Fuel Economic Recovery Is by Visiting

In the wake of a natural disaster, tourism — and the money it injects into small businesses — is a powerful panacea for local economies. Puerto Rico has been a shining example of this truism following the one-two punch from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, as visitors continue to return to its shores.

While other sectors of the island’s economy may take months or years to rebuild, tourism injects money directly into the local economy immediately.

puerto rico vacation
Discover the island’s many hidden waterfalls (Photo: Michael Hess)

“When you’re spending your travel dollars here, you’re not just helping the business. It’s all of the employees, the waitstaff, the host and the cooks, as well as the other businesses that support their operation,” says Brad Dean, CEO of the newly formed destination marketing organization Discover Puerto Rico. “The great thing about travel and tourism is that when you travel and spend your money in the local community, that money stays in that community and circulates throughout multiple times.”

It was just three months after Maria hit that the Puerto Rico Tourism Company officially declared the island open for business, although rebuilding efforts continue to take place in more remote areas. Still, spreading the message that the island was again welcoming visitors became a challenge in the months after the storms — a reality that affected local workers.

puerto rico vacation
Catch sunset from Castillo San Felipe del Morro Lighthouse. (Photo: Michael Hess)

Maria Mercedes Grubb, executive chef of Gallo Negro in San Juan’s trendy Santurce neighborhood, explains that when her restaurant is impacted by a lack of visitors, so are her fishmongers and the farms from which she gets her local produce. Even the guy that sells her the restaurant’s to-go containers feels the pinch — businesses you might not associate with travel and tourism.

However, the influx of tourism back to the island has helped businesses like hers bounce back quickly. “We’re ready to provide people with a service,” Grubb says. “We have the goods, the beauty, the culture, the gastronomy and, of course, the drinks!

puerto rico vacation
Spend the day exploring the many ecosystems of Cabo Rojo. (Photo: Michael Hess)

To ensure travelers understand that the island’s recovery is well underway, Puerto Rico employed the help of influencers like Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, to provide up-to-date information that gave vacationers an idea of what they might expect.

Other businesses, media outlets and even celebrities pitched in to spread the message, as well. Companies like American Airlines and Skift hosted conferences on the island, encouraging employees to stay and explore afterward. Lin-Manuel Miranda brought the Broadway hit “Hamilton” there, Jimmy Fallon scheduled a filming of a “Tonight Show” episode in San Juan, and the legendary New Orleans–based Tales of the Cocktail Foundation plans to hold its Tales on Tour event on the island in March of 2019, just to name a few.

“What’s especially exciting,” says Dean, “are the totally refurbished and renewed businesses. We’re seeing that in the hotel sector with the $60 million renovation of the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, The Ritz-Carlton San Juan and Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve.”

puerto rico vacation
Can’t decide between the ocean or the pool? Do both in Lajas. (Photo: Michael Hess)

Alongside the new is the old — the perpetual beauty of Puerto Rico that really hasn’t gone anywhere. And with the recent spotlight on the island’s revival, travelers are starting to take notice of some of its hidden gems.

More and more visitors are leaving the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan to explore the island’s many forests, caves, beaches and sleepy towns while taking comfort in the fact that their adventures are paving the road to recovery.