A study by the Mastercard Economics Institute shows that while international travel continues to be restricted around the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States has given the island’s tourism sector a major boost.
“The limited border reopenings have proven to be challenging for travelers and the travel industry alike. But the select open corridors such as between Australia and New Zealand and between the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean are meeting and in some cases exceeding pre-pandemic levels,” according to the “Recovery Insights: Ready for Takeoff?“ report by Mastercard.
The reopening has been particularly strong in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), which are sister U.S. territories that depend greatly on stateside visitors. As reported by THE WEEKLY JOURNAL, Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste, whose Aerostar Airport Holdings company manages the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in the San Juan metro area, has continued to report strong visitor numbers for the island’s main airport.
When compared to the pandemic levels of June 2020, passenger traffic has increased in Puerto Rico by a dramatic 372 percent. In June 2020, during the height of the pandemic, only 214,009 passenger arrivals were recorded at SJU. However, this number jumped to 1,009,754 last month, the company reported.
Since Americans have been able to save more during the pandemic, thanks in large part to increased federal financial assistance, there is a huge pent-up demand for travel. However, this is balanced by a supply shortage of long-haul planes, pilots and other airline employees. As a result, “the recovery of travel worldwide is likely to be imbalanced, drawn out and non-linear,” according to Mastercard.
While the global travel recovery remains uneven, one-fifth of countries studied have returned to at least 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels for domestic flight bookings. While some—including the U.S., Australia and France—are exceeding pre-pandemic domestic flight bookings, others—such as Canada, Thailand and New Zealand—are at a fraction of where they were before the pandemic began.
“While there’s been an impressive recovery in domestic air travel in a number of markets, the rebound won’t happen overnight. The pandemic brought the industry down to spending levels not seen in over 15 years,” said Bricklin Dwyer, Mastercard chief economist and head of the Mastercard Economics Institute. “While a lot of uncertainty remains, pent-up savings, a desire to venture farther from home, and the green light from governments could all provide significant tailwinds for the continued travel recovery.”
Ponce Revamping Hotel Offerings
As tourism in Puerto Rico continues to surge, the hospitality offerings in the southern city of Ponce are being revamped with a total $9 million renovation work at three local hotels: Hotel Fox, Hotel Solace by the Sea and Hotel Meliá.
According to Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) Executive Director Carlos Mercado Santiago, the construction work by Ponce Prime Resorts LLC will create 180 local jobs. The three hotels have a total 229 rooms on offer.
“The reconstruction of each of these hotels is excellent news for the tourism industry, since they have particular characteristics that distinguish them and, without a doubt, contributes to the range of alternatives that Ponce has to offer to visitors, which significantly strengthens the evolution of tourism and the creation of employment, which will greatly boost the economic development of the entire southern region of Puerto Rico,” Mercado said.
Hotel Fox is known for its Pop Art theme, featuring such icons as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, and is renovating its facilities at a cost of nearly $2 million.
Hotel Solace by the Sea, located on the Caribbean Sea, is renovating at a cost of more than $2.8 million. Meanwhile, the historic Meliá, located on Ponce’s main plaza, is being renovated at a cost of nearly $4.5 million.