When it’s safe for Canadians to travel once more, Puerto Rico will be ready. The destination is “absolutely” open to tourists, says Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, with stringent health and safety protocols in place not to mention COVID-19 testing capabilities in destination that will allow Canadians to meet Canada’s pre-departure requirement with ease. In this week’s Take Five, Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, tells us exactly what the destination has done and is doing to keep travellers safe, and also answers the all-important question, when is cruising coming back?
- Is Puerto Rico currently open to tourists? And where is the destination at in terms of recovery?
Absolutely, Puerto Rico is open to tourists, however safety entry requirements are in place. Travellers entering any of the island’s three open airports, whether on commercial or private aircraft, are required to fill out a Travel Declaration Form and upload negative PCR molecular COVID-19 test results (taken no more than 72 hours prior to arrival) to the Puerto Rico Health Department’s online portal, which produces a QR code required to proceed. It’s important to note that currently, there is no distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers within Puerto Rico’s executive order and entry requirements are applicable to all passengers flying to Puerto Rico from any international or U.S. destination, regardless of transit route.
Puerto Rico took immediate actions early on and implemented a number of Island-wide protocols, ensuring the health and safety of residents and visitors as our main priority. We know that trust is the new tourism currency and we have, and will continue, to provide a safe destination for tourists. This, in conjunction with regularly reviewed local measures outlined in our executive orders, has meant the destination has been able to receive tourists safely throughout the pandemic, and continue to do so as we look ahead to our continued recovery in 2021 and beyond.
In terms of what this means for our recovery at the moment, we have seen incredible visitor, hotel and rental occupancy numbers in March 2021. The recent numbers put the year-to-date lodging demand only 13% off the record-setting pace of 2019. Throughout 2020, the total lodging demand was 38% off the 2019 high so this sharp increase in the return of travel to Puerto Rico is a good indicator as we look ahead to what’s to come in 2021. Also, given the faster hotel booking pace and record-setting rental usage in March, there is the potential for more visitors in 2021 than even 2019. This is an exciting concept indeed, forecasting possible recovery even before the return of the cruise and meetings segments (both of which are big markets for Puerto Rico).
Also, crucial to our recovery is targeting responsible travellers for 2021. As a research-based organization Discover Puerto Rico is utilizing tools and in-house sales and marketing experts to do exactly that, creating a new targeting criteria across the majority of our media channels that specifically identifies those travellers more likely to care about travelling safely. This demonstrates Discover Puerto Rico’s commitment to not only creating a safe environment for tourists, but actively positioning the destination for such minded travellers in our recovery strategy.
Speaking of strategy, key to mention here is Discover Puerto Rico’s experience of crisis management, from hurricanes to earthquakes and now COVID-19. Puerto Rico’s expertise sets it apart from other destinations in how the Island has and will continue to recover, and deftly implement crisis recovery strategy and management, ensuring a peace of mind for Canadian, and international travellers, looking to return once again.
- How is Puerto Rico ensuring health and safety, for when Canadians can safely travel again?
Ensuring the health and safety of Puerto Rican residents and visitors is our main priority. Island-wide local measures developed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) have been implemented and are continually reviewed, including social distancing, mandatory face coverings in public areas, and a variety of mandates for businesses that travellers can both expect to see and adhere to when in destination. The Department of Health has also increased resources to make sure everyone in Puerto Rico is abiding by these local guidelines.
So what do these measures look like for tourists? To start with, strict measures are in place at airports including mandatory facemasks, increased cleaning protocols and enhanced health screenings of all arrivals. At Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in San Juan pre-screenings are completed using thermographic cameras to monitor temperatures. Puerto Rico was actually the first U.S. destination to use thermographic cameras demonstrating the destination’s commitment to COVID-safe hygiene standards. SJU has also received ACI accreditation, which is a great marker of safety and only 19 other airports have this currently. Travelling across the Island, certified transportation carriers are disinfecting vehicles, drivers are wearing gloves when handling doors and luggage, and all new ridesharing regulations adhered to.
On the Island itself, public beaches and natural reserves are open with social distancing implemented and masks mandatory. Some key local attractions are also open following COVID-safe guidelines, and businesses including restaurants, casinos, museums, and pools at hotels are operating at reduced capacity. In terms of accommodation, thoroughly sanitised properties that follow PRTC standards are certified with Island-specific health certification seals for tourists to look out for. Guests will also receive a Health & Safety guide detailing the specialised measures implemented by each property individually. Tourists can expect to see temperature checks, symptoms screening, and luggage disinfection at hotels and of course, high standards of housekeeping in accordance with CDC and EPA guidelines. Short Term Rentals are also thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, following health and safety protocols developed by government officials and PRTC.
Puerto Rico was also proudly the first U.S. destination to be included in the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travels Stamp certification programme, which was established to assist consumer confidence in destinations, another guarantee of our COVID-safe hygiene standards.
Full health and safety measures can be found on our Discover Puerto Rico Travel Advisory page, which is regularly updated.
- Cruising is such an important sector for Puerto Rico, the absence of which has no doubt devastated the economy. Can you tell us whether there have been any developments as the resumption of cruising?
You’re right, cruising is an important sector for Puerto Rico. The Caribbean in general represents the largest sailing region for the industry, claiming 39% of the global cruise capacity. Not only a cruise destination, the Caribbean is also home to many seasonal home ports with departures from San Juan leading the way. Ponce has also recently gained attention as a potential home port option.
Whilst the cruise industry has been successfully operating from Europe and Asia with no cases, and many more cruise lines gearing up for strong restarts worldwide, the Canadian government and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have so far been less amenable to an industry resumption, and the North American cruise market remains frozen. Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory, is subject to such regulations. Having said this, the industry has continued to lobby DC and on April 28, 2021 the CDC shared a public letter to the cruise industry, with updated guidance that paves the way for a meaningful return to service from U.S. ports. Whilst both cruise lines and destinations alike are currently reviewing the latest updates and conditions, this is no doubt an incredibly positive development for the industry restart, and demonstrates a step forward in constructive dialogue between the cruise industry and the CDC.
Despite the many challenges, the industry is resourceful, creative and world over has used the time away from sailing to ensure the industry provides an incredibly COVID-safe return, and service onboard. The wider Caribbean region in particular has already been gearing up for the industry comeback in 2021. As the CDC is now ‘committed’ to the U.S. cruise industry resuming operations by mid-summer, we very much look forward to cruises departing from San Juan once again this year.
- Canadians are currently required to take a PCR test in destination prior to returning home. Where and how can Canadians get a PCR test in Puerto Rico and how much does it cost?
Linked on our Discover Puerto Rico Travel Advisory page, travellers will be able to find the Department of Health & Human Services website which lists the available COVID-19 testing sites on the Island, with filters that will allow tourists to find sites offering the requirements they need for their departure. Additionally, as on the mainland, CVS and Walgreens also provide on-site PCR testing at selected locations around the Island. Prices vary and some sites offer appointments which can be booked in advance for travellers wishing to do so in destination.
The Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU) in San Juan does offer PCR molecular COVID-19 tests on-site in order to facilitate testing for incoming and outgoing passengers. The service costs $110 USD and is offered from 6:00 AM. to 8:00 PM, seven days a week, at three molecular test collection centers located at terminals A, B, and C. The service will soon be available at other airports on the Island as well.
- What are your thoughts on vaccination passports? Do you think this is something that can easily be implemented in Puerto Rico?
Discover Puerto Rico definitely recognizes the growing development of digital health certificates. We believe that recovery in travel starts with building traveller confidence and maintaining it. As the vaccination rollout continues, a digital health certificate is one of many solutions being put forth by experts in a conscious effort to grow consumer confidence. The DMO’s stance will remain in alignment with the Government of Puerto Rico and key tourism stakeholders, continuing to prioritise the health and safety of our visitors and residents.
Governor Pierluisi did just announce that he will set aside US$1.5 million to create a digital health certificate, adding that people’s personal information would be protected. More details will be shared as this is developed for Puerto Rico specifically.