BREAKING NEWS : Allen County Councilman Joel Benz plans to accept TRAA executive director position Full Story

Puerto Rico tourism slowly bouncing back

Last summer, Puerto Rican tourism officials were getting flooded with calls about "Despacito" ("Slowly"), the sexy me...

Posted: Apr 3, 2018 9:05 PM
Updated: Apr 3, 2018 9:05 PM

Last summer, Puerto Rican tourism officials were getting flooded with calls about "Despacito" ("Slowly"), the sexy megahit by Puerto Rican crooners Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee that made history as the most streamed song of all time.

But nowadays they're much more likely to get calls from people in the travel industry or ordinary travelers wanting to know if tourism has recovered from the hurricanes that devastated the Caribbean island in September.

Like the song, the answer is slowly - widespread but gradual recovery from one of the most destructive and deadly storms in Puerto Rico history.

After Hurricane Irma on September 6 and Hurricane Maria on September 20 -- the latter passing directly over the island -- close to 100% of Puerto Rico was without power or water, the airport was closed and cruise terminals were devoid of ships.

But six months later, tourism is well on the road to recovery in many areas.

"The island has been officially open for tourism since ... December," said Carla Campos, acting executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, or PRTC.

"San Juan Port started welcoming leisure cruises just two weeks after Hurricane Mar-a and areas around the island like Culebra, Ponce, Mayag-ez, Cabo Rojo, Rinc-n, Vieques are also back in business. The best way to support Puerto Rico is to continue visiting, staying at our hotels, eating at our restaurants, enjoying our activities and shopping."

Back in business

More than 125 hotels (with more than 12,000 total rooms) were back in business by the end of February, while more than 4,000 restaurants around the island were serving customers again. That's about 80% of Puerto Rico's hotels and restaurants.

The number of passenger ships calling on San Juan has risen steadily, from just 15 in October to 53 in December. PRTC says that more than 170,000 cruise passengers moved through the port of San Juan since the hurricanes.

Other than the fact that many of the traffic lights are still out, the tourist zones of San Juan have almost completely recovered; the beach hotels are open in Condado and Isla Verde. Restaurants and bars are packed, and attractions like El Morro fort and Old San Juan are just as crowded as before the storms.

The only tropical rainforest in the entire US Forest Service, El Yunque in the mountains of eastern Puerto Rico, looked like a World War I battlefield directly after the storms: the trees nearly leafless, the jungle slopes covered in mud.

Aided by hundreds of volunteers, the forest service was able to get parts of the park open again by February, including the main road through to La Coca Falls and one of the most popular trails.

But that's not to say that everyone has recovered. Some of the resorts, restaurants and attractions directly in the eye of Hurricane Maria are still closed or struggling to open their doors again.

For many, recovery has been difficult and often dramatic. It took some hotels -- like the posh Royal Isabela golf resort, which took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria -- months to repair the damage and open its doors again.

A struggle to recover

For many of the others, recovery was difficult and often dramatic.

After the hurricanes, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar golf and beach resort east of San Juan was virtually cut off from the outside world. A combination of employees who rode out Hurricane Maria inside the hotel and others living nearby used chainsaws and axes to cut a path to the property.

Damage was extensive to the Wyndham's guest rooms, restaurants and golf courses. But general manager Nils Stolzlechner and his team devised a phased recovery plan that saw the golf courses in play by the end of November, the first post-storm convention in February, and reopening to the general public on March 1.

Snagging that convention took major effort. The client was on the verge of canceling when Stolzlechner "suggested that they come and visit to see firsthand that we are alive and well. And we convinced them to give us a chance."

Celebrity chef Mario Pag-n faced a mixed blessing after the storm. His signature Mario Pagan restaurant in Condado was nearly unharmed. But down the road, his Sage Steak Loft in the Olive Boutique Hotel was flooded with 3 feet of brackish water from the storm surge.

"There were plenty of brutal challenges, but we worked through them," said Pag-n. "Getting gas and diesel for the generator was probably the main one. Produce and proteins were hard to get, but we managed with local purveyors. We had a lot of local farmers passing by the restaurant helping out with anything they had left."

Loisse Herger, co-owner of the chic Olive Boutique Hotel, faced similar flooding. But within days of the hurricane, Herger and her staff had the upstairs guest rooms ready for occupancy.

"Right after the storm, most of our guests were journalists, humanitarian personnel, high government officials and others involved in the recovery," she said.

By late January, Olive Boutique was full of bona-fide tourists and hosting a rooftop cocktail party for the Caribbean Travel Marketplace, another convention that decided to keep its commitment rather than abandon the island post-storm.

Another good sign is the return of surfers to an island generally considered to have the best waves in the Caribbean.

"West facing beaches on the northwest coast took the hardest hit," said Otto Flores, a legendary Puerto Rican surfer and founder of a coastal environmental organization called Granito de Arena. "The storm unleashed its fury -- decimating the coastline, taking down structures and putting them in the ocean like Baby Godzilla was playing Lego."

But after several recent visits to the northwest coast, Flores thinks the region's remarkable beaches are bouncing back.

"Yes, there are places with no power still and there are structures that are gone," he said. "But as far as surfing goes, it's all good."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 41°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
50° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 50°
Huntington
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 41°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
46° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 41°
Van Wert
Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 52°
Sunshine and warmer air return to round out the work week, but the warm-up is brief.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events