SAN JUAN – The tourism sector in Puerto Rico fears that the image of the Caribbean island as a vacation spot may deteriorate after 110 murders were registered in January.
The violence has hurt the worldwide perception of the U.S. commonwealth, which each year welcomes some 4 million visitors, most of them from the continental United States, the president of the Hotels and Tourism Association of Puerto Rico, Clarisa Jimenez, told Efe on Tuesday.
Police reported on Tuesday that there were 110 murders around the island in January, 34 more than during the same month in 2010.
“This is a regrettable situation,” said Jimenez, after recalling that the Internet allows the news of the violent deeds that occur each day in Puerto Rico to be noted around the world.
She emphasized that therefore it is a basic task for the island to intensify its public relations work, especially in the main tourist-sending countries.
Meanwhile, the director of the state-run Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Mario Gonzalez, said that strategies to counteract the image of violence are currently under way.
Gonzalez said that the wave of murders in January has not significantly hurt Puerto Rico’s image and that there is no direct relationship between the violent deaths that occur each day around the island and the falloff in tourist arrivals.
He said that hotel occupancy so far this year has been at 70 percent and that it is expected that both in Puerto Rico and in other Caribbean destinations that tourist arrivals will rise by about 3 percent during 2011.
He also insisted that Puerto Rico is a safe destination, although he did admit that recent news about the violence on the island does not contribute to strengthening its image as a tourist haven.
The region of the island with the most killings last month was Bayamon, with 25, followed by San Juan with 22 and Ponce with 13.
About 51 percent of the crimes were committed between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m., according to police statistics.
The chief of the Puerto Rican police, Jose Figueroa Sancha, said that the increase in the number of murders was mainly due to the lack of values among a portion of the population, social decay and drug trafficking.
Figueroa Sancha said that the police were doing their job and that another factor contributing to the increase in murders is the rise in domestic violence.
Mario Gonzalez’s agency last September launched an advertising campaign for the island that includes ads on the gigantic NASDAQ screens in New York’s Times Square. EFE