SAN JUAN – Thousands of visitors arrived on Thursday in San Juan on several cruise ships during that industry’s high season, a source of income that Puerto Rican authorities need to help the island’s economic recovery in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The head of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Jose Izquierdo, went to the wharf at San Juan to personally be on hand to welcome the visitors, saying that amid the island’s serious economic crisis “tourism will be the source of economic development.”
About 7,000 passengers on board the Freedom of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean International, and the Conquest, owned by Carnival Cruise Line, disembarked at the docks and “invaded” the capital’s colonial district of Old San Juan.
The PRTC had prepared for the occasion by organizing live music, salsa classes and historic recreations, with the aim of livening up the tourists’ stay in San Juan, which the public corporation wants to transform into a base port for cruise companies operating in the Caribbean.
“Incredible progress has been made with (electric power) in Old San Juan,” said Izquierdo regarding the reestablishment of electricity in the historic district, which – like the rest of the island – lost power as a result of Hurricane Maria.
Izquierdo emphasized that rejuvenating the tourist trade is fundamental for contributing to getting out of the economic slump created by the storm, which according to estimates by the government of Ricardo Rossello caused damage amounting to some $94 billion.
The devastation from Maria came on top of an economic crisis that has lasted for over a decade and deepened in 2016 with the inability of the government to pay its debt of some $70 billion, a situation that led to a process of restructuring under judicial supervision.
Hurricane Maria caused the loss of about 3,000 jobs in the tourism sector, mainly due to the closure of hotels following the extensive damage they suffered.
Izquierdo emphasized that now, more than two months after the storm, 70 percent of the island’s hotels are open for business again, including the emblematic San Juan Hotel in Isla Verde, which will partially resume operations starting next week.
Each year, tourism generates about $7 billion in revenues for the island, and thus the lack of electricity and the closure of hotels after Hurricane Maria represented an alarming situation for local authorities.