Beaches among the first in the visitor economy to reopen
The most recent research briefing by Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO) reports that during the week of March 1 to April 11, hotel occupancy rates on the island plummeted from 77 percent to 5 percent.
In comparison, during the same period, hotel occupancy rates in the U.S. mainland dropped from 62 percent to 22 percent.
The data shows that the coronavirus crisis has hit the Puerto Rico tourism industry harder than its U.S. counterpart. The island’s general lockdown is much stricter than those in the U.S. mainland. For example, an employee at Vacasa, an international property-management company based in Portland, Ore., indicted that the company was accepting existing reservations for the West Coast in mid-April, although thousands of short-term rentals had been canceled. Residents of the City of Roses can walk around freely and parks are open.
Meanwhile, family members told your correspondent that they could go for a run on the streets of New York City and drive from Minneapolis, Minn. to nearby towns to buy comfort-food pies “to go.”
Still, Adam Sacks, the president of Tourism Economics, noted that the coronavirus epidemic is hitting the U.S. economy hard. To date, nearly 30 million people have lost their jobs in the last three months (layoffs and furloughs). Hourly workers stateside have also seen their hours cut by an average 60 percent.
Tourism Economics is expecting a “U” shaped recovery that will take 12-18 months. Specifically, Sacks predicted that $400 billion in travel spending, both domestically and internationally, will be lost in 2020.
In terms of travel spending losses, Puerto Rico is among the worst markets in the U.S., comparing percentage changes year-over-year; the island is next to last before Rhode Island.
The worst markets that have seen travel spending plummet by more than 80 percent, year-over-year are: Arizona, California, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island.
This indicates that the Enchanted Island has a bigger hole to climb out of.
Beaches reopening with social distancing
As reported, while Puerto Rico is still grappling with easing its strict lockdown and curfew restrictions, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) has reopened its beaches.
The USVI, a sister U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, is also a major tourism destination.
On April 20, USVI Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. announced that their beaches have reopened, as have the beaches under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, with the exception of Cramer’s Park on St. Croix’s East End, which was vandalized and may reopen soon.
“We are allowing beach restaurants to reopen, but we are restricting the sale of alcohol,” Bryan said. “I want to remind the public that the requirements for social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings are still in effect and will be fully enforced. That means absolutely no congregations of more than 10 individuals.”
He warned that if the public did not adhere to the new regulations, the beaches would be closed again. “I want to be absolutely clear, no picnics, no parties, no DJs, no get-togethers, no camping, no kick-backs, no bonfires,” Bryan said.
In the U.S. mainland, California, Florida and Texas have reopened in some areas with social distancing rules in place. In these communities, beaches are open for a few hours a day, while some are “barring lounging on chairs and towels with coolers,” to prevent social gatherings, according to The Associated Press. In Florida, for example, beaches are limited to gatherings of no more than 10 people and spaced at least six feet apart.