For your next vacation, consider an alternative tourism blossoming in Puerto Rico
The aftermath of Hurricane Maria caused significant damage to the tourism industry in Puerto Rico. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), there was a loss in 2017 of 826,100 visitors to the Caribbean who would have produced $741 million and over 11,000 jobs. Hurricane Maria affected close to 10,000 small businesses, which work with far less business than before. As it stands, most hotels and restaurants have reopened and are welcoming in a record number of visitors post-Hurricane Maria. Unfortunately, many issues remain such as power outages from damaged and outdated grids; a drought impacting 30% of the population (of 3.2 million) resulting in water shortages in the northern coast; as well as, depletion in the food industry. Tourism is a direct and obvious fix for the economy, however, a new form of tourism can lend a better solution.
Partaking in a leisurely vacation on one of the islands is one way to support a boost in tourism in Puerto Rico; however, others have taken a more active approach. Tourism Cares, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering a positive social and environmental impact at travel destinations through the tourism industry, participated in a volunteer experience that directly supported infrastructure and environmental efforts. Nearly 200 members were on the islands tackling aid-related issues and volunteering on a work site. One member included Arnie Weissmann, Editor in Chief of Travel Weekly and board member of Tourism Cares. Weissmann uncovers that a common growing sentiment among travelers is a demand for hands-on experience.
Voluntourism (tourism and volunteer) is a popular travel trend that involves travelers working for inbound organizations or programs targeting relief for inhabitants. Although work is usually on temporary basis contributions can cause long-standing results for the island and its residents. Local Guest, a Puerto Rican women-led non-profit organization, combines adventurous excursions with sustainable conservation projects. Expeditions feature snorkeling in the urban coral reef area of San Juan and art workshops guided by local artists of Casa Mucaro paired with educational programs and cleanup projects. For a longer commitment, Jewish Response to Disaster (NECHAMA) offers accommodation, meals, and transportation to work sites for volunteers of any religious background. Even though painting or planting trees may appear minor, volunteering is the best way to educate mainlanders on issues in Puerto Rico, interact with locals on a personal level, and strengthen economic and environmental conditions.
The bounce back in tourism has been no small feat. Dynamic marketing from Discover Puerto Rico which is the islands’ first Destination Marketing organization and in-depth research on leading volunteer organizations are taking the charge in ensuring travelers of all regards and residents can enjoy a bustling and prosperous Puerto Rico. In light of these large-scale changes, each action and personal relationships mean that much more. However, you spend your next vacation seeking authenticity and a deep connection to the community and its people will leave the place better than you found it.