Many media outlets, Forbes included, have reported that Puerto Rico reopens for tourism on July 15th. Visitors will be required to present negative a Covid-19 test that was taken within 72 hours of arrival to the island. In lieu of a negative test, passengers will be required to remain in quarantine for 14 days. If their visit will be for less than two weeks, they’ll be required to remain in quarantine the entire time they’re here.
As the owner of the island’s first experiential travel company, I ought to be happy to hear this. I have been anxiously waiting until it’s safe to travel again and I can start promoting the most beautiful island and all of the incredible, off-the-beaten path excursions I can introduce potential clients to. My marketing manager, Grey, spent 6 months finding these holes in the wall because most things to do and see and places to eat don’t have an Internet presence and it definitely felt like the air got let out of our sails when the pandemic hit (only eight months after I founded Purple Coquí Tours).
When the pandemic first hit, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced imposed very strict measures to protect who she often refers to as her children (the residents of the island). She was among the first to call for a curfew that started at 7:00 and mandatory and immediate closures of most businesses on the island. She was even handing out $5000 fines to those caught congregating at the beaches and in public. I applauded her for stepping up. I never faulted her for her aggressive stance against this virus.
And while I get Governor Vázquez Garced is caving into the pressure to reopen because we’re a poor island and people need to work to eat and feed their families, between purchasing C19 tests from a construction company for $38 million, not making tests available for all of us on the island, and reopening so soon after states like Texas and Florida saw surges in cases once they reopened, I’m no longer confident Governor Vázquez Garced has her children’s best interest at heart.
Why I’m Not Excited As Puerto Rico Reopens for Tourism
People visit Puerto Rico from all over the U.S. but by and large the majority of travelers come from New York, New Jersey and Florida. While we’re starting to see a pretty dramatic decline in New York (particularly New York City) and New Jersey, the same can’t be said for Florida.
Is Puerto Rico equipped to manage if there’s a spike in Covid-19 cases? My best guess is no. There are 67 hospitals on the island, and in total there are approximately 9,000 beds for an island with 3.2 million people. This is without a spike in C19 cases. Even with a negative test, with an incubation period of between two and 15 days, it means there could be people entering the island who may have a negative test result, but who may not show symptoms right away. This isn’t histrionics on my part. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) concurs:
A negative test yesterday doesn’t mean a traveler didn’t come in contact with the virus while in the airport, on the plane, at the testing facility or at any point after the test was performed.
As a resident of the island, I have concerns. The U.S. census reports that our population is almost 3.2 million people, which is almost comparable to Mississippi’s population of 2.9 million. And yet despite Puerto Rico and Mississippi having similar numbers of residents, our Covid-19 cases tell a completely different story.
We have relatively few cases, and while I would love to have people visit, I’m scared. Most of the restaurants and excursions I take clients to are outside the metro area, where people are poorer, have less access to good hospitals, testing, etc. Just the other day as I was leaving my town to go food shopping in the next town, I passed one of my favorite restaurants. They were hosting an event for a welder/fabricator.
The restaurant is behind the green car and on the same property as a gas station.
I don’t know how many people showed up, but there had to be upwards of 500 people. I noticed the cops across the street when I returned home. I don’t know if they’d just arrived and were going to do crowd control, planning to send everyone home or had other ideas. I didn’t stick around. I love La Placita del Vivi‘s food and will continue doing takeout from there, but I have no interest in mingling with people so soon.
Oh, There’s Also a Little Water Problem on the Island
It is pretty baffling Governor Vázquez Garced is reopening the island for tourism amid a water shortage. The issue affects 140,000 residents and is the result of two issues:
- It hasn’t rained much in the metro area over the last few months (by contrast, the mountains are saturated)
- Although not widely known outside Puerto Rico, our reservoirs have never been dredged. So what you see in the reservoirs isn’t even a realistic picture.
What will the strain of having tourists visiting have on this emergency?
The Up and Downside of Experiential Travel
By and large experiential travel is a better way to go for elevendy million reasons.
With experiential travel, you don’t just go sightseeing at famous landmarks, taking pictures to document your visit. Your experience goes deeper than that. You can get so much more out of travel when you fully immerse yourself in the culture, its natural surroundings, the food, the history and other aspects of where you’re visiting. By default this means travelers won’t be exposed to the masses huddling around El Morro and roaming the streets of Viejo San Juan. It also means my clients will be checking out places where for the moment Covid-19 cases are low, or in the case of my town, non-existent.
As my client’s personal chauffeur while they’re here, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t deeply concerned. I guess it means I will continue taking a wait and see approach.
While Puerto Rico reopens for tourism on July 15th, Purple Coquí Tours will remain closed until we see if there is a spike in cases. I have to weigh my own pocketbook against the safety and health of my fellow Boricua, my friends, neighbors, my own family and you. I am booking tours and will continue honoring my 25% off for at least another year, I’m just not ready to have people visit on July 16th.