Recently I flew to Wisconsin for a memorial service. I stayed in a Wyndham Hotel and while everything was fine, I was quickly reminded of the reasons I loathe hotels and prefer Airbnbs. Although this may seem like a personal preference, it’s not just about my personal comfort. I feel strongly about staying in an Airbnb in Puerto Rico for several reason: most aren’t about personal comfort and all of them point to why I founded Purple Coquí Tours.
I have several but I’ll limit them to four and focus on how they relate to experiential travel in Puerto Rico and keeping Puerto Rico as beautiful as it can be.
Airbnb in Puerto Rico vs. Big Hotel Chains: Location, Location, Location
Understanding that without a travel planner, most first time visitors to Puerto Rico will likely limit their stay to San Juan’s metro area, Manatí (which offers close proximity to the island’s largest outlet mall), Rio Grande (home of El Yunque Rainforest and near the Bioluminescent Bay), Ponce and maybe Rincon (where many ex-U.S. transplants go to live), the big hotel chains have set up shop in those locations. The Marriott, The Hilton, The Ritz-Carlton, The Wyndham, The Hyatt, etc. are all centrally located to where travelers tend to flock.
When my husband and I visited Puerto Rico the first time (in the summer of 2007), we stayed in Carolina the first week, because it was close to San Juan and El Yunque. We stayed in Ponce the second week. As we drove from Carolina to the southeast corner (we didn’t take the 52 toll road, but rather small roads so we could really see the island) and then west to Ponce, we discovered a couple of things:
- We didn’t see any of the big chain hotels once we left Rio Grande (there may have been one or two, but we didn’t see them)
- We’d never heard of the towns we drove through, despite their beauty and unique charm
We vowed to come back the following summer but instead stay at either a bed & breakfast or find a home someone was renting on the Internet. In those days there was vacation rentals dot com, VRBO and Home Away. Airbnb was in its infancy and there wasn’t a single Airbnb in Puerto Rico yet.
We had five criteria for the house we would rent:
- It had to be away from the beach (we’re not beach people)
- It had to be in the countryside and on several acres of land
- It had to have a full kitchen so we could live as locals do
- It had to have at least one hammock
- It had to have a bathtub. I have a bad back and need to soak sometimes.
As luck would have it, we found the one and only home for rent that was not on the beach. This unique place was in the mountains, and sitting on eight acres of land. The views were stunning and the people in the town were very friendly. So friendly that we were invited to local bar (which we still frequent to this day) and a quinceañera. This is a “coming out” party for a girl who’s turning 15.
Although it’s possible if we’d stayed in a big chain hotel we could have met locals and been invited to a family-owned bar and to a private birthday party, it’s pretty unlikely. It’s also unlikely we would have been introduced to the town of Utuado so soon. And we loved Utuado, so much that when we returned to look for a farm to buy, we decided to stay put here. For some travelers location, location, location means a resort or a big chain hotel. However, if experiential travel is your goal, what better way can you think of to experience Puerto Rico than to live among the locals? By being in a hotel chain, you may or may not come in contact with many Boricua, and if you do, it’s likely they don’t live here. Without the option of staying in a home, I doubt we would have made as many friends as we did during our second visit. And most of these people are still friends of ours to this day. Try that in a hotel chain.
The Negative Impacts of Big Hotel Chains on the Environment
My biggest gripes about big hotel chains is the impact they have on the environment. While I was staying in the Wyndham, I found myself counting how many times people threw out plastic bottles, plastic utensils and plates, as well as styrofoam to go containers. According to an article in Forbes from 2017, more than 1 million plastic bottles once containing water are thrown in the garbage on a daily basis, and go to sit in a landfill for all of eternity. And, as it turns out, more than 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. Plastic bottles are made using polyethylene terephthalate (PET for short). Once thrown in the landfills, take an estimated 400 years to break down. The really sad thing is that as destructive as plastic is, it can be recycled … if only people didn’t throw them out.
There was no attempt to recycle anything at the hotel or in restaurants. There was no composting of leftover food and I highly doubt they give any leftovers to the homeless.
By dumping so much waste into landfills, we’re all adding to the fossil fuels. And when people don’t dispose of plastic, and instead toss them on the ground, on beaches and along country roads, they pollute waterways and the soil with their highly toxic materials.
I don’t claim to have all the solutions to protecting the environment, but I do have a couple that will minimize the damage. If you are a client of Purple Coquí Tours, we start your experience with three things:
- An insulated, reusable water bottle
- Either a Brita water filter/pitcher combo or a Sawyer water purifier. (Your choice. Both filter out 99% of bacteria and viruses.)
- A cotton tote bag to carry groceries or whatever else you buy. Unfortunately plastic bags are still handed out at grocery stores here.
Here is the insulated, reusable water bottle:
Here is the cotton tote bag:
Airbnb in Puerto Rico vs. Big Hotel Chains: The Economy
The median income in the U.S. is about $60,000. In many states (like California) if the household income is less than $60,000, it’s below the poverty line. Conversely in Puerto Rico, the median income is $19,000. Large hotel chains, such as the Hilton, Wyndham, Marriott, etc. earn anywhere from the high millions to the low billions annually. In essence, guests in their hotels are paying them to destroy the environment.
According to Business Insider, the median annual income of a hotel worker is $32,000. In 2018, the president and CEO of Marriott, Inc., Arne M. Sorenson made $12,910,683. Because the Marriott is a public company, his salary is public record. If you’d like to see how his salary is broken out, here you go:
I’m not naive. I know the founders of Airbnb make a percentage off hosts when guests stay in their homes, but it’s only three percent. It costs hosts $350 yearly to list their homes on a website with international recognition. And while hosts pay taxes on their earnings, the remainder is theirs to keep. It’s far from a perfect system, but I’d rather see local people making money than big chain hotels, because as you can see from the image above, Arne Sorenson and other CEOs of big chain hotels don’t need to make any more money off you.
Airbnb in Puerto Rico Means Variety not Cookie Cutter
Whether you’re staying at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, a Four Seasons or the Joule in Dallas, Texas, underneath the décor are the same things:
- A king or queen bed
- A bathroom
- Drunken hotel guests who make an incredible amount of noise getting off the elevator
- Piles of garbage and plastic water bottles that are thrown out, rather than recycled
By contrast, here are a few of the options awaiting you if you book a house or a condo at an Airbnb in Puerto Rico:
There are many reasons to consider an Airbnb in Puerto Rico over a big chain hotel. These are just four of them. The bottom line is, if you’re planning a trip to Puerto Rico, don’t just visit Puerto Rico. Experience Puerto Rico. Where you stay is as important as the activities you book, the people you’ll meet and the food you eat.
Call or email us today. We’ll help you plan the vacation of a lifetime.