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Editorial & Column


Go Tourism


May 20, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

It’s profitable, it’s clean, and it can grow lots more. Most important, the tourism industry creates jobs–tens of thousands of jobs–that remain in Puerto Rico no matter what. What’s not to love about it? Nothing really.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, Puerto Rico’s travel & tourism industry already generates $9 billion and 83,200 direct and indirect jobs locally. In 10 years, those numbers could go up to $19.3 billion and 121,500 jobs, and more.

With the obvious exception of internal tourism, the money the tourism industry generates is all new money from outside that gets injected into our economy and stays in the hands of the tens of thousands of people it employs directly or indirectly, from the bellboy to the owner of a small inn, from the cabbie to the tour operator, from the restaurant owner to the waiter.

Compare, for example, most sectors of the retail industry, where money just changes hands locally. Or the manufacturing industry, whose much-touted 40%-plus contribution to the island’s gross domestic product is largely the value of output manufactured here, yes, but sold around the world, which means that proportionally, it doesn’t create as many jobs.

In fact, it’s all about jobs. The tourism industry is and always will be labor-intensive. That means that relative to its value as a percentage of gross domestic product–i.e., the amount of money it generates for the economy–the tourism industry employs a lot of people. Think of all the service labor employed at hotels and resorts. Not only that, being a service industry, it’s difficult to see the industry downsizing because of technological advances. You can have robots on a manufacturing production line, but you will always need a human caddie to play golf.

Furthermore, because the tourism industry is outsourcing-proof by its very nature, the jobs it generates here will never go somewhere else. You can’t visit El Morro or El Yunque in Bangladesh. Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and China may have other attractions, but not ours. Tourists who want to visit Puerto Rico will need hospitality, catering, entertainment, and transportation services delivered to them here, not anywhere else. If we develop our industry correctly, local tourism jobs will always stay here.

What we should indeed fear is being left behind by competing destinations who can offer some of our same attractions, such as beautiful beaches, colonial fortresses, and sunny weather, for a lot less money because they are lower-wage economies and have surpassed us in developing resort hotels and attractions to accommodate the ever-growing worldwide leisure travel industry.

Take, for example, the Dominican Republic. Thirty-five years ago it had fewer rooms than Puerto Rico. Today, it has four times as many and 10,000 more under construction. At the end of this year, the D.R. will have close to 60,000 hotel rooms, compared with the 14,000 Puerto Rico hopes to have by then.

One of the reasons why economies around the world are banking on tourism’s potential for economic development is that it’s a clean, environmentally sound industry. Again, by its very nature, tourism is an economic activity prone to protecting the environment because its long-term economic viability depends on it. Who wants to visit a dirty old place? In this sense, it’s mind-boggling why so many radical environmental groups oppose the development of every new hotel or tourism facility in Puerto Rico.

The good news is that while hotel-room construction has been bogged down in the past three years, our local tourism industry now has a strategic master plan that has been well received and widely supported by the public and private sectors.

But we have to move faster on every front. As an ideal tourism destination in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico has as one of its greatest assets in that it is a safe destination under the U.S. flag. That’s not enough, however. Developing more and better attractions that lure first-time and repeat visitors and building more hotel rooms and other facilities to accommodate them should be top priorities for whichever new administration is sworn into office next year.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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