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Tourism’s Potential

By 2014, the tourism industry in Puerto Rico could represent $19.3 billion a year to the local economy and generate more than 120,000 direct jobs, if...


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

The ultimate local industry

At a time when other industries are outsourcing jobs to foreign countries with low wages, tourism promises to fuel Puerto Rico’s economy and provide thousands more permanent local jobs

Tourism activity in Puerto Rico is expected to generate $9 billion for the local economy this year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

According to the organization, Puerto Rico’s tourism industry already generates 83,186 direct and indirect local jobs. It projects that by 2014, tourism will represent $19.3 billion a year and 121,534 jobs for the Island of Enchantment.

Statistics of the WTTC, considered the most important tourism organization in the world, differ from those of the Puerto Rico Planning Board, which the local government commonly uses to measure tourism activity on the island.

Traditionally, the Planning Board has used visitor expenditures as the key indicator of tourism activity in Puerto Rico. In fiscal year 2003, visitor expenditures amounted to $2.5 billion, representing 5.7% of the island’s gross domestic product.

Upon interviewing local hoteliers, economists, and government officials, however, CARIBBEAN BUSINESS discovered the Planning Board’s figures underestimate the value and importance of tourism to Puerto Rico’s economy.

Unlike other issues such as the crime rate and the island’s political status, there seems to be consensus across party lines in the public and private sectors that tourism is the industry with the greatest potential to advance Puerto Rico’s economy. A decade ago, the Rossello administration proclaimed tourism would be the spearhead (la punta de lanza) in a new economic model that would transform the island into the Gateway of the Americas.

"During the past few years, the economic sector that has shown constant growth has been tourism," said Erin Benitez, executive director of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA).

According to Benitez, tourism activity touches every other sector of an economy, as the WTTC’s accounting model reveals. The PRHTA has used WTTC findings to demonstrate tourism’s potential in the local economy.

Tourism is more than hotels. It also encompasses transportation, catering, retail, recreation, entertainment, and a wide array of other services for visitors, including banking and healthcare. That is why tourism is one of the world’s most important industries and the world’s No. 1 employer.

In the local budget proposal for fiscal year 2003, the Office of Management & Budget described tourism as an important activity in the island’s economy for which the government must ensure continuance in its development process.

Rep. Sylvia Corujo, chairwoman of the House Tourism Committee, is convinced tourism could be one of the island’s top three economic sectors.

"Tourism is really important for Puerto Rico. As such, we [the legislative and executive branches] need to revamp this sector, providing adequate resources for its proper development," said Corujo. "In order to be effective and competitive as a tourism destination, we have to show special care in upgrading our services, setting performance standards, and diversifying the island’s offerings with low-, moderate- and high-price products to capture different markets."

"Puerto Rico’s potential for tourism is great, but this sector performs way below the level of opportunity it represents," said economist Vicente Feliciano of Advantage Business Consulting. "We should think of tourism as a good, successful, and highly profitable venture for Puerto Rico."

Feliciano said Puerto Rico hasn’t fully realized tourism’s potential precisely because the industry offers possibilities to develop more than just hotels. He believes Puerto Rico’s economic growth will be linked to tourism and suggests the island’s tourism strategies should aim to strengthen the sector. Compared with other economic activities where money just changes hands among locals, tourism represents an influx of money from the outside into the local economy.

Feliciano said Puerto Rico should explore other products to attract retirees, as Costa Rica and Florida have done, and to attract people, known as snowbirds, who would like to buy a second home overseas. It also needs to create incentive packages to compensate for high operating costs on the island.

Seeking innovative alternatives for Puerto Rico’s economic growth seems especially urgent today, when U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost to overseas markets with lower labor costs. Labor is so cheap in China, which has a population of almost 1.5 billion, for example, that even if Puerto Rico had new federal tax incentives, the island still wouldn’t be attractive enough. Technology companies, too, have been outsourcing jobs overseas; India, for example, now manages credit-card accounts and provides call-center support for some U.S. companies.

The U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the U.S. manufacturing industry has lost 2.9 million jobs since 2001. Another 936,500 jobs have been lost in the information services and retail trade industries.

In a study conducted for the U.S. Labor Department and recently published in USA Today, Forrester Research projected that 3.3 million U.S. mainland jobs would move to foreign countries by 2015, mostly because of lower labor costs. The office, computers, business, management, sales, and architecture are the sectors most likely to lose jobs to overseas markets.

On the other hand, leisure hospitality—i.e., tourism, education, healthcare, and financial services—has seen an increase in jobs. In the past three years, the leisure industry stateside has added 244,000 jobs.

Lack of continuity hinders tourism development

Although there exists consensus on the need to develop Puerto Rico’s tourism industry, efforts to that end haven’t yielded the results they should have, in great part because of a lack of planning.

Tourism expert Professor Carlos Diago, who helped to create the Tourism Co. during the Ferre administration and was the agency’s deputy executive director for over 25 years, said Puerto Rico hasn’t been able to provide the continuity necessary to develop the tourism industry.

"The lack of a comprehensive master development plan for tourism has prevented Puerto Rico from strengthening tourism as an economic sector," he said. "Throughout the years, there have been different approaches to the Tourism Co.’s role. It was understood that the agency’s role is to promote Puerto Rico as a destination, without ensuring the quality of the product we offer."

Having a comprehensive master plan would have given Puerto Rico an official and clear-cut strategy for promoting hospitality projects aimed at various tourism segments, such as nautical tourism, upscale luxury resorts, nature tourism, and cultural tourism. "A plan would have resulted in a series of Puerto Rico promoters looking for investors and products to be developed on the island," said Diago.

"We are behind other destinations in the Caribbean [in terms of performance and room inventory] because there has been no continuity within the government," said Rep. Corujo. "Each government administration does something different. While one administration creates certain tourism initiatives, another takes office and eliminates programs or changes strategies." She cited the shutdown in the 1990s of the Isla Verde Hospitality School as an example.

"Since our tourism [product] is more expensive than other destinations’, good service becomes key," added Corujo. "The service a waiter provides is as essential as the way a housekeeper arranges the hotel room, so educating people about hospitality is a must."

"Economies evolve, and tourism wasn’t seen as an important sector [in ours] 30 years ago," said PRHTA President Alain Tiphaine. "Puerto Rico was focused on industrializing the island. Now, manufacturing is no longer the main driver of the economy in terms of job creation."

Benitez noted that another detriment to the development of tourism in Puerto Rico has been negative perceptions about the industry. "It was thought that working in tourism, as a waiter or a bellboy, for example, was less important than other jobs. As time passed, it was demonstrated that people can develop a successful career in this challenging industry," she said.

The PRHTA, which has some 500 members (including hotels and paradors, food suppliers, and travel agents), also believes that approving new laws without understanding the complexities of the tourism industry only increases hotels’ operating costs, hurting the industry and thus, the local economy. The proposal to grant vacation and sick-leave benefits to part-time employees, for example, is one of the many initiatives threatening the economic viability of tourism-related projects, according to the organization.

Tiphaine noted that local hoteliers spend $0.50 out of every visitor dollar on labor costs. In other destinations, such as the Dominican Republic and Mexico, the cost of wages and fringe benefits for tourism employees is much lower. These destinations also attract hotel developments because of the relatively low cost of land and the relative strength of the U.S. dollar.

"Tourism jobs are permanent jobs because serving a guest requires a personal touch," said Benitez. "People aren’t aware of the importance of tourism, but the truth is that tourism spreads through many economic sectors, from baggage people at the airport to gardeners who keep up the grounds."

One local hotel’s general manager recently said that unlike jobs in manufacturing, jobs in the hospitality industry can’t be moved. "We can’t outsource Puerto Rico’s beaches or El Yunque rain forest. People who want to experience Puerto Rico have to come and see those attractions here," he said.

Veteran hotelier Rick Newman added that the constant changes within the government have prevented the development of an effective marketing plan for Puerto Rico as a tourism destination. "It is sad that Puerto Rico, which possesses an array of beautiful elements, hasn’t capitalized on its tourism potential. There isn’t a single industry that promises to create so many direct and indirect jobs as tourism," he said.

Newman added that Puerto Rico’s room inventory hasn’t grown enough because of the cumbersome permitting process and the lack of infrastructure.

According to the Tourism Co., it could take three to six years to complete a large tourism project in Puerto Rico. A look at the agency’s pipeline of projects (CB April 1) reveals developers’ struggle with the cumbersome process. Projects such as Fairmont Coco Beach in Rio Grande, the Vanderbilt and La Concha hotels in Condado, Dos Mares Resort in Fajardo, and San Miguel Four Seasons in Luquillo have been pushed back for nearly a decade before finally becoming a reality.

Newman said developers have also had to invest in infrastructure because of the government’s failure to meet the demand for water and electrical services, roads, and port facilities. When proposing a new hotel development, entrepreneurs have to ensure their properties will have enough water and electricity in case the government should fail to provide those basic services, he said. Those expenses increase hotels’ operating costs, which ultimately are passed to consumers.

Newman also noted that Puerto Rico lacks fresh tourism attractions. "Puerto Rico has been left behind in terms of its attractions. El Yunque and the Camuy Caves, for example, have been around for many years," he said. "We need to create attractions to motivate tourists to visit the island over and over. The latest product we have developed is the [forthcoming] convention center, and nothing else has been proposed."

More attractions are needed to lure visitors so we can fill the new convention center once it is finished. A convention center alone doesn’t attract visitors.

Insufficient data

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to boosting local tourism is that there is no methodology to adequately assess its economic impact. This hinders the government’s and the private sector’s ability to chart a course of action for the industry’s development.

To evaluate the island’s tourism industry, the Planning Board relies on data from the Tourism Co., which maintains statistics on hotel occupancy; the Labor & Human Resources Department; and local firm MMOR Research, which regularly interviews passengers at Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in Carolina.

Planning Board data for tourism include visitor expenditures, number of travelers, number of jobs, and where tourists stay. Although this is valuable information, it isn’t enough to enable the Planning Board to determine the full impact of tourism activity on the local economy.

For example, the Planning Board’s figures don’t reveal indirect jobs from tourism. Economist Feliciano said the expenditures by those who stay with relatives are substantial. In fiscal year 2003, he noted, people staying in places other than hotels spent $1.3 billion, or 6% more than hotel guests.

Another oversight is that surveys on visitor expenditures aren’t conducted at other local ports such as Aguadilla’s Rafael Hernandez Airport, whose inbound and outbound traffic has increased significantly in the past few years.

Jose Auger, director of economic studies at the Planning Board, said the agency’s methodology does provide reliable information about the island’s tourism activity. He noted that MMOR Research conducts nearly 7,000 interviews each month to obtain data on visitors.

Data are collected manually on a form suitable for optical recognition. The form has nearly 10 questions and was revised in 2001. After processing, the data are sent electronically to the Planning Board.

"It is a large sample. Once we receive the data, the sample goes through a validation process to check that figures reported electronically are consistent with the data entered on the form," said Auger.

Urgent need for tourism satellite account

Auger said creating a tourism satellite account (TSA) for Puerto Rico that corresponds to the WTTC model would provide a better assessment of tourism’s contribution to, as well as its potential for, the local economy.

Rep. Sylvia Corujo filed a bill to create such an accounting model, developed by the WTTC and the United Nations to raise awareness about tourism’s tremendous impact on employment and the economy. Each year, the WTTC analyzes the performance of tourism industries in more than 170 destinations; the research is conducted with Oxford Economic Forecasting. The local bill was filed last year, but is still awaiting a decision by the House Treasury Committee.

"Having the TSA model would give Puerto Rico a clearer picture of our tourism activity and would allow us to measure our performance against other destinations," said Diago. "Other Latin American countries that have fewer economic resources have adopted the model."

Auger agrees the TSA model would help Puerto Rico fine-tune its policy on tourism. He points out, however, that tourism won’t ever be the island’s top economic sector because of its cyclical nature and its vulnerability to external events.

Auger added that the Planning Board would need at least a year to create the TSA model for Puerto Rico. Then, it would need human and economic resources to put the model into effect.

"The first thing we would have to do is hire more personnel," he said. "Right now, the Planning Board division that could have responsibility for the TSA model is staffed by a single economist."

Nevertheless, Auger is positive of tourism’s potential for Puerto Rico. "Tourism is sensitive to many events out of our control, such as currency devaluation, inflation, and security issues such as terrorism. If there is a recession, people reduce spending on entertainment, but tourism can grow much more; that’s for sure," he said.

Dominican Republic & Cuba taking on Puerto Rico in tourism

Puerto Rico’s lack of planning and continuity has affected the development of its tourism industry over the past few decades. In the meantime, other Caribbean destinations have developed innovative strategies to grab a bigger share of the global tourism market.

Who is the leader?

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) reported that in 2002, 34 Caribbean destinations combined, including Puerto Rico, received 19 million tourist arrivals.

Puerto Rico ranked No. 1 among Caribbean destinations, with 3.2 million visitors, or 16.8% of the region’s total. The Dominican Republic came in second with 2.8 million visitors (14.7%), followed by Cancun and Cozumel in Mexico with a combined 2.1 million visitors (11.1%). Cuba achieved a 9% share of the Caribbean market, with 1.7 million visitors.

Although Puerto Rico leads Caribbean destinations in number of tourist arrivals, its major contenders have seen higher growth rates. The Dominican Republic, for example, saw the number of tourist arrivals jump by some 56% between 1994 and 2002, from 1.8 million to 2.8 million. Cuba saw a nearly twofold increase, from 617,000 in 1994 to 1.7 million in 2002. Puerto Rico has registered a modest 6% growth in the number of visitor arrivals, from 3 million in 1994 to 3.2 million tourist arrivals in 2003.

"The Caribbean is composed of both mature and new destinations in terms of tourism. Cuba and the Dominican Republic are somehow newer destinations for our visitors," said Arley Sobers, director of research & information management at the Barbados-based CTO.

Sobers said Cuba, though once popular among American visitors, is still virgin territory for many tourists. Despite its communist government and the over 40-year-old U.S. embargo, he added, the largest country in the Caribbean has succeeded in tourism because it has focused on attracting visitors from the European and Canadian markets.

As with tourist arrivals, the Caribbean has seen growth in room inventory. In total, Caribbean destinations had 261,000 guest rooms in 2002. According to the CTO, the Dominican Republic had the biggest room inventory in the Caribbean, with 54,730 rooms. Cuba was second with 41,323, followed by Cancun with 25,829 and Jamaica with 24,239.

Currently, the Dominican Republic has almost 10,000 new rooms under construction. This will give it an inventory of more than 60,000 rooms. Sobers said the Dominican Republic’s policy to invest in tourism responds to its appreciation of the industry’s value.

Puerto Rico’s room inventory, meanwhile, stood at 12,788 in 2003. The Tourism Co. expects an additional 1,479 rooms in 2004.

Sobers added that the Caribbean has gained a lot of ground because it has a public image as a united region. He also noted that organizations such as the CTO have helped to provide continuity to the region’s efforts in favor of tourism, particularly in overseas markets such as Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

"The Caribbean is seen as a safe destination amid all the difficulties such as terrorism and severe acute respiratory syndrome, but it is also seen as a brand itself. At the same time, although we project ourselves as a region, each country is different, offering a unique array of choices to travelers and visitors," said Sobers.

Alain Tiphaine, president of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA), said Puerto Rico must be receptive to changes in competing destinations. "Puerto Rico performs well in terms of tourism, but we can’t become complacent. It is important for us to be open, to know what the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean destinations are doing," he said.

Looking ahead

Economist Vicente Feliciano of Advantage Business Consulting believes Puerto Rico hasn’t realized its full potential as a tourism destination. He said people’s perception about tourism isn’t consistent with Puerto Rico’s reality; the dynamics of local tourism are more complex than what government figures might reveal.

For one, he said, tourists who stay in guesthouses or with relatives spend more money in Puerto Rico than those who stay in hotels, including paradors. The Planning Board reported that in fiscal year 2003, tourists who stayed with relatives or in guesthouses spent $1.3 billion on the island, while tourists staying in hotels and paradors spent $1.2 billion.

Feliciano said Puerto Rico should explore ways to balance high operating costs with an expansion of the tourism market, such as developing tourism-residential projects. Since these projects combine plenty of services, businesses such as restaurants, retailers, and entertainment providers get a wider market that includes not only hotel guests, but also year-round residents and extended-stay visitors.

Tourism-residential projects also offer greater opportunities for job creation. According to a study by Advantage Business Consulting, the construction phase of a hotel project generates two direct jobs per room, whereas a tourism-residential project’s construction creates 11 jobs per room. During the operational phase, a tourism-residential project might create some five direct and indirect jobs, yielding $1,905 in income taxes and $9,600 in property taxes.

"Tourism is a growth industry by definition because as people get wealthier, they spend more money on tourism and entertainment activities. It is a good industry to be in," said Feliciano.

"Puerto Rico’s tourism industry can be responsive and internationally competitive, offering a product that compares with the best in the world," he added. "Our tourism product won’t be for everyone; within the markets we are targeting, however, Puerto Rico could be at the top."

PRHTA Executive Director Erin Benitez said the private and public sectors must cooperate to advance the development of tourism and the island’s economy. She noted that Puerto Rico now has a strategic plan for the tourism industry, which all should support. Adopted in 2002, the plan includes nearly 14 strategies, including upgrading the ports’ infrastructure and the island’s transportation system and creating promotions to broaden Puerto Rico’s market.

"For the first time in Puerto Rico’s history, we have a strategic plan to push tourism forward. It is a good plan, and we should embrace it regardless of who proposed it. It will give continuity to many efforts already under way, and it will allow us to succeed if we act on it together," said Benitez.

Tourism means big bucks, jobs around the world

The tourism industry is expected to generate $5.49 trillion and 214.6 million direct and indirect jobs around the globe in 2004, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

The organization predicts that by 2014, tourism will represent $9.56 trillion and over a quarter-billion direct and indirect jobs, or nearly 9% of the world’s total work force. In other words, one of every 11 jobs will be tourism-related.

Tourism’s potential to advance a country’s economy is undisputed. Each year, countries throughout the world focus on leisure travel, corporate travel, and group meetings and conventions (among many other industry segments) to boost their economies, hoping to provide their people with better jobs, a better quality of life, and more buying power.

The WTTC invested nearly a decade in research to develop a model, the tourism satellite account, to gauge the tourism industry’s contribution to a country’s economy. In 2000, the United Nations Statistical Commission approved the model, now considered the best tool for interpreting the national system of accounts, which indicates a country’s economic health.

Juan Enriquez of Harvard Business School, author of "As the Future Catches You," identified several activities or industries that will dominate the global economy within the next five decades, including aerospace, software, genomics, finance, robotics, photonics, nanotechnology, and entertainment (part of travel and tourism). Of those, entertainment is the most promising.

The Puerto Rico government’s first steps into tourism

Tourism’s importance to the local economy has been appreciated for decades. The architect of Puerto Rico’s economic development in the 20th century, pharmacist Teodoro Moscoso, acknowledged tourism’s value and regretted not having pursued additional efforts to propel the industry in the 1960s.

"We really worked out a good tourism plan and gave it to [former Gov. Luis] Muñoz [Marin]. Unfortunately, nothing ever happened with it," Moscoso told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS during an exclusive interview nearly three decades ago (CB Aug. 7, 1975).

It was Moscoso who became the island’s first hotel promoter. In the 1960s, the local government began construction of the Caribe Hilton hotel in the Puerta de Tierra sector of San Juan.

Tourism expert, Professor Carlos Diago said Moscoso developed a series of incentives to spur tourism in Puerto Rico. "Modern tourism, as we know it today, emerged after World War II. Moscoso established an incentives plan because there was no high-caliber hospitality facility on the island," he said.

Although there were two other hotels in Puerto Rico—the Vanderbilt and the Normandie, both built in the first half of the 20th century—Moscoso envisioned the Caribe Hilton as a place for industrialists to stay while establishing manufacturing operations on the island under he government’s Operation Bootstrap program. Through Operation Bootstrap, the government sought to entice stateside firms to set up local operations through tax breaks, low-interest loans for equipment and machinery, and other incentives.

Many predicted that Moscoso’s venture into the tourism business would fail. At the time, Puerto Rico wasn’t known as the Island of Enchantment; Cuba was the Caribbean hot spot for U.S. mainland tourists. It wasn’t until after Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba in 1959 and imposed communism there that Puerto Rico emerged as viable tourism destination in the Caribbean.

In the 1960s, airlines began incorporating jets into their airplane fleets, making travel faster and more comfortable. Travel time between New York and San Juan, for example, was cut in half.

The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. adopted the "Puerto Rico, USA" slogan to attract tourists by touting that the island is part of the U.S. By the end of the decade, Puerto Rico had more than 3,000 hotel rooms. During his term as governor (1969-1972), Luis A. Ferre created the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. to promote the island as a tourism destination.

Plane tickets, diving excursions, and uniforms: tourism means jobs

During fiscal year 2003, 4.4 million tourists arrived in Puerto Rico and spent $2.7 billion, or 5.7% of the island’s gross domestic product. Angel Alverio, president of the Puerto Rico Travel Agencies Association, said the local population doesn’t fully appreciate tourism’s tremendous contribution to Puerto Rico’s economy.

Alverio noted that the 287 travel agencies doing business in Puerto Rico create 2,500 direct jobs and 5,000 indirect jobs and generate $500 million in annual sales. He believes the government should protect travel agencies because 98% of them are locally owned businesses. "Other destinations in the Caribbean and South America have passed legislation that ensures travel agents get a commission from selling plane tickets," said Alverio.

Like other businesses, he added, travel agencies pay taxes, generate advertising, rent space, obtain insurance, and hire tour operators, boosting other economic sectors. They also promote economic activity in other destinations when locals vacation overseas.

"We have agreements with many other countries and tour operators, so those destinations benefit when we plan a vacation for our customers. The Dominican Republic, for example, has benefited tremendously from our business," said Alverio.

Tourism under the sea

Karen Vega has been introducing tourists to Puerto Rico’s undersea beauty for decades. In 1977, she became the island’s first certified scuba diving instructor. Her company, Caribe Aquatic Adventures, was established in 1982.

"We receive customers from the San Juan Marriott, Intercontinental, and Caribe Hilton hotels," said Vega. "Puerto Rico is a good destination for divers and for those traveling with them who don’t practice the sport. While the customer goes diving, the family can enjoy the hotel’s amenities or go sightseeing."

She noted that while many of her customers are on vacation in Puerto Rico, others are visiting the island expressly to complete their scuba diving training. She noted that people from distant countries are introduced to Puerto Rico through Caribe Aquatic Adventure’s website and decide to vacation here; some 90% of her customers visit during winter.

"We are a two-man operation, though once we had 10 employees," said Vega. "Regardless of the number of jobs we create directly, our business touches others. For example, tourists get on a taxi to reach our facilities at the Normandie hotel, or we rent a bus. If a tourist plans to dive in Culebra, I suggest he stay there because it is more comfortable than making a daylong trip to dive one time and return to the metro area.

"We should put more effort into promoting diving and other water sports in Puerto Rico," added Vega. "St. Thomas has done great in terms of promoting diving and shopping."

A manufacturing operation devoted to tourism

Several years after the closure of Paolo, a Bayamon-based manufacturer of men’s shirts, textile chemist Pablo Hereter decided to try something a little different: making uniforms for hotels and other tourism-related businesses.

"I had been visiting hotels for a long time, and no matter which I visited, all employees looked the same, with a white shirt, a black tie, and a vest as part of their uniform," said Hereter.

He opened Tropical Uniforms in 1991. However, the economic conditions at the time made things a little tough.

"I knocked on a few doors [at some hotels] here but got no answers, so I jumped on a plane and started selling my product in the Lesser Antilles," said Hereter. The Hyatt Aruba gave Hereter his first contract.

In Puerto Rico, it was the Wyndham El Conquistador that dared to depart from the traditional black-and-white uniform. Since then, Hereter’s Santurce-based business has been on a roll.

Tropical Uniforms is the Caribbean’s only uniform provider that caters to the tourism industry. It produces up to 60,000 uniforms each year and has some 125 hotels as customers, with three-year contracts worth $50,000 to $200,000 each. Outside of the Santurce headquarters, Tropical Uniforms has some 200 employees in Moca, Bayamon, and Vega Alta who create uniforms for Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The company imports some materials and buys others in Puerto Rico. "While I buy textiles in New Jersey or California, I buy elastic, paper, thread, and buttons here," said Hereter. "There is no need to go abroad for materials that are available locally. We have to learn to appreciate and promote what we have."

Hereter said the key to the company’s uniforms is the custom fit, first because Latinos and other Caribbean people tend to have rounder or wider figures and second because uniforms should be comfortable. "We are always making uniforms. If there is a new employee, he comes in for measuring and we provide a custom-made outfit," said Hereter.

He noted that hotels have been asking for special textiles or designs created by local designers. Some have abandoned the traditional terry robes and asked Hereter to design new ones with bright colors or tropical motifs. Hereter said some tourists like the shirts bearing nautical or golf-themed logos so much, for example, that they buy some from the hotel.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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