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Tourism is good for Puerto Rico and needs support


March 24, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Since December, we have been hearing about the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico’s government, and that the government has been spending more than it receives, generating a budget deficit in fiscal 2005 approaching nearly $2 billion. CARIBBEAN BUSINESS was the first to alert our readers that the deficit was substantially higher than government officials in the Calderón administration had been reporting.

In the past weeks, we have heard leaders in the public and private sectors calling for fiscal and tax reform and a reduction in the Commonwealth’s bureaucracy. Obsolete and big government agencies should be eliminated or their size reduced. The Commonwealth must stop inflating its payroll–one out of three salaried employees in Puerto Rico works for the government. We have very little credit margin left and are under scrutiny by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s for a possible downgrade in our credit rating.

We have also learned in recent weeks that at least three manufacturing companies will be closing operations in Puerto Rico, leaving over 1,200 workers unemployed. With companies seeking cheaper costs and labor, as well as outsourcing jobs to developing countries, manufacturing jobs are the easiest jobs to export, so the prospect of manufacturing jobs growing on the island is highly unlikely.

For the past 50 years, government and manufacturing have basically kept Puerto Rico’s workforce employed. With the Commonwealth government forced to reduce its payroll and manufacturing jobs projected to continue declining, Puerto Rico must now find new alternatives to provide employment and stimulate economic growth. Many perceive the tourism industry as an important economic alternative.

Tourism is a labor-intensive industry that creates jobs that can’t be outsourced to countries with cheaper labor. Tourists come to Puerto Rico because we are close to the mainland, are under the U.S. flag, and have a year-round tropical climate and excellent beaches. Our tourism can’t be exported to China or India. Tourism also has a direct positive impact on other sectors of the economy, such as retail, commerce, financial services, transportation, and others.

With adequate support, investment, and development, tourism has the potential to transform Puerto Rico into a world-class destination providing a wide variety of products and services. Without such support, Puerto Rico’s tourism industry will continue to fall behind the rest of the Caribbean as has occurred over the past three decades.

However, support for tourism development doesn’t mean we are against environmental protection as extreme environmentalist groups would have the public believe. No one can deny the importance of Puerto Rico’s natural resources and they must be protected for our future, including the future of tourism.

It is certainly not in the interest of Puerto Rico’s tourism industry to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to develop resorts in a beautiful destination and turn around and destroy the environment, species, and natural resources that are the island’s primary attractions. The success of Puerto Rico’s tourism industry depends to a large extent on these natural resources, and hotel developers invest millions to ensure these resources are protected as well as to comply with federal and local regulations that protect the environment.

Extreme environmentalist groups, however, for whatever reasons or agendas, would have us believe hotel developers are ecological enemies whose only goal is to destroy natural resources and deny the people of Puerto Rico access to our public beaches. These groups have wisely used the media to gain public attention and support for their particular agendas, staging public protests and opposition to any tourism development, and occupying private properties in order to attain widespread headlines.

Protestors put up signs saying the beaches belong to the people, when that has never been an issue. Experienced hotel developers know well Puerto Rico’s beaches are public and have opened them up in the properties they renovate or build. But the fact is, the mass publicity obtained from creating issues where there are none is what keeps the level of support growing and funding coming in to these extreme groups. So, it is easy to understand why, at times, these opposition groups exaggerate what is really going on and refuse to accept the real impact of hotel development projects.

The local media have also contributed to the confusion over hotel development in Puerto Rico. Then again, the mass media believe the public is more interested in reading the bad news than the good, and they are here to give the public what it wants. Such attitudes, however, can only distort reality and lead to misconceptions that can have a negative impact on tourism’s future potential in Puerto Rico. One developer stated it clearly: "The real story behind this is how environmentalists can use the press to stop projects that have complied with all regulations."

For extreme environmentalists, economic development is making the future world worse off as natural resources are destroyed. For those who believe in economic development, the future can only become better as a result of well-planned economic growth. Perceiving tourism development from a pessimistic or negative perspective may in the long run be extremely costly for Puerto Rico as we continue to miss out on opportunities and investment. We must let government officials and legislators know that this is not the time to play politics with an industry that offers so much growth potential for Puerto Rico when we need it the most.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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