Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA) Chairman Joaquín Bolívar (Courtesy)
Provides Industry Recommendations; Says Airport Arrivals Process Must be Fine-Tuned
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA) Chairman Joaquín Bolívar announced that the industry group made several recommendations for the government to more effectively address the issue regarding the arrival of travelers amid the pandemic.
Bolívar’s remarks came after Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced Tuesday that all travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test result at the airport. Tourists who fail to provide the diagnostic-test result starting April 28 will have 48 hours to visit a local laboratory and make their results available to the island’s Health Department or be fined $300. Visitors without evidence that they are not infected with the coronavirus are expected to remain in quarantine until they can produce a negative PCR test result.
However, Bolívar said that significant tourism-related decisions are being made “without taking into account the opinion and experience of the sector’s representatives.”
The PRHTA represents hundreds of lodging establishments, casinos, restaurants, airlines, transportation companies, attractions, tour operators, cruise lines and educational institutions, among other providers of goods and services to the hospitality industry.
“That is why today we submit these recommendations in order to create harmony in the handling of every tourist before boarding the plane, the process at the airport, as well as the visitors’ stay on the island,” the PRHTA chairman said, while emphasizing that “it is necessary to implement a series of adjustments” in the arrival process as soon as possible “to ensure a safer result, with more control and where all of us, as part of the tourist activity, can collaborate in the prevention and management of the pandemic.”
Given the spike in infection cases on the island and looking into the most recent executive order and administrative order 2021-499, the tourism association representatives gave a number of recommendations for the government to implement.
The first is to, in coordination with airlines, establish a communication model for tourists that includes reservation systems and discloses from the outset the requirements to be able to visit Puerto Rico. Another recommendation made by the association is to have laboratories at the airports running at all times to test those travelers who did not provide a negative test result—administered at most 72 hours before their arrival—before they leave the airport, as well as improving the wait time for passengers to get their results “to no more than 24 hours.”
Another recommendation that seeks to prevent having to use employees to oversee and enforce guests in quarantine reads: “Strengthen the monitoring of possible cases at accommodations in order to avoid having hotel employees perform public safety functions that could lead to confrontational situations with guests.”
Furthermore, airport control measures need to be complemented by frequent supervision of all independent alternative accommodations that are marketed online, along with short-term rentals, “which, unlike hotels, do not have physical staff to monitor” guests.
“Those places that do not comply with having supervision of their clients would be subject to sanctions, such as closing the operation, and/or fines for owners and/or operators for each day of violation of the rules that are established,” the PRHTA recommended.
In addition, the PRHTA said that amid the increase in COVID-19 cases, mostly linked to community transmission, roadblocks should be set up once curfew has gone into effect at 10 p.m.
The association said that “monitoring and oversight teams to carry out inspections at businesses and public areas” must be strengthened to enforce the executive order requirements, such as the curfew and crowd bans.
Among the eight recommendations provided was that vaccination center hours should operate for extended hours to increase the number of people vaccinated as quickly as possible, in tandem with holding more vaccination events in coordination with the private sector.
Finally, the PRHTA also stressed the need for frequent multisectoral discussions on alternative measures or modifications to curb the spread of the virus.
“Once again we are available to hold a meeting as soon as possible between the private sector and the government, and in this way offer government agencies our knowledge and experience in the operational part, while ensuring the success of the initiatives,” Bolívar concluded. “We understand that, if these specific but easily executed recommendations are put into practice we would be able to work safely and efficiently with the different situations that we have been seeing in the past months. It is important to act quickly at this time to encourage visits by responsible tourists, and achieve that positive synergy between visitors and locals.”