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Too soon to party? San Juan pushes ahead with street festival despite aftershocks

Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Over the weekend, Discover Puerto Rico, the island's promotion agency, sent out a map showing the earthquake zone -- and reminding the world that the island "continues to be open for business."

The campaign was savaged on social media.

"Puerto Rico is not open for business. All efforts should be directed to helping all affected individuals," was one of the milder responses on Twitter. "People traveling to Puerto Rico should come to help, not have pina coladas while there are families sleeping under the stars. Charlatanes."

Brad Dean, the CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, said the campaign was aimed at outsiders who might be under the impression that the entire island was out of commission and didn't realize that tourist attractions like Old San Juan, the El Yunque rainforest and the beaches of the north were virtually unscathed.

And while he's sensitive to the island's suffering, he said that visitors and tourism are integral to its recovery.

"We are doing our best to minimize the economic damage and help those in need," he said. "We are trying to limit the impact that mother nature might have on our economy."

 

Tourism is one of the motors of the U.S. territory, representing about 6.5% of the local GDP. Up until the earthquakes, Puerto Rico was on track to have a record-breaking year, Dean said. The island hosted more than 4 million visitors in 2019 and held more than 197 conferences and business events during the first three quarters of 2019, the largest number in five years.

The earthquakes come as Puerto Rico was already staggering under a decade-long recession, deep debt and a disastrous 2017 hurricane season. And local municipalities are starving for the tax revenue that tourism generates, Dean said.

"Given the fragile fiscal situation of the island, the tourism sector has never been more important than it is now," he said.

Puerto Rico's earthquakes began in earnest on Dec. 28 and peaked with a Jan. 7 "main shock" -- a magnitude 6.4 that toppled buildings, left one dead and has caused more than $110 million in damage. (A second death that authorities had initially attributed to an aftershock was reclassified as a death due to "natural causes.")

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