Tourism sector decries health rules restricting cruise arrivals
By The Star Staff
Businesses that depend on tourism on Tuesday criticized the changes implemented by the island Health Department that would regulate the arrival of cruise ships.
“We were beginning to see the light and a good sign in the recovery of the cruise sector in the country after more than 20 months of absence. There is no doubt that the increase in sales was beginning to be felt, not only for merchants in Old San Juan, but also for tour operators, transporters, artisans, travel agents, museums, hotels, in short, the entire component of products and services,” said Juan Fernández, president of Luma Pharmacy, in a written statement. “The incorrect, arbitrary and unilateral decisions of the government are unfair and inappropriate.”
The government has prevented visitors who have arrived on cruise ships from visiting the island.
The changes, which seek to prevent the spread of COVID-19, caused the cancellation of at least 11 port visits to San Juan from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises.
Daphne Barbeito, owner of the company Cruises to Go and a connoisseur of the cruise industry for more than 30 years, said the suspension of transit trips represents millions in losses.
“In these 11 visits, we lost an estimated $5.5 million in passenger expenses,” Barbeito said. “To this we have to add the losses from services rendered, tours organized to visitors, and sale of maritime fuel where a loss of another $4.4 million is estimated. In total this decision should cause losses that will be around $12 million. For 20 months, the cruise lines have worked with all governments to establish the agreements. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico abruptly fails to comply again, leaving the different sectors that will be directly affected out of the talks. These changes, logistically speaking, are impossible to achieve in a term of less than 48 hours.”
José Poupal pointed out meanwhile that in the case of tour operators and carriers, one of the most affected areas, the cancellation of the Symphony of the Seas took them by surprise, causing immediate losses.
“We were the last to know; decisions made without our being consulted led to gastronomic tours literally having to throw food into the trash can,” he said. “We have waited months to try to recover part of what was lost; we see how they restrict cruises but not at the airport where there are no controls, where anyone can enter infected and nobody finds out. In all these months we have not received any help from the government. This is undoubtedly a fatal blow for our service segment.”
“The government has punished thousands of Puerto Rican workers, who will be laid off again, due to public perception, media pressure, lack of information and adverse decision-making without considering the tourist component,” Barbeito said.