Published 7:00 PM EDT Oct 23, 2019
Two years after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the small island remains in recovery. As it continues to bounce back, post-hurricane tourism has started to grow.
The island sees more than 4 million visitors each year, according to Discover Puerto Rico. Tourism makes up 6.5% of Puerto Rico’s GDP and supports nearly 83,000 jobs directly and indirectly.
“We’re thrilled to report that Puerto Rico’s tourism is the strongest it’s ever been,” Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, told USA TODAY in a statement.
In an effort to continue tourism’s growth, actress Rosario Dawson and the architect of “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda, are promoting travel to Puerto Rico.
“It’s not a normal place you go on vacation and just disconnect,” Dawson tells USA TODAY. “You recharge and reconnect.”
Dawson and Miranda are partnering with Hilton Hotels & Resorts and JetBlue, respectively, to spread the word about what the Caribbean island has to offer.
While the numbers aren’t final yet, statistics for the first nine months of the year illustrate positive trends in tourism.
For example, passenger air traffic has increased by more than 11% in the first nine months of 2019, according to Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste, S.A.B. de C.V.
Discover Puerto Rico also told USA TODAY there has been a 13% increase in lodging demand from January to August 2019 compared to 2018 as a whole.
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria whipped through Puerto Rico with 155 mph winds, leaving an estimated 4,600 people dead, according to a study from Harvard. After the storm, authorities requested $94 billion in aid to cover the devastation to the island.
In 2018, Puerto Rico saw 4.2 million visitors according to the Economic Report to the Governor in 2018.
Rosario Dawson + Hilton
Dawson, whose family has ties to Puerto Rico, is featured in Hilton’s campaign: “Carry on Puerto Rico.”
“It’s such a magical place,” Dawson said.
Growing up in the United States, Dawson frequently visited the island her grandmother is from during the summers. Some of her strongest memories are there, she said. “It’s a huge part of my heart.”
The campaign is meant to remind people the territory is a quick trip from the continental U.S. and to give people an idea of everything the island has to offer to visitors.
“Hilton’s Carry On Puerto Rico campaign is all about showcasing the vibrant culture of Puerto Rico and why Hilton is the ideal choice for travelers visiting the island,” Andrew Flack, vice president of regional marketing and ecommerce for the Americas, told USA TODAY in an emailed statement.
Hilton has eight hotels and resorts on the island, including Caribe Hilton, which has just been renovated, .
“We want to remind travelers of the ease of getting to Puerto Rico – where no passport is required and all you need is your ‘carry on’ for a quick long weekend getaway,” Flack added.
As a part of the campaign, Dawson took a trip to Puerto Rico with her mother and her own daughter. It was her daughter’s first trip to the island, and it began an inter-generational conversation, she said.
This isn’t the first time the actress has advocated for Puerto Rico. Last September, one year after the hurricane hit, she posted a video on Instagram supporting 100Roofs, an organization committed to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico.
Hilton’s campaign is set to run through January 2020. And Hilton is giving travelers the chance to win a trip to Puerto Rico and a “bespoke carry on suitcase” designed by a local artist, Flack said.
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Lin-Manuel Miranda + JetBlue
JetBlue Airways has a promotion focused on onboard programming, Elizabeth Windram, vice president of marketing at JetBlue, told USA TODAY in a statement.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is promoting travel to Puerto Rico in an eight-chapter video series, which will be playing on JetBlue flights through the end of January called “Discover Puerto Rico with Lin-Manuel.”
Miranda’s parents are from the island. Like Dawson, while growing up in New York, he spent time visiting in the summers while he grew up and still has family who live there.
When Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, Miranda penned an op-ed for Hollywood Reporter urging people to support Puerto Rico in the face of Maria’s devastation and what his own family faced when the hurricane hit.
“With so much to be done and such great urgency before us, let’s use our own winds of change to help Puerto Rico dig out and rise up,” Miranda wrote in the op-ed.
Earlier this year, Miranda’s globally renowned musical, “Hamilton,” had a three-week run in Puerto Rico, in which he reprised his role as Alexander Hamilton. The production raised money to donate to restore arts and cultural programs in Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Maria and Irma. The show left an impact long after the curtain closed, Discover Puerto Rico wrote on their site.
In partnership with Puerto Rico Tourism Company and Miranda, JetBlue created the video series to prove how far Puerto Rico has come, Windram said.
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Puerto Rico is an important part of JetBlue’s flight network, and the airline hopes to inspire people to visit.
“This series not only honors a strong and vibrant Puerto Rico, demonstrating how it has managed to get ahead, but it is also a celebration of the island, its rich culture and shows the whole world that Puerto Rico is waiting for them for their next visit,” said Windram.
The short videos, which each last about five minutes, live on Discover Puerto Rico’s website and range in topic from coffee, public art, shopping, dancing, Miranda’s family hometown and more.
Puerto Rico ‘carrying on’
When Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, celebs across the country, including Jennifer Lopez, Daddy Yankee, Pitbull, Bob Odenkirk, Jennifer Aniston, Ricky Martin and Chance the Rapper, among others, did their part to help the island with recovery from millions in dollars in personal donations to crowdfunding to sending down supplies.
While tourism has picked up again, recovery is slow moving. Thousands of homes remain battered or abandoned since Maria, and many residents live in poverty and could not afford to rebuild.
Dawson thinks it’s powerful that Hilton’s campaign is titled “carry on.” It speaks to Puerto Rico’s spirit, she said, where the people are carrying on.
Contributing: Associated Press; John Bacon, USA TODAY
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