Worldwide travel and vacation activities came to a rapid halt with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, it’s hard to know which destination is open or not. How about the normally highly popular Puerto Rico tourism activities? Is the island open for visitors now? Reporter Alex Martinez Rivera, a Puerto Rico native with “insider” knowledge of the island has the answers you need to know. This is part one of a two-part comprehensive article.
The reopening of Puerto Rico tourism
While the government welcomes the re-opening to tourists everywhere with great fanfare, the red tape imposed on traveling to the island indicates that their preparedness levels aren’t where they should.
I wrote about the European travel bubble in a recent article. This time I am explaining how the U.S. jurisdiction of Puerto Rico has been preparing to welcome back tourists.
I had an itinerary to Puerto Rico in March due to COVID-19. However, the trip had to be postponed until further notice.
About 120 days later, Puerto Rico’s closing of its jurisdiction in a (COVID-19) curfew was the island’s first in its history beyond a hurricane-induced closure.
I have done the homework to clarify and help you understand what a “reopening” of Puerto Rico means here:
When will the reopening occur?
Initially, the gradual reopening of the island was to begin on July 15th.
Last week’s new Executive Order delayed the reopening to August 15th.
Do you need to make any preparations before going to Puerto Rico?
All passengers must fill a travel declaration, which is similar to completing a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) Travel Form when you travel to the United States from abroad.
The only difference is that you pre-fill out the form online for Puerto Rico.
Also, you need to have a negative (coronavirus) molecular test within 72 hours of traveling to Puerto Rico, performed from a test site in your home location.
However, while the government made its delivery of these documents accessible through their internet portal, there is one hiccup:
Who provides COVID-19 test results within a brief 72-hour time-frame window of a trip, whether you are traveling to Puerto Rico from the United States mainland or from overseas?
Even if you are willing to pay, chances are there would be a backlog of tests scheduled to complete. I have heard the horror stories of not getting those results in a timely manner. Also, I’ve heard of people waiting for months with the uncertainty of the test results. I had a family member doing it twice, and it took more than three weeks!
I’ll let the CBS Lead National Correspondent David Begnaud talk a bit more about this:
Another problem I find with this explanation: One could do the test within 72 hours and then explain that you don’t have the results yet. That would activate the “quarantine” portion of the strategy.
The problem with a positive test result
What would happen if one receives the test-results a few days later after arrival and while in quarantine in Puerto Rico?
That wouldn’t invalidate the efficiency of the pre-screening.
You would still be going to the quarantine location. Enroute to your quarantine you would be passing through the conveyor belt to the van to the car rental and to your hotel getting the room keys.
Furthermore, what happens during the in-between? For example, what if you are hungry or need to go to the restroom?
I think Puerto Rico missed the mark.
Airlines are Flying Blind
The Puerto Rico Tourism Company gave a letter to airline partners dated July 12th. Captain Jetson Aviation and Travel News got the letter in a press release:
The letter says,
“passengers must Complete a Travel Declaration Form and submit it through www.travelsafe.pr.gov giving notice that the website wasn’t even online yet.”
When I talked to the different people who are close to the various airline directors in charge of Puerto Rico, the agreement was to have the website online for an airline “dry-run” to connect the airlines’ reservation systems to the website.
But unfortunately for the airlines, it wasn’t possible for the Puerto Rican government to handle the long lines at Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan!
The state of confusion from within Puerto Rico
This “insider-message” was from one of Puerto Ricos’s own airline directors, asking whether anyone had any additional information to clarify the confusing matter.
The Tourism Company’s poor planning left airlines to their own devices.
The responsibility should be a coordination of information within the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and the Puerto Rico Rico Health Department. Plus, it falls on the individual traveler wanting to go to Puerto Rico to follow the rules.
A check on the efficiency of the program
I say this because I did my homework and sampled three of the airlines that go into Puerto Rico, not-stop, and with a stopover.
In the reservation-screens for all three airlines going to Puerto Rico, none of the screens had a hyperlink to the Puerto Rico COVID-19 test-requirements, until getting to the point of payment!
American Airlines to San Juan
Delta Air Lines to San Juan
JetBlue Airways to San Juan
Neither the Puerto Rico Rico Health Department nor the Puerto Rico Tourism Company can expect the airlines to be able to integrate this information.
I did the same for New York departures on the same three airlines up to the point of payment, and again, there was no information.
To make matters worse for travelers, the burden falls on each individual traveler to look for this information and to comply with Puerto Rico’s rules.
Feedback? You can contact the author here.
Featured Image: Wikipedia.