While the development of new vaccines to fight COVID-19 have raised hopes worldwide, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC) issued new forecasts for the industry, which showed that full recovery is still at least a couple of years away.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. Finally,” said PRTC Executive Director Carla Campos, who noted that the agency’s original forecast was for the industry to regain pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in three to three-and-a-half years.

In that sense, the newly developed vaccines have improved the forecasts for tourism and the related hospitality industry.

According to the new projections, as restrictions are phased out, herd immunization is achieved through immunizations and some degree of normalcy in everyday life around the world returns, the tourism industry will begin to take its first steps toward recovery.

“In this update we can say that we are optimistic for several reasons. In particular, due to the announcement of the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine. This certainly provides a bit more confidence on the short-term recovery timeline. Similarly, the uncertainty of the political and social situation has diminished with the [U.S.] national elections as something to overcome.

“These factors lead us to 2021, where the recovery of the tourism sector can be worked with much more certainty, and today we emphasize the series of opportunities that we have identified so that Puerto Rico can capitalize itself as a destination,” Campos said.

For 2020, the PRTC forecasts inbound travelers to drop by -48.7 percent compared to 2019, which is the baseline. For 2021, this figure is expected to be -28.1 percent, for 2022 at -4.4 percent and finally, positive growth of 1.3 percent in 2023.

In terms of room revenues, the PRTC forecasts a drop of -55.4 percent in 2020 compared with 2019, followed by -35.4 percent in 2021; -22.5 in 2022; and -13.2 percent in 2023.

Campos said the quickest to rebound will be travel to visit families and friends, followed by leisure travel. Cruise travelers are next in line, followed by business travel and finally, meetings and conventions.

With this in mind, the PRTC is focusing on internal, or domestic tourism for the time being. The agency has been surveying local residents on their tourism sentiments for some time, and there is still great concern about traveling off the island.

Recent numbers show that 63.66 percent of local residents are still unsure or somewhat unsure of traveling by plane. This presents the local tourism industry with an opportunity to offset some of their losses with internal, or domestic tourism, Campos indicated.

‘Valiant Lady’ Cruiseship to Home port in San Juan

With regard to the cruising industry, resumption plans are still on hold but “transit cruises” to San Juan are expected to begin again in the second quarter of 2021. Homeporting cruises are expected to resume in Puerto Rico in the summer of 2021.

On the positive side, Campos announced that an agreement has been reached with Virgin Voyages for the “Valiant Lady” to home port in San Juan during the winter season of 2021-2022. The cruise ship, with a capacity of 3,500 people, will make 12 calls to the island.

The “Valiant Lady” is currently under construction, which has been delayed due to the pandemic, and is now expected to make her debut in May 2021.