Building a Resilient Ecotourism Industry in Puerto Rico Post Hurricane Maria

EWI (EplerWood International) and Geoadaptive developed a plan to assist Puerto Rico with economic recovery after Hurricane Maria lashed the island for thirty hours on September 20, 2017, causing catastrophic impacts.  This tough time in Puerto Rico’s history was made worse by a plummeting tourism economy. 

The team proposed investments in an alternative tourism economy, including eco, adventure, gastro, and cultural tourism.  Spatial analysis models were developed by Geoadaptive, a Boston-based geodesign firm, to identify and quantify the diverse resources that can provide the critical raw material for new alternative tourism hubs.  Hub prioritization then transpired together with local stakeholders.

EWI analyzed trends in regional markets for alternative tourism and found that there were surprisingly few international or U.S. mainland tour operators offering ecotourism or adventure tourism products in Puerto Rico!  An ecotourism field survey team reviewed capacity at the local level to develop alternative tourism, and a market research team reviewed key trends in the alternative tourism economy to focus the effort on market-based realities.  EWI worked with civil society on drafting two key approaches:

• A robust and well-financed enterprise development strategy for vulnerable populations requiring new opportunities to be locally-managed
• A revision of protected natural land area regulations to develop a more thorough regulatory system for managing tourism on fragile conservation land

A final report on the methodology and recommendations will be made public in 2018 and will be posted on  Courses of Action recommended by the team are part of a federal disaster recovery proposal managed by the prime contractor, Rand Corporation.  The Rand Corporation results were provided to the government of Puerto Rico for comment in addition to local civil society.  The final recovery report goes to the U.S. Congress in August 2018.

This article first appeared on the EplerWood International website.
Megan Epler Wood
travels the world investigating how to make travel and tourism a more sustainable industry that both conserves environments and contributes to local people.