October 25, 2019

New study away intensive for spring: Puerto Rico Tourism

The Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality is launching a new study away intensive course this spring, which includes a field visit to Puerto Rico. The course will explore the tourism and hospitality sectors in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Dr. Christopher Gaffney, who will lead the course, tells us more.

Why did you select Puerto Rico as a study away destination for spring break? 

Puerto Rico is a place that has strong ties with the Tisch Center. Alumnus Ron Castro, Principal of Roca Marketing, directs Puerto Rico's tourism strategy.  The government of Puerto Rico was a major sponsor of the Hospitality Investment Conference and the destination makes for a really interesting case study to see how tourism can facilitate economic recovery from disaster. 

What will the students see and do in Puerto Rico? 

We will visit two different sites. We will spend 3 days in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, talking with government ministers, visiting hotels and resorts and seeing areas heavily impacted by hurricanes Maria and Irma. We then will go to Ponce on the South side of the Island to explore sites in mountains, look at coastal tourism sites and adventure tourism.    

Puerto Rico is a very popular tourism destination, yet many people may not be familiar with the culture. What do you wish more people would know about Puerto Rico? 

I’d like people to know that Puerto Rico remains a colony of the United States. It doesn’t have full autonomy nor full democratic representation and this has significant consequences for tourism as well as the economy and politics in general. Its distinct culture combines some of the best and worst things about the United States and Latin America. It is an incredible place with lovely people faced with historically situated, systemic challenges.

What do you hope students take away from their experience studying away in Puerto Rico? 

I hope they come to understand tourism as a both a possibility and a problem. I also hope they understand the responsibility of the tourism industry in serving as an anchor in times of crisis and prosperity. Tourism is an integral part of Puerto Rican society that allows for mutual encounter but if the industry is not understood and managed correctly, it can exacerbate problems of inequality and poverty. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I worked in Puerto Rico as a part of Team Rubicon´s long term disaster effort in some of the most impoverished communities on the island. I hope that by taking students to some of these places they understand the real warmth of people in Puerto RIco and also understand that tourism doesn't reach to all levels of society. By expanding our visit into these places we will discover the possibilities of encounter, exchange, growth, and understanding even in places that are not thought of as central to the tourism industry. 

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