Surowiecki a bit glib, if you ask me. Does he have any evidence that the government has not been supporting the tourism sector? Has the Dominican Republic strategy perhaps generated a lot of environmental spillovers? DR also is five times the size of PR, so why wouldn’t its tourism sector be bigger? That’s where the low-hanging fruit was in past three decades. His argument is like saying that Atlantic City needs to focus on gambling, as its low-hanging fruit. Uh… right, thanks, guess nobody thought of that. (New York Times and The New Yorker both writing about Puerto Rico this week… why do I sense John Paulson’s publicity machine at work…)
More important, Puerto Rico should pluck its low-hanging fruit. Take tourism. Puerto Rico has glorious beaches, tremendous weather, and wonderfully varied topography. Americans can get there easily and without a passport. English is spoken almost everywhere. It should be a tourist mecca. Yet policymakers neglected tourism for decades, while other Caribbean countries aggressively wooed hotel chains and bolstered infrastructure. (In the past forty years, the number of hotel rooms in the Dominican Republic went from three thousand to more than seventy thousand, while the number of hotel rooms in Puerto Rico rose by just seven thousand.) As a result, Puerto Rico has been eclipsed. In 1980, according to a study by Calero’s company, it accounted for more than a quarter of all the tourist revenue in the Caribbean. By 2012, that number was down to fifteen per cent. And tourism accounted for less than five per cent of Puerto Rico’s G.D.P.