San Juan – Spain remains the top source of European tourists for Puerto Rico despite the Iberian nation's economic woes, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Mario Gonzalez, told Efe.
"Spain continues to be our big European market," Gonzalez said after noting that during the last fiscal year - from June 2010 to June 2011 - tourist visits from that country grew by roughly 5 percent, close to the average for all European countries.
Spanish flagship air carrier Iberia's three weekly flights - four in the summer months - from Madrid to San Juan are the main reason Spain continues to lead Europe in terms of the number of tourist visits to Puerto Rico, Gonzalez said.
At least 4,600 Spanish tourists visited the Caribbean island during the last fiscal year, based on people registered at hotels that officially reported their overnight stays.
But the real number of Spanish tourists is much higher because many stay at small establishments or apartments that do not provide that information to the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Gonzalez said.
A Tourism Company representative will attend the next edition of Madrid's International Tourism Fair in a bid to increase the number of Spaniards visiting the island, Gonzalez said.
The tourism industry in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, employs roughly 17,500 people and generates close to $3.3 billion in annual revenue, equivalent to 7 percent of the Caribbean island's gross domestic product.
Spain's economy has suffered in recent years from the effects of the global recession and the collapse of a long construction and property boom that had made the nation's economy the envy of most of Madrid's partners in the European Union.
The country's overall jobless rate is more than 20 percent, according to the European Union statistics agency.