Murder Spike in Puerto Rico Could Hurt Tourism

The tourism sector in Puerto Rico fears that the image of the Caribbean island as a vacation spot may deteriorate after 110 murders were registered in January.

The violence has hurt the worldwide perception of the U.S. commonwealth, which each year welcomes some 4 million visitors, most of them from the continental United States, the president of the Hotels and Tourism Association of Puerto Rico, Clarisa Jiménez, told Efe on Tuesday.

Police reported on Tuesday that there were 110 murders around the island in January, 34 more than during the same month in 2010.

"This is a regrettable situation," said Jiménez, after recalling that the Internet allows the news of the violent deeds that occur each day in Puerto Rico to be noted around the world.

She emphasized that therefore it is a basic task for the island to intensify its public relations work, especially in the main tourist-sending countries.

Meanwhile, the director of the state-run Puerto Rico Tourism Company, Mario González, said that strategies to counteract the image of violence are currently under way.

Gonzalez said that the wave of murders in January has not significantly hurt Puerto Rico's image and that there is no direct relationship between the violent deaths that occur each day around the island and the falloff in tourist arrivals.

He said that hotel occupancy so far this year has been at 70 percent and that tourist arrivals are expected to rise by about 3 percent in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean destinations during 2011.