Vieques is located just eight miles from Puerto Ricoâs mainland, but since Hurricane Maria hit Sept. 20, its residents have felt much farther away.
The island, a top tourism destination for Puerto Rico, was decimated by the Category 5 storm. Houses have been leveled and power, food, fuel, and water are in short supply.
Communicating with residents has been difficult. Even getting to the island has been a challenge as planes at the airport were destroyed and ferry service temporarily shut down.
As of Friday, government officials are sending aid to the island, but experts say the road ahead could be quite difficult, especially for the tourism industry.
âPuerto Rico is a very important part of the total Caribbean economy, so the faster they get their economy going, the faster the rest of the Caribbean recovers,â says Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, the former minister of tourism of The Bahamas and former CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Rebuilding the infrastructure will be vital to that effort. Getting regular flights started, getting docks and ports operating, cleaning up and re-opening hotels, restoring power and cellphone service are all among a very large to-do list for the government.
Tourism represents six percent of Puerto Ricoâs GDP, according to the United States Senate Committee on Finance.
âWhat is very important to recognize is that tourism has the biggest and broadest reach,â says Vanderpool-Wallace, who now runs the Bedford Baker Group, a travel industry consulting firm. âIf you find those pockets of prospects of a rapid return for full tourism products, those are going to have an enormously vast effect on the rest of the economy.â
San Juan, which was impacted greatly by the storm, is the capital city with nearly 400,000 residents, government buildings, a…