JetBlue maintains optimism for Puerto Rico as various campaigns champion tourists to visit the island

9 March, 2018

Several campaigns are underway to promote Puerto Rico's tourism business after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in late 2017, and the island's largest airline, JetBlue Airways is holding a reasonably optimistic outlook for the market, despite having cut its own capacity to the Caribbean island.

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in Sep-2017, causing mass destruction and wiping out the country's power grid. It was one of the most devastating storms to strike the Caribbean, and rebuilding efforts will continue for quite some time.

By mid-Dec-2017 The Puerto Rico Tourism Company had declared that the country was open for business, pointing out that major tourism attractions had been cleaned up and restored and more than 75% of the country's hotels were taking reservations.

Recently, Fast Company quoted Manuel Laboy, Puerto Rico's secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, offering this piece of advice during mid-Feb-2018: "You want to help Puerto Rico? Go on vacation there". Survivors of a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida have urged a US Spring break travel boycott of the state until gun legislation is approved, and encouraged travellers to consider Puerto Rico.

CHART - JetBlue Airways is the largest airline serving Puerto Rico, accounting for more than a third of the island's system-wide seatsSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 05-Mar-2018)

In Oct-2017 JetBlue explained that it would resize capacity to Puerto Rico in order to match storm-driven changes in VFR (visiting friends and relatives) demand. Its strategy entailed redeploying that capacity into other leisure destinations through additional frequencies. The majority of JetBlue's traffic profile to Puerto Rico before the hurricane was VFR customers.

In early 2018 JetBlue said that the Caribbean region had responded well to its capacity adjustments. Specifically referring to Puerto Rico, the airline said its customer mix had changed since Oct-2017, "but our margins in San Juan during the fourth quarter [4Q2017] remain a within a few points of system average".

JetBlue stated that the VFR market to Puerto Rico was holding up well, and was also being supplemented by reconstruction traffic. However, the airline warned it expected headwinds in San Juan during 1Q2017 as it cycled through the winter break period, which traditionally has a higher leisure mix.

Despite the headwinds in early 2018, the airline expects the recovery in Puerto Rico to continue. JetBlue has always maintained its commitment to Puerto Rico, and in late 2017 the airline stated that it preferred to restore service to the same levels prior to Hurricane Maria, if not higher. But the airline also balanced those comments with a more realistic tone, noting "the size of the market would dictate the service we provide".

The Blue Swan Daily analysis of JetBlue's system capacity in and out of Puerto Rico shows that its system inventory last month was down -9.1%, the first single-digit year over year monthly capacity decline since Sep-2017.

CHART - JetBlue significantly grew its capacity in and out of Puerto Rico at the start of the decade, but the nation's economic instability and the impact of Hurricane Maria have seen system capacity shrinkSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG