Hurricane Maria, the worst storm to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years, arrived only two weeks after Hurricane Irma passed just north of the island. The storms caused massive damage across the island and left hundreds of thousands of residents and small businesses in need of assistance.
In August 2018, Bacardi and Mercy Corps launched a new partnership to support small business owners and tourism recovery in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Martin, to create a ripple effect of positive economic growth.
Together, over the next year, we will reach thousands and support the rebuilding and resilience of small businesses across the region.
Our approach centers around three key and interrelated focus areas:
- Promote business recovery, growth and resilience. We will provide tailored support to business owners to help drive economic recovery and employment across Puerto Rico. This may include cash grants, technical assistance, mentoring or training to emerging or existing businesses.
- Rehabilitate natural areas that draw tourists. We will focus on key tourist areas, including coastal, marine and beachfront sites.
- Spread the word. Through an island-wide outreach campaign, and in partnership with government associations and local organizations, we will promote the fact that businesses and natural areas are ready to welcome tourists, with the goal of driving tourism and commerce.
Our work will focus on Culebra, Vieques, Humacao, and Cataño in Puerto Rico, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Martin, areas chosen because they are both popular tourist destinations and because they are areas that have been largely overlooked by other aid efforts.
Through this program, we will empower more than 300 individual owners or employees of small and medium-sized businesses and provide tailored and more in-depth support to 50+ businesses to enable them to build back better. We will also rehabilitate a number of natural areas to ensure that top tourist destinations are ready for business.
Christina is the owner of Eco Sports Tours in the Natural Reserve in Humacao. Her business offers guided walking tours and self-guided water activities, such as kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding for visitors looking to explore the reserve. The reserve was badly damaged in Hurricane Maria and remained closed for six months after the storm. Christina and her team of eight spent months working to clear a wall of debris and vegetation. In addition to physical damage to the natural area Christina relies on for her business, Christina has seen a decline in visitors and revenue. From 2016 to 2017, she experienced a 90 percent decrease in visitors during her busiest season. This is by far the biggest disruption Christina has seen in 19 years of business.
Today, we support Christina with promotional training, clean-up in the reserve, and other materials to help her get her business back up and running.