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News, Tips & Bargains : Puerto Rico Hotels Cope With Drought

July 31, 1994|LAURA BLY

When Grace Chamberlain arrived at the Radisson Ambassador Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico two weekends ago, the Denver resident was looking forward to a long hot shower and a good night's sleep before setting sail on a Caribbean cruise.

She got the sleep, but not the shower.

Responding to stringent new conservation measures imposed in the wake of Puerto Rico's worst drought in nearly 30 years, the Ambassador Plaza had cut off water to its 233 guest rooms for all but a few hours a day. As a result, recalls Chamberlain, "I couldn't even flush the toilet."

Chamberlain isn't the only visitor who's been affected by the dry spell, which is most pronounced in the San Juan metropolitan area but has disrupted routines for about 2 million of the U.S. commonwealth's 3.6 million residents.

According to a spokesman for the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., most San Juan-area hotels have their own wells or rooftop cisterns, and are operating normally, with the help of tanker trucks delivering water from other, less-parched parts of the island. Cruise lines that call at San Juan, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, are picking up water at other ports and report no problems.

Because of the drought, American Airlines, which operates 60 flights a day from San Juan, is waiving penalties on changes or cancellations for reservations on San Juan flights through Aug. 8. An internal memorandum to the airline's station managers, issued July 18, noted that some Puerto Rico hotels were limiting capacity or canceling guest reservations. And New Jersey-based GoGo Tours, a major tour packager to Puerto Rico, reports its July business to the island is off by 50% from the same month last year. The company is allowing Puerto Rico-bound clients to cancel without penalties through Aug. 8.

As of last week, according to the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., only two major hotels--the Ambassador Plaza and Normandie--were still restricting water to certain hours. But most were distributing letters asking guests to follow such conservation measures as reusing towels whenever possible.

Meanwhile, the American Society of Travel Agents and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. advise would-be travelers (or their agents) to check directly with their hotel before leaving.

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