Meet Two Women Entrepreneurs Strengthening Puerto Rican Tourism

This International Women’s Day is all about celebrating women and their resilience. The tourism industry across the globe has been hit hard from the COVID-19 pandemic, and scores of women within the industry have been challenged with unprecedented issues. Despite layoffs, closings, restrictions and uncertainty, there is still hope. That’s […]

This International Women’s Day is all about celebrating women and their resilience. The tourism industry across the globe has been hit hard from the COVID-19 pandemic, and scores of women within the industry have been challenged with unprecedented issues.

Despite layoffs, closings, restrictions and uncertainty, there is still hope. That’s why we’ll take a look at Paulina Salach and Melina Aguilar Colon, two women business owners from Puerto Rico who have had to adapt their businesses to challenging times, both before and throughout the pandemic, and who work hard to strengthen their communities.

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Paulina Salach is co-founder of Spoon, a Puerto Rican food tour company. After moving to Puerto Rico more than a decade ago, Paulina fell in love with the food and the community of foodies who were sustaining the island’s culinary heritage.

“My partner and I bootstrapped the company, using our savings and without any help from the government or start-up incubators… We followed our passion, learned a whole lot along the way, and almost 10 years later we continue to positively impact tourism in Puerto Rico through Spoon. In mid-March, we were one of the first companies to offer virtual cooking and cocktail classes in collaboration with local chefs, bartenders and brands. We’re also building a sister company that will bring single-origin, sustainably sourced coffee to conscious consumers throughout the world,” said Paulina Salach.

Spoon gives travelers a true taste of Puerto Rico: from cooking classes where guests learn how to make traditional Puerto Rican food to private dinners and island food tours. Spoon experiences are sustainable and help the local economy. “We work with dozens of local restaurants, bars, cafés, farms, chefs, bartenders, shops, baristas, farmers, artists, and small business owners throughout the Island. Our company directly impacts the economy, supports sustainable tourism, and creates jobs, both directly and indirectly,” said Paulina Salach.

Melina Aguilar Colon is founder of Isla Caribe, a truly unique tour company located in Ponce. A former Fulbright Scholar, Melina lived abroad in Asia for a decade, working in international development: “In 2017, when I returned, Puerto Rico had been in an economic crisis for over 10 years, and that year Hurricane Maria hit. Mass migration and lack of opportunities hit the whole island, but especially in places like Ponce as migration first goes from the rest of the island to the capital, and then to the states. I knew my community needed jobs, new ideas of economic development and injection of positivity; I also knew of the tourism potential of my city and region of Puerto Rico. I decided to come back home and work for that, starting Isla Caribe in December 2017.”

Isla Caribe, which prides itself on being passionate about history, strives to give tours that reflect the incredible history of Puerto Rico. Diving deep into historical events and important themes, the goal of every tour is to foster a sense of emotional connection to the island and its people by connecting them to places that they wouldn’t ordinarily visit. Its tour guides study history, research in local archives and partner with local communities and businesses to give its tour members the best knowledge and experiences available.

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Melina Aguilar Colon, founder of Isla Caribe, with a tour group in Ponce. (photo via Discover Puerto Rico)

“Our guides are history lovers that passionately share the events and people that defined the place they are visiting. Our tours are also focused on historical events that are less known or places that are less visited; for example, we have a tour called ‘Ruta De Las Mujeres,’ a tour dedicated to the women that shaped Puerto Rico’s history and development. We also offer virtual tours and tours with boxes, helping people connect from all over the world and receive a piece of the experience in a box. For example, the ‘Ruta De Las Mujeres,’ includes a box filled with products made by local women-led businesses. This tour is taking place this month during Women in History Month,” said Melina Aguilar Colon.

Isla Caribe has had to adapt to immense challenges, from lack of transportation to lack of water and electricity, as well as damage to local attractions after several earthquakes. This past year was the hardest challenge yet: “…the first week we were hit by a 6.6 earthquake, then by the pandemic. Nevertheless, 2020 has been our most creative year yet. After losing all our bookings for the year on two occasions, we launched our first virtual tours and virtual tour with boxes filled with experiences. This has now become an important part of our services, and an area we plan to continue to grow.”

This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the women working to lift up our communities through tourism at home and abroad.

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