Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria: Tourism and Events Industry Thriving
Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria — Last September, Hurricane Maria tore through the island of Puerto Rico, leaving behind around $40 billion in damages, according to catastrophe-modeling firm AIR Worldwide, and affecting millions of residents. But the resilience of the Puerto Rican people shone through, and just six months after the devastating storm, the U.S. territory is already on the rebound. With 85% of the island’s hotels open and operational, Puerto Rico’s tourism and events industry is thriving. “We were pleased with the outpouring of support from our clients and the industry,” Alma Pedrosa, acting president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico, told Convene Magazine. “We are a warm, fun-loving, and hospitable people. Taking care of our families extends to our visitors. We want to make sure we provide great gastronomy, authentic culture, and unique experiences.”
Annual events like the San Sebastian Street Festival, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace, and ICANN—an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—went ahead as planned. Thousands gathered in the streets of Old San Juan in January, four months after the storm, for three days of live music, food carts, and folklore during the San Sebastian festival. “It seemed impossible that this could be the same district that I saw under several feet of sea water in Instagram and Facebook videos last fall,” Christopher Muther, who attended the San Sebastian Street Festival festival, wrote for the Boston Globe.
The island also played host to a major tourism event, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace, Jan. 30–Feb. 1. More than 1,052 meeting planners and tourism industry professionals from all over the world met at the Puerto Rico Convention Center (PRCC) for the business-to-business event, bringing with them $1.5 million in economic impact.
Attendees could easily reach the tropical meetings destination, thanks to 23 airlines that are currently operating to and from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina, Puerto Rico, including Delta, American Airlines, and JetBlue. The airport is experiencing around 100-plus flights daily from around the US, Europe, and Latin America.
With most of the island’s hotels up and running, there are plenty of accommodations for attendees to choose from. Reopening this year is the El San Juan Hotel, on Oct. 1, and the Meliá Coco Beach, on Nov. 1—both properties offer 40,000 square feet of meeting space. The Caribe Hilton, opening in January 2019, provides 65,000 square feet of event space. Serafina Beach Hotel just opened its doors in March.
Once attendees touch down in Puerto Rico and settle into their hotels, there are plenty of activities available to them. Delegates can discover the island’s beaches on horseback, explore Old San Juan via bike, or experience the city’s vibrant culinary scene by going on a food tour. There are also more than 10 golf courses currently operating, with the Puerto Rico Open continuing as planned, and functioning as an unofficial charity event benefiting the island.
Getting around Puerto Rico is easy for attendees, too, with 34 major car rental companies and 55 tour operators open for business. Taxi services and ride-share services, including Uber, are also active again. Some drivers were making their rounds as soon as one month after the natural disaster, according to the Miami Herald.
San Juan Port is also back in action, with 115 cruise shore excursions fully operational. Since October 2017, one month after Hurricane Maria, more than 170,000 homeport passengers have embarked from the port. Ferries shuttling to and from the surrounding islands of Culebra and Vieques are also running regularly, making 16 trips a day.
And foodies shouldn’t worry. Six months after Puerto Rico was hit by its worst storm in 85 years, the island’s award-winning food scene is still flourishing. Nearly 4,000 restaurants are open on the main island and the islands of Culebra and Vieques, according to Condé Nast Traveler. Visitors can enjoy fresh, local ingredients at the barn-chic Santaella on Calle Canals Condado in San Juan, or if they’re at an event at the PRCC, they can stop at the nearby Casita Miramar for some shrimp-stuffed-avocado or mofongo with mahi-mahi.
“Puerto Rico has always been one of the most desirable meetings and conventions destinations and we look forward to the future with enthusiasm,” Pedrosa said. “We are moving into a new phase with astounding opportunities for our clients and we are thrilled to have them come and rediscover Puerto Rico.”
Source: PCMA Convene Magazine, March 23, Author: Sarah Beauchamp
Puerto Rico Hoteliers Say Groups Are Back, But Incentives Are Lagging
It has been six months since Puerto Rico was battered by Hurricane Maria and executives of San Juan-based International Hospitality Enterprises (IHE), which has a portfolio of eight hotels in Puerto Rico, are eager to get the word out that the island is ready for group business to return.
“We went through some very difficult times, no doubt about it,” said Jose Suarez, president of IHE. “But not one of our hotels was closed before, during or after Hurricane Maria. Our main driver was keeping our team members employed, and we were back to normal in 30 days.”
Ben Tutt, general manager of the 212-room Condado Vanderbuilt, acknowledged that some group business on the books had been canceled in the months following Maria, but added that the hotel has been actively working with clients to rebook events, particularly incentive programs. “We reached out to every single group we had on the books after the hurricane and said can we get you down here, because we really want you to see for yourself that we are open,” said Tutt. “We said, ‘Can we keep the deposit and move your program to a year down the road?’ Many said they wanted to come back and help.”
According to Peter Hopgood, vice president of sales and marketing for IHE, corporate group business is slowly returning to normal. He noted companies such as Bacardi, Coca-Cola and Pepsi all held events in recent months. What is really needed, however, is the return of incentive business.
“The market we need to ignite again is the incentive market. It was on its way up, and then we got hit with the Zika virus, followed by the hurricane,” said Hopgood, who is also vice chairman of Meet Puerto’s board of directors, the destination marketing organization for the island. “This is an opportunity to get back into the incentive market, which has a longer booking window. We are going to be attacking and promoting on every front to lure planners to view the destination as an incentive destination. We are a lot better than what they see and hear.”
Yodil Caban, general manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton San Juan at Gallery Plaza, said his hotel is turning to social-media platforms to self-promote and market IHE properties. “We hired an experience ambassador, whose sole responsibility is to highlight experiences travelers can have at our hotel, and we are doing a lot of live video, because video doesn’t lie,” said Caban, who added that FaceTiming with clients has become another valuable marketing tool.
The goal, said Hopgood, is to position and market Puerto Rico as an incentive destination that cannot be overlooked. “That will be our strongest campaign for the next six to nine months,” said Hopgood. “We are going to get people down here, to look at Puerto Rico from a meeting planning perspective and see for themselves if the island is ready or not. Because, we definitely feel it is ready.”
Source: Meetings & Conventions, April 6, 2018, Author: Cheryl-Anne Sturken