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Versed in Crisis Management, Meetings Outlook in Puerto Rico is Optimistic
Convention Center District in Puerto Rico; Credit: Omar Reyes
Resiliency and perseverance are two defining descriptors of Puerto Rico.
As with everyone else around the world, meeting professionals in Puerto Rico have been grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which came on the heels of a record year for tourism on the island in 2019 following the recovery from the devastating 2018 Hurricane Maria.
“Unfortunately, Discover Puerto Rico has become very versed in crisis management,” noted Ed Carey, Discover Puerto Rico’s chief sales officer. “In the COVID crisis, we knew we would have to maintain accurate data, be empathetic with organizations we work with and with buyers.”
Discover Puerto Rico, the DMO for the island, was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on July 1 in 2018 and quickly put it on the path to recovery.
“Within two years of the hurricane, we found ourselves achieving record levels of arrivals and bookings for future meetings. Two years it took us to recover, and we attribute that to the resilience of the people in Puerto Rico.”
After Maria, Carey said they had to deal with political unrest and earthquakes next, but through it all, the Puerto Rico hospitality industry has maintained an optimistic outlook on tourism—and carries that same attitude through the current pandemic.
Thanks to swift action to enact safety protocols, experience in crisis management and the destination’s rich culture and history, Puerto Rico’s MICE outlook is an optimistic one.
Swift Action and Strict Protocols
Immediate implementation of safety protocols helped Puerto Rico combat the spread of the virus from the start of the pandemic.
“Puerto Rico reacted strongly to the crisis right off the bat in March with a number of mandatory face coverings in public areas, reducing capacity [at venues] and adding high standards of cleanliness. We reacted very quickly to control the pandemic,” Carey explained.
Additionally, as a U.S. territory following federal mandates, Puerto Rico never closed its borders and many of its hotel properties stayed open, using this time to re-examine protocols and apply the local health safety requirements.
Currently, Puerto Rico is enforcing local measures developed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC), alongside U.S. Travel Association (USTA) guidelines, such as social distancing, mandatory face coverings in public areas and a variety of mandates for businesses—including, but not limited to, reduced capacities and high standards of cleanliness in accordance with CDC and EPA guidelines.
These swift actions and safety efforts are being recognized. Puerto Rico was the first U.S. destination to receive the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travels Stamp, and in October, the island saw significant increases in passenger arrivals compared to previous months.
PRTC has also received and begun distributing funds supplied under the CARES Act. As of early November, it has distributed $21.5 million to various tourism entities including hotels, boosting recovery in the hospitality space.
An Uptick in Interest for Incentives
Although the coronavirus pandemic shut down the possibility of international travel for many, Puerto Rico’s unique position as a domestic territory with an international feel has it seeing a sizable uptick in interest from planners that often take their business oversees—especially in the incentive travel sector.
“We have seen heightened activity in the sports sector, we have seen some movement in film crews, potential shows and movie shoots because of our position as a U.S. territory, plus health, medical, tech and finance groups,” Carey explained. “What surprised us most, though, is the number incentives we have been speaking with.”
“Companies will need to reengage with their employees and reward customers and employees—we think Puerto Rico offers that in spades. It’s a domestic location with an international flair and experience,” he added, pointing to Puerto Rico’s 500-year history, quintessential sunny skies and beautiful beaches, and unique culture.
Carey also noted that because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, its healthcare workers and hospitals adhere to guidelines that mirror mainland healthcare service, giving the island an added perception of safety and security, which is a big benefit for planners looking to deliver safe, yet impressive experiences to attendees.
For planners considering Puerto Rico, but can’t travel for site inspections, Carey said that Discover Puerto Rico has developed many virtual tools and is providing ongoing webinars—over 200 since March 16.
Some notable virtual tools include:
- Virtual FAMs: Discover Puerto Rico has offered two virtual FAM experiences, which allowed meeting planners to hear the latest updates from hotel properties and meeting venues, including measures being put in place to ensure safety.
- 360-degree videos: Puerto Rico Convention Center has developed 360-degree videos for planners to virtually explore the venue and see its different levels, as well as its popular terrace.
- Travefy partnership: Travefy is an itinerary managing tool that creates custom agendas paired with multimedia content and can be experienced virtually and ultimately in person. It includes geomapping and flight trackers, among other features.
Convention District Developments to Strengthen Future Meetings
Once a sense of normalcy has resumed in the meetings and events world and larger gatherings begin again, convention goers will have a lot to look forward to in Puerto Rico’s convention district.
Distrito T-Mobile, a new entertainment complex adjacent to the Puerto Rico Convention Center, adds a host of special event possibilities and after-hours fun for groups.
“We honestly believe it will change the way meeting planners look at Puerto Rico and the Caribbean forever,” Carey said. “You take our convention center itself—it’s an extraordinarily beautiful facility, and it’s very high-tech with 600,000 square feet. Then, right within that district is Distrito T-Mobile, which is a five-acre, $175-million facility.”
The venue paused construction and its grand opening plans in spring 2020 because of the pandemic, and has used the time to develop new, safety-first concepts, including technologically advanced equipment and refined health protocols to guarantee the safety of all visitors and employees. The new opening date is scheduled for early 2021.
Distrito T-Mobile will include:
- Various restaurants and bars.
- Coca-Cola Music Hall, a 129,000-square-foot facility with 4,000-person capacity.
- Urban zipline connecting Distrito to the convention center.
- Adjacent 177-room Aloft San Juan hotel.
Additionally, planners can take note of some new properties getting added in the coming year to Puerto Rico’s already robust portfolio of recently renovated properties, including:
- Residence Inn by Marriott, the first new-branded flagship property in Isla Verde in 25 years opening in 2021.
- Intercontinental Hotel in Ponce, which is reopening in 2022 as a Sonesta property following $20 million investment.
- LoopLand Hotel, which will be the first hotel to open on the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Base following $200 million investment, coming in 2022.
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