Nearly two years after Puerto Rico’s tourism industry came to a screeching halt from the devastating Hurricane Maria, it’s full speed ahead and nothing but optimism for the Caribbean island with a remarkable comeback story.
July 1, 2019, marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Discover Puerto Rico destination marketing organization, and CEO Brad Dean is all smiles when reporting on the massive strides thus far.
“When we first launched in July 2018, it was our mission to ensure the reality of the island was being covered by media, and we started the #CoverTheProgress campaign,” he said, pointing out that the campaign has since won a Cannes Silver Lion award. “In January 2019, Hamilton was brought to the island by our friend Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jimmy Fallon filmed his first remote show from the island.”
Those and other efforts have paid off, Dean said, with accolades such as being named the No. 1 Place to Go in 2019 by The New York Times as well as stellar tourism statistics.
“2019 Q1 lodging numbers were on par with 2017 Q1 levels, which provides a proof point of the island’s prosperity and speaks to the efforts made by Discover Puerto Rico,” Dean said.
He anticipates further increases throughout the year.
2019 is already booking 24.1 percent higher than 2018, and there is a 23.8 percent increase in year-over-year air traffic to island airports.
“Seeing this incredible growth has been rewarding,” Dean said. “This work is having a positive impact on the lives of the island’s communities.”
Soaring Statistics for Meetings, Conventions and Incentives
In addition, Dean said bookings for meetings, conventions and incentives business on the island have surpassed the averages of the past three and five years.
Furthering the climb will be the anticipated 2019 opening of District San Juan, a five-acre hospitality and entertainment district with 80,000 square feet of entertainment space and a 175-room hotel. The development is next door to the Puerto Rico Convention Center, which Dean described as the most technologically advanced center in the Caribbean.
“We believe District San Juan will become a sought-upon setting for future events and conventions in the Caribbean,” Dean said, adding that it will have a variety of indoor venues and a plaza with restaurants and ziplines. “We surely see the meetings, conventions and incentives sector as one that will experience continued growth—It is a priority.”
New and Renovated Hotels: 2018-2020
District San Juan is one of several major developments taking shape throughout Puerto Rico, with an estimated influx of more than 3,800 new hotel rooms when all is complete.
The following meetings-ready properties reopened at the end of 2018:
Upcoming openings and reopenings include the following:
Caribar Terrace at Caribe Hilton, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Dean said there has been a resurgence in the luxury space with many of the high-end properties that have opened or reopened.
“We’re also seeing a boost in sustainable tourism with the passing of the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act, the launch of our Green Certification program (which now includes 10 properties) and growing agritourism and ecotourism offerings throughout the Island,” he said.
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Discover Puerto Rico’s main priority for 2019 and beyond is to further elevate the island’s image and continue to draw an increasing number of leisure and business travelers, including meeting attendees.
“We want to assure that meeting planners are aware of the current state of the island,” Dean said. “We’ve even developed some content, where we interviewed meeting planners during a recent trip to Puerto Rico and their reactions after seeing the island.”
Watch “The Power of Puerto Rico” video created by Discover Puerto Rico.
Dean asserted that Discover Puerto Rico can now also dive into the niches that make Puerto Rico unique, since the island has moved past the recovery phase.
A Friendly Meetings Hub With Cultural and Natural Treasures
To that end, Discover Puerto Rico recently unveiled its “Have We Met Yet?” brand campaign, designed to position Puerto Rico as a world-class destination, according to Dean.
The campaign highlights the island’s nature, culture and people.
[Related: Puerto Rico’s Comeback Story Thrives on Arts, Gastronomy, Heritage]
“This also undoubtedly speaks to the meetings and incentives sector, as any type of visitor enjoying time in Puerto Rico will inevitably experience the one-of-a-kind offerings on the island,” Dean said. “This brand campaign highlights what makes Puerto Rico unique—it’s hidden natural wonders, welcoming people and unique culture."
Further amplifying the arts and cultural riches of the island, Discover Puerto Rico partnered with actor, composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda to launch a six-part video series.
Through the series, Miranda, who along with his family has been instrumental in Puerto Rico's post-hurricane recovery, introduces viewers to the treasures in the land of his ancestors.
The video series explores Puerto Rico's historic districts, museums, performing arts spaces, restaurants and natural regions. Other local personalities are also featured.
“These are attractive factors that speak to the unforgettable memories that can be made during a meeting and by extending your trip as a bleisure traveler,” Dean said.
Cueva Ventana in Arecibo, Credit: Discover Puerto Rico
Meeting professionals are taking note. Discover Puerto Rico just announced two big wins: The World Travel and Tourism Council 2020 Global Summit and Connect 2021 Marketplace.
Meanwhile, the accolades for Puerto Rico keep rolling in, this time for Dean himself. He made the list of Meetings Today’s 2019 Trendsetters, and will receive the Destination Organization Leadership Award at Destination International's Annual Convention in St. Louis in July.
“I’m humbled to be included in the list,” Dean said of his Meetings Today Trendsetter award. “This recognition as well as the Destinations International award is as much a reflection of the amazing dedication and effort our team has invested as it is a reflection of me and my leadership.”
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