Puerto Rico Readies for Another Recovery

January 13, 2021
Puerto Rico Readies for Another Recovery

If any destination knows about comebacks, it’s Puerto Rico.

“We have a Pd.D. in recovery,” joked Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico. “We’ve seen this movie before.”

First, it was Zika—that mosquito-bred virus that targets pregnant women and their unborn children. Hurricane Irma then brought its category 5 winds to the island. For good measure, Hurricane Maria brought Puerto Rico to the brink, putting water and electricity in short supply for months. And to think all of that was a warm-up act to what 2020 brought upon the entire world.

Through prior adversities, the island that could has persisted. And Dean said there is no reason to think the same won’t be true as the world slowly emerges from the pandemic.

“Puerto Rico has proven that not only is it resilient, but it can lead a quick recovery,” Dean said.

After a year stuck mostly at home, in which Zoom replaced face-to-face meetings and millions lost their jobs—to say nothing of COVID-19’s casualties—we could also use some of Puerto Rican’s determinedness and lessons from overcoming hardships.

For not only has Puerto Rico recovered from each setback, it has come back stronger than ever, Dean noted. Importantly, he credits the transformative nature of travel for the ability to dig out of a hole.

To say Dean is anxious for travel fears and regulations to be lifted is an understatement. He knows the interest is there for Puerto Rico—the beautiful weather, exquisite beaches, unforgettable rainforest and bioluminescent bays within reach without the need of a passport ensure that. He and the island just need the vaccines to roll out and case counts to finally diminish.

“This is going to take some time,” Dean said of recovery. “There’s a lot of optimism and a strong level of interest in booking meetings and events in Puerto Rico.”

Initially during the pandemic, Discover Puerto Rico utilized an advertising strategy to stay top-of-mind for planners. Now it is proactively pursuing meeting planners to book business. In December, the DMO hosted a virtual FAM trip that it hopes was an eye-opening experience.

When planners and attendees return, they will quickly see that this is not your father’s Puerto Rico anymore. For beyond the sheer resilience of its people, the island is perhaps ahead of the game when it comes to its sales pitch.

Out of Hurricane Maria’s devastation arose one of the United States’ premier 5G networks, ideal for an environment in which hybrid meetings will dominate. Trade show, conference and events attendees on the island will experience a destination about to be reinvented.

At the center of the new-look San Juan is Distrito T-Mobile, an indoor-outdoor adult playground steps from Puerto Rico Convention Center. Scheduled to debut last March, the entertainment district has taken advantage of the past 10 months to adapt to anticipated new needs, with restaurants and hotels altering how they serve guests while maintaining social distancing.

Among the attractions-within-an-attraction is the Coca Cola Music Hall (think galas and receptions) and an urban zipline. “We fully expect the facility will be a mecca within the Caribbean,” Dean said.

Smaller groups and incentive trips are likely to fuel the reemergence from the pandemic. Future years look strong. Discover Puerto Rico reports more than 130,000 room nights have already been booked between 2021 and 2028. Project numbers approach 50,000 room nights in 2022, when Connect is scheduled to host its large summer industry conference and trade show.

Corporate groups, including financial, health and tech companies, make up 35% of the bookings. More will come, Dean predicted. This year may not set records like 2019 did, but it promises to be a bright spot after 2020’s challenges.

“We’re not declaring defeat at all—2021 will be a year of recovery,” Dean said.

Photo Credit: El Distrito San Juan


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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. 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As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. 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Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.