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