Puerto Rico: Open For Business

After serving as response centers for four months following debilitating hurricanes, convention center and coliseum are back in action

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: January 23, 2018

Delighted fans packed the house when San Juan, Puerto Rico's José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum reopened following Hurricane Maria.

PRCC_Pictures_013.jpgSan Juan, Puerto Rico's Dr. Pedro Rosselló Convention Center is open for business and eager to reignite tourism.

With the reopening of its two premier facilities, Puerto Rico is back in the venue business four months after Hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged the island in late September.

Both Dr. Pedro Rosselló Convention Center and José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan were able to withstand the Category 5 hurricanes but have been closed to the public and used as response centers since the devastation.

20170912_151607.jpgSan Juan, Puerto Rico's coliseum became a shelter for thousands after Hurricane Maria slammed the island.

The coliseum was used as a shelter and as a donation center. The convention center was used as the emergency command center for the state and federal governments.

“There were many agencies involved in getting Puerto Rico back on its feet,” said Omar Marrero, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Center District Authority. “The venues were a logical place to house hurricane victims and also to coordinate the response to the hurricane."

The venues reopened for their intended use in early January. “The great news is that both the facilities are now fully operational,” Marrero said. “There were some minor repairs that were necessary, but we got the buildings open in record time.”

20170916_094324.jpgSan Juan, Puerto Rico's coliseum turned into the city's largest donation center post-Hurricane Maria.

The economic loss to the San Juan venues because of the hurricane damage was not significant because FEMA paid to set up shop in the sites. The economic loss to the island, however, was in the billions. Tourism dropped to unheard-of lows, hotel bookings plummeted, restaurants seats went unfilled and merchandise stayed on shelves.

“Our location has made getting help more difficult than in other hurricane-hit states,” he said. “Everything has to come in by air or sea. It takes time.”

A rapid reconstruction process was put in place for the most heavily visited parts of the island to recapture the foreign trade, soon aided by San Juan Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signing off on a bill that created a new destination marketing organization to promote tourism and meetings on the island. Funded with $25 million a year, the new entity is slated to be in place by July.

“We opened our ports within two weeks and started receiving cruise ships,” Marrero said. “We had the same ambitious schedule to reopen the venues once the governmental bodies left residence. We met the challenge and the venues opened just days after.”

Marrero said that there were “just a handful of cancellations” due to the floods and that many events chose to reschedule.

Convention business is already picking up with its first post-disaster event, Corporate Housing Providers Association Marketplace, set to hold its conference at the end of this month. “This is one of the largest events of the CHPA and regional tourism market and will bring together vendors, industry leaders, and we’re more than eager to convey to the market that we are open for business and ready, willing and able to resume our schedule,” he said.

The coliseum also opened in January with a concert by local artists. Up to 60
events are scheduled this year.

Although 68 percent of the island has had electricity restored since Maria stormed through, the news reports around the world have showed picture after picture of the devastation. The island’s economy depends on tourism; having tourists stay away for an indefinite period of time was not an option.

With that in mind, Meet Puerto Rico, the current destination marketing organization responsible for attracting meetings, conventions, trade shows, sporting events and incentive groups to Puerto Rico, launched the new message “Experience Puerto Rico.” 

To jumpstart the new campaign, a promotion has been put in place that will reward meeting organizers and incentivize industry planners for booking groups at select participating hotels and resorts with “a culinary or cultural entertainment experience.”

With that in mind, Meet Puerto Rico (MPR), the current destination marketing organization responsible for attracting meetings, conventions, trade shows, sporting events and incentive groups to Puerto Rico, launched the new message, “Experience Puerto Rico.” 

To jumpstart the new campaign, a promotion has been put in place that will reward meeting organizers and incentive industry planners for booking groups at select participating hotels and resorts with “a culinary or cultural entertainment experience.”

“An estimated 57,743 room nights were lost with an economic impact of $50 billion,” said Alma Pedrosa, acting president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico. “The good news is that currently 92 percent of people have back their drinking water and power has been restored to 68 percent of the island’s population."

In San Juan, the majority of the hotels (about 122), 4,000 restaurants, resort areas, about 107 attractions and tourist services are already open, Pedrosa said.

She’s also looking forward to the next stage, relaunching Puerto Rico as a prized convention destination.

“We are moving into a new phase with amazing opportunities for our clients and we are excited to have them rediscover Puerto Rico,” Pedrosa said. “As you know, Puerto Rico has always been one of the most desired meeting and convention destinations, and we intend to continue the same tradition.”

Pedrosa is looking forward to CHPA, which will be followed by Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in March.

“Many of our clients have rebooked for 2018 and beyond,” she said. “We are maintaining a complete presence in our social media channels. In April we will host the Rediscover Puerto Rico Destination Review bringing 25 meeting planners plus press to Puerto Rico.”

 

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: January 23, 2018