Puerto Rico Hosts 25% Group Biz

It’s no surprise to learn that the MICE market is key to Puerto Rico. In fact, one of every four room nights that is booked is a group room night.

“We have groups coming to our destination two, three, four years in a row,” says Milton Segarra, president/CEO of Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. “And a good amount of those meeting attendees are coming back with their families on their leisure time.”

Catering to that repeat business means keeping things fresh so attendees always find something new, a challenge the destination welcomes. To that end, Puerto Rico had several luxury openings in the past few years, including the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort Puerto Rico and Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. And there is more to come.

One of the most anticipated is the reopening of the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel. In 1919, Frederick William Vanderbilt built this gorgeous Spanish Revival building on an oceanfront stretch of the Condado District.

“The Vanderbilt is a gem in the Puerto Rico tourism industry,” Segarra says.

In its heyday the hotel hosted the likes of Errol Flynn, Charles Lindberg and President Franklin Roosevelt, and it was designated with landmark status before closing in 1997. The iconic hotel has undergone a $200 million refurbishment and expansion by International Hospitality Enterprises, the same team behind Hotel El Convento and La Concha.

The hotel is currently open for dining and events at 1919, helmed by Michelin-star chef Juan Jose Cuevas, and 15,000 sf of function space including a rooftop venue and oceanfront ballroom. The Vanderbilt is accepting room block reservations for rooms starting 1Q 2014. That will include 87 rooms and three suites in the restored historic wing, and 105/128 rooms in the new East/West Towers, all with Gilded Age-inspired decor that reflects the hotel’s history.

Condado is already a favorite destination for high-end visitors, says Segarra, who cites hip eateries like Budatai, helmed by Iron Chef competitor Roberto Trevino, which is available for private events. And Bar Gitano hosts events during the monthly Heineken jazz series.

Other excursions ideal for active groups include progressive dine-around dinners in Old San Juan, private tours of circa-1539 El Morro, and the always popular salsa dance classes.

There are two other notable group properties scheduled to come online in Greater San Juan in 2014. The 104-room Hyatt Place Manati will have 104 guest rooms and a full-scale casino in the hub of Puerto Rico’s medical and pharmaceutical community, just 40 miles west of San Juan. The 156-room Hyatt Place Bayamon Hotel & El Tropical Casino, just 15 miles southwest of the main city, will be convenient to the Luis A. Ferre Science Park and San Juan’s largest shopping mall.

“In the last 12 to 18 months we have noticed an increase in international groups and conventions coming to Puerto Rico. Mexico is the primary market but Panama, Colombia, Costa Rica and to some degree Brazil are also active. From January 2014 on, we’ll have daily flights to and from Mexico City.”

Segarra only expects that to continue to grow, now that Aerostar is managing Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. A new $250 million, 60-month upgrade is presently under development.