Puerto Rico wall spaces reserved for muralists from around the world

Celso González, Alexis Bousquet, Vero Rivera and Bob Snow. (Courtesy DiscoverPuertoRico.com)

Street artists urged to showcase their talent alongside island’s own

SAN JUAN – In partnership with Puerto Rico’s local art community, Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), has launched the “Blank Canvas Initiative,” a call to street artists around the world, inviting them to share their craft on the walls of Puerto Rico’s streets, and form part of the Island’s unique and booming arts scene.

“Puerto Rico boasts exceptional art museums, a flourishing art gallery scene, independent collectors, curators, quality events and highly skilled artisans, offering their work across the Island, and a thriving street art and mural experience unlike any other. For travelers who crave and seek out cultural arts and authentic experiences, Puerto Rico should top their list,” the DMO said about the inspiration for the initiative.

Local Puerto Rican artists identify and reserve wall spaces throughout the island inviting muralists worldwide to join the “Blank Canvas Initiative.” (Courtesy DiscoverPuertoRico.com)

Internationally recognized Puerto Rican artist Alexis Bousquet, also the founder of the Santurce es Ley street art festival, is teaming up with local artists Celso González, Vero Rivera and Bob Snow. Together, they are identifying wall spaces across the island to create “Reserved for” signs, which will serve as “blank canvas invitations” for global street artists around the world, to feature their art alongside Puerto Rico’s own, the Discover Puerto Rico explained.

“As artists, we believe in expression, and I hope that my fellow artists around the world see this opportunity to express themselves while being a force for good,” Bousquet said. “We welcome them to our Island, to take part in our booming art scene and to explore a place that will surely capture their hearts.”

The new artwork from the “Blank Canvas Initiative” will be showcased in time for the holidays, which the DMO always makes sure to remind potential travelers that the island’s are “renowned as the longest in the world.”

The holidays in Puerto Rico “are like no other, and culminate” with the San Sebastián Street Festival, the largest in Puerto Rico where thousands of locals and visitors alike gather to experience parades of cabezudos (big heads), live music, dancing, libations, food, and hundreds of authentic crafts by local artisans,” the organization explained.

The new murals will also be a focal point during upcoming “Santurce es Ley” street art festivals, which celebrate the thriving mural scene and stunning works in the area, approaching its eighth anniversary, where works are being created and unveiled live.

“Some areas of Puerto Rico are a true haven for mural art, yet we’re not a destination typically visited for that,” said Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico. “In addition to Santurce es Ley, our Island offers many options for travelers looking for rich arts and culture to be inspired – from our artisan’s work, widely available throughout the Island, to museums and art galleries open year-round, and other art-focused events like the MECA Art Fair – our Island is a culture lovers’ delight for anyone seeking to immerse themselves in authentic experiences and everything Puerto Rico has to offer.”

Puerto Rico’s “art culture sets it apart from other Caribbean destinations,” the DMO assured in the initiative’s announcing release, adding that the island hosts the annual MECA Art Fair Nov. 21-24 – “the largest” in the Caribbean.

“The unique blend of Taino Indian, African and Spanish heritages makes the art scene across the Island one-of-a-kind with a cultural DNA unlike any other. The Island has more than 70 museums and 50 art galleries that contain works ranging from ancient Indigenous and African, to Baroque and Victorian, and contemporary works of art,” Discover Puerto Rico wrote.

For global artists interested in joining the “Blank Canvas Initiative,” Discover Puerto Rico welcomes them to contact BlankCanvas@DiscoverPuertoRico.com.

Puerto Rico Tourism Co. holds destination management forum

PRTC Executive Director Carla Campos (File)

Seeks to address sectors’ concerns with ‘compendium of recommendations’ gathered

SAN JUAN — Tourism sector representatives gathered Wednesday at the Puerto Rico Convention Center to participate in a destination management forum organized by the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC).

The event, in which about 100 people participated in nine working groups, helped raise awareness about the importance of fundamental industry issues such as safety, short-term rentals, the presence of homeless people in tourist areas, the preparation and management of critical infrastructure, coastal sensitivity, human capital, homeless pets, and ground transportation.

PRTC Executive Director Carla Campos said in a release that heads of agencies related to the issues that were touched upon attended the event, as well as hotel representatives, tourism operators, associations, academic institutions, developers, community organizations and nonprofits.

“Destination management is a shared responsibility that concerns us all,” Campos said. “The basic services such as safety, roads and transportation impact visitors’ experience and should be a priority in our efforts to bet on tourism as an economic development engine. One of the PRTC’s roles is to serve as a coordinating and facilitating entity, so that these topics can be addressed adequately by the different agencies and entities with the private sector’s participation. Our objective it to achieve that, by creating the proper environment, not only can we reach visitors’ expectations, but we can exceed them with a first-class experience.”

The forum was held to facilitate an environment of open dialog, where all the components and spokespeople of the tourism industry could share their concerns and receive valuable insight, as well as learning about each agency’s role in implementing work plans for each topic discussed.

“The forum provided an opportunity to address, in an orderly manner, the input of all matters that affect the visitors’ and residents’ experience, on the private sector’s economic wellbeing and that they constantly form part of the public discussion,” Campos stressed. “The input gathered in this meeting will be part of a compendium of recommendations to immediately improve the destination management, focusing on improving the visitor experience as a key strategy to continue betting on tourism as the launching point for our economic development strategy.”

Among those who participated were Transportation Secretary Carlos Contreras; Emergency Management and Disaster Bureau Commissioner Carlos Acevedo; Transportation and Public Service Bureau President Luis García; Public Safety Deputy Director Guillermo Torruellas; and FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglass Leff; as well as Ports Authority, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and Justice Department officials.

New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. Nestor Alonso, who is a member of the House Tourism and Social Wellbeing Committee, and independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot, who is an expert on the island’s homeless issue, also participated. Also present were, Brad Dean, the CEO of the island’s destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico, and his team.

In her keynote, Campos mentioned the importance that human capital represents, noting that the topic is not sufficiently addressed and is necessary to strengthen destination management efforts. To that end, she said efforts are underway to foster education not only in the industry’s workforce with proper training, but also to promote educating the youth so the island’s entire population is knowledgeable about the intrinsic benefits of tourism.

Also at the event was Tara Loller, of the U.S. Humane Society, who spoke about the abandoned animals on the island. Although the entity has carried out the largest mass sterilization campaign in Puerto Rico, additional solutions to tackle the numbers need to be implemented, officials said.

Puerto Rico’s marketing firm reports highest tourism revenue, visitor numbers in history

Discover Puerto Rico celebrates first-anniversary achievements

SAN JUAN  – Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s first private and nonprofit destination marketing organization (DMO), was celebrating its one-year anniversary this week, and announced that tourism is the “strongest it’s ever been, as the destination tracks towards a record-breaking year.”

Year-to-date revenue is the highest in the island’s history, with $445 million reported through May, the DMO said, adding that 1.67 million visitors arrived in the San Juan, Ponce and Aguadilla airports, the highest number for the January-April period. 

The Discover Puerto Rico team (Screen capture of www.puertoricodmo.com)

“Despite the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimating a recovery between 2021-2022, and New Orleans taking eight years to get back to pre-Katrina levels, we set an aggressive goal to fast-track the visitor economy at a record pace, for the benefit of local communities,” said Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico. 

Since its inception, the DMO focused on several major initiatives, such as decreasing the “negative perception” travelers and meeting planners had to strengthen the leisure and meetings and conventions segments.

Travelers’ “likelihood to visit Puerto Rico increased 6 points over the past year, an impressive jump, despite significantly reduced marketing budgets,” the DMO said.

Among meeting planners, post- Hurricane Maria perception of Puerto Rico “has a fully recovered or ready for business destination has increased 5X (from 8% to 41%) over the past year. Desirability for booking meetings & conventions has grown almost 3X (from 24% to 71%) this year,” the organization announced. 

The DMO repositioned the Puerto Rico brand for growth by developing a new brand identity, and launched a research-based marketing strategy, along with a new campaign, a move that has already yielded results and “will yield even greater long-term impact,” it assured.

Among the initiative’s results is that media coverage of Puerto Rico now more prominently “features culture, arts, and cuisine, followed by natural attractions, versus just beaches.”

Data show that travelers who have seen the new brand campaign stay “nearly three days longer” on the island, for which media coverage about areas outside San Juan has “grown 4X since last July, and there has been a tremendous growth in the number of visitors” to the rest of the island.

Arrivals to Aguadilla are 44% higher than the previous record from 2017, the DMO pointed out, adding that the airport “is on pace to receive 800,000 passengers this year, which would shatter the existing record.

Discover Puerto Rico’s new website, social media strategy and digital ads are among its most successful engagement tools. Since its launch, traffic to the website is up 128%. Pages per session are up 34%, “showing people are engaging with a range of content,” while time on the website is up 31%, “and bounce rate is down by 13%, meaning the content is driving interest,” the DMO explained, adding that page views are up 228%.

Discover Puerto Rico has seen nearly 40,000 referrals to local businesses and points of interest and said it “took a very weak pipeline of sales prospects, and injected strong interest to propel Puerto Rico as a leading force” in the meetings and conventions travel segment, promoting the island’s “status as the most technologically advanced destination in the Caribbean, offering ease of traveling, combined with unparalleled culture and diverse natural offerings.”

The results are that leads generated and contracted events are the “highest they have been in five years,” while “[r]equested and contracted rooms are also at an all-time high. And, conversions on bookings are up 121% (from 14% to 31%).”

The DMO estimated a more than $92 million economic impact with groups “already signed and another $288M in potential impact from opportunities in the pipeline.” One significant result of the efforts was the island being chosen for the Connect 2021 event, to which some 1,700 meeting planners will attend.

The DMO said it is preparing for industry accreditation to position itself among the highest in quality and performance standards for destination marketing and management.

“A year in advance of being eligible, the DMO checks off meeting high standards in areas including governance, finance, human resources, sales, communications, branding, destination development, and research. The DMO already complies with 70% of the mandatory accreditation standards and 40% of the aspirational or voluntary standards of leading DMOs,” its release reads.

“Our ultimate objective is to put the transformative power of travel to work in Puerto Rico, by doubling the visitor economy, and continuing to benefit the Island’s residents and businesses,” Dean said, cautioning, however, that it is “critical to ensure we have the right resources to continue this momentum,” referring to its capped $25 million annual budget from the island’s lodging-room-night tax.

Puerto Rico marketing organization shifts narrative as tourism grows

Discover CEO Brad Dean (Courtesy)

Works with limited budget to promote ‘thriving’ island

SAN JUAN — In its latest quarterly presentation to the tourism industry, Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), showed rising travel bookings, length of stay, spending and improvement with regard to how the island is perceived abroad.

While the main message from the DMO officials was that tourism is a driving sector for the economic recovery of the island, they also alluded to limitations in possible areas of expansions because of what Chief Marketing Officer Leah Chandler described as “a compressed budget.”

Act 3 of 2017, which established the private, nonprofit DMO, provides the organization a $25 million budget derived from the island’s hotel room occupancy tax revenue. This year, the DMO’s first, it also counted on rollover funds from Meet Puerto Rico, whose sales and marketing operations it absorbed, but are non-recurrent and will not be available next year.

For fiscal year 2020, Discover Puerto Rico will operate with the $25 million appropriation but the law that enabled it only allows it to receive $5 million from any partnership it may go into. The organization is also looking to attract Community Development Block Grant funds from the recently approved U.S. disaster aid legislation.

Nonetheless, Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean said, “Our biggest limitation right now is because of the budget limitations, we can’t market in all of the [places]; we don’t have resources to market everywhere we could grow, so we have to be very selective and limit our investments to the best short-term strategies, but we are laying the groundwork for greater results in the future.”

Dean also explained that, while the DMO knew “$25 million would not be enough to double the size of the visitors’ economy,” the first step was to establish a successful strategy and argued that the data gathered by its consulting firm Arrivalist and public relations firm Ketchum confirm the organization is headed in the right direction.

Arrivalist collects information from location data gathered by cellphone apps and focuses on “purposeful arrivals” to the island, meaning layovers or cruiseship-stop passengers are not included in calculations. The firm showed that the average stay is longer than four days, and increases  for people who have been exposed to promotional material.

The DMO’s director of research and analytics, Alisha Valentine, said during her presentation that, “the most exciting piece of data we’ve seen to date is lodging revenue topping anything we’ve seen before on this island.”

Valentine explained that the 17.2 percent increase in revenue compared with the 2017 peak comes from a rise in the daily rates and growth of independent, short-team rentals such as booked on Airbnb and Homeaway, which now comprise 25 percent of the lodging market. She added that the numbers of visitors is slightly less than in 2017 but current travelers are spending more.

The DMO’s presentation not only focused on numbers but also on its marketing and communications strategies. Among those presenting was Sara Garibaldi, sales and economic development director for Ketchum, who spoke about an expanding digital presence, at 11.5 billion impressions so far, with “an ad value of $202 million” since July last year.

Garibaldi said one goal is to “shift the narrative” about Puerto Rico from recovery, or “comeback story,” to a message that tourism in Puerto Rico is thriving, and pointed out that earned media coverage, or that gained through promotional rather than paid efforts, was already shifting in tone.

Dean added that the move away from recovery talk was made “because every decision we make is informed and guided by research. We can’t just simply react and respond based on emotions or what we think to be the case, we test our theories and validate our strategies. So the research is showing that the publicity and the promotion is working, perception is improving and now we can begin to pivot from ‘we are open for business’ to ‘Puerto Rico is Thriving.’”

Puerto Rico marketing organization pitching island’s inclusiveness

Discover Puerto Rico’s chief marketing officer, Leah Chandler, and CEO, Brad Dean (Courtesy)

Discover Puerto Rico contracts HospitableMe to help turn island into Caribbean’s ‘LGBT Capital’

SAN JUAN — Presenting Puerto Rico as a safe, welcoming and experience-rich destination for the LGBTQ+ communities is part of the efforts the island’s marketing organization is employing to create awareness about the travel destination. Discover Puerto Rico has recruited the help of tourism and hospitality consultant HospitableMe.

Nearing its first anniversary, Leah Chandler, the chief marketing officer of destination marketing organization (DMO) Discover Puerto Rico, and HospitableMe founders Billy Kolber and Kenny Porpora, held a townhall-like discussion with members of the LGBTQ+ community, in which they discussed the progress of their work and what they would like to see.

“As we come up that one-year anniversary, we thought it would be a good idea to gather the community here to kind of share what our goals are like today, what challenges we still face, some of the work we’ve done, some of the significant changes we’ve made and where we are going next,” Porpora said.

Porpora explained that although the Caribbean region may have a reputation as not welcoming of LGBTQ+ people, and could even be considered homophobic or transphobic in some cases, Puerto Rico, by many metrics is at the top for LGBTQ+ offers.

Among the positive attributes Kolber and Porpora mentioned were same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage laws, having two gay pride parades- with a third gay pride parade expected to debut in Ponce next weekend- and the island’s nightlife. Porpora also argued that having gay-owned businesses is also part of what makes Puerto Rico a friendly destination.

As for the target market, Kolber said the need is to broaden the base and presenting Puerto Rico to travelers who have overlooked the Caribbean.

“It’s not that we have to create something [or] market something that isn’t here or spin something. We know that Puerto Rico has what it takes to be known as the LGBT capital of the Caribbean, to be a preferred destination, to be the Caribbean destination for queer people from all over the world. And it’s not just taking people away from other islands here in the Caribbean but other destinations and bringing them to the Caribbean when they weren’t considering the Caribbean before,” Kolber explained.

To bolster Puerto Rico as a queer-friendly destination that could attract travelers who overlooked the Caribbean in the past, Chandler said her organization wanted to define “what can LGBTQ+ marketing look like in Puerto Rico and the first thing we said is let’s do an audit; let’s really understand if we are ready to open up this door to the world.”

Although Kolber praised both Puerto Rico as a destination and the work Discover Puerto Rico has done, he went on to argue that there are some areas in which Puerto Rico needs to improve, starting with having more representatives in the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, also known by its original initials, IGLTA. Another area Kolber said needs improvement is businesses’ preparedness to cater to the demographic.

“One of the things that the audit showed early on in our research was that the island is very very open to LGBTQ visitation, but a lot of our service providers and the hotels were not that comfortable in speaking to the market. I mean literally answering questions about ‘I’m interested in having a same-sex wedding in your property. Do you have a list of queer-friendly wedding vendors?’ Those kinds of questions,” Kolber said.

“There’s nearly 100 percent interest in same-sex travel, about a 30 percent competency level for what we would consider really being fully ready to welcome those kinds of visitors,” he added.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a sustainable LGBTQ+ sector for travelers to Puerto Rico, which Kolber said includes long-term planning not just by the DMO, but also businesses.

Air travel to Puerto Rico highest in 8 years

(Alexis Antonio on Unsplash)

Island’s destination marketing organization announces recovery ahead of its 1st anniversary

SAN JUAN – Citing reports by hotel industry and short-term lodging trackers, STR and AirDNA, respectively, Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), announced that January-through-April occupancy spending reached $373.6 million, the highest in the past eight years, or a 12.4 percent increase when compared with pre-hurricane Maria levels in 2017.

Puerto Rico’s lodging spend growth is driven by a rise in bookings of vacation rental properties, accounting for 23 percent of the jump, while passenger arrivals reached 1.5 million between January and April, according to data gathered by the operator of the island’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Aerostar Airport Holdings.

“We’re thrilled to see this volume of travelers experiencing all that Puerto Rico has to offer, and supporting the visitor economy of the island, which directly impacts the local community. Our research-driven approach, combined with award-winning publicity and marketing campaigns, have driven quick results for the island,” TravelDailyNews quoted Discover Puerto Rico’s CEO, Brad Dean, as saying.

The tourism surge comes about as the DMO completes its first year of operations. Other rising-tourism indicators cited by the organization include: 2019 year-to-date leads and bookings for meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) are the highest in five years; Muñoz Marín Airport’s 23.8 percent year-over-year increase in air traffic in the first quarter of 2019 compared with 2018’s; and January 2019 cruise data reflecting a 28.9 percent cruise passenger increase, with a 56.6 percent increase in homeport passengers compared with January last year.

The island continues to rack up travel industry acclaims such as luxury travel network Virtuoso ranking the island No. 3 in experiencing the largest year-over-year percentage increase in summer bookings, with a 149 percent jump. Airbnb also saw Puerto Rico lead the top-10 global trending destinations for this summer, with three island municipalities on the list, Dorado, Vieques and Río Grande. Each reflect a 400 percent increase in Airbnb bookings when compared with last year.

“The future of Puerto Rico has never been brighter, and this comeback story, which we are proud to be a part of, is far from over,” Dean added. “Our goal is to double the size of the visitor economy to directly impact and strengthen the development of the island and its remarkable communities.”

Coming up is the 500-year anniversary of the city of San Juan, which coincides with cultural events in the fall as well as the opening of District San Juan, a 5-acre hospitality and entertainment district. The island was also selected as the host destination for the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) 2020 Global Summit.

Puerto Rico’s marketing organization establishing analytics-based strategy


Discover Puerto Rico intends to bank on growing tourism trend

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s destination marketing organization (DMO), Discover Puerto Rico, is honing its strategy and intends to achieve certain economic objectives by basing decisions on analysis provided by the founder and president of Tourism Economics, Adam Sacks, as well as analysis of data the organization has already compiled, Discover Puerto Rico CEO Brad Dean said.

“We also talked early on about the importance of research and investing in research. I know we’ve had people wondering why so much and why it takes so long, but the research doesn’t happen at all once. One project leads to another project; one project answers a series of questions and that raises another series of questions, so that research has taken place over a period of months,” Dean said.

The Discover CEO said Sacks “is helping us look backwards at where we’ve been and where we are starting,” and that the DMO’s Alisha Valentine, director of research and analytics, “tells us how we are performing now.”

Sacks and Valentine presented a positive outlook on the island’s tourism industry, although growth might not be in the traditional sectors. For example, Valentine explained that while hotel occupancy might be lower than what hoteliers would like, the exponential growth of independent rentals via lodging services such as Airbnb and HomeAway point to the growth of a different type of visitor profile.

“There has been a nearly 900 percent increase in available independent rentals in the last year and the demand has increased faster than the supply. When we take a look at the combined hotel and independent rental occupancy, we’re actually just off our best year in the last five years,” Valentine said. She later added that the potential of “independent rental being able to attract a different kind of visitor, that some visitors are actually looking for that type of experience that the independent rental can offer,” is being studied closely. “So seeing this type of growth can’t be underestimated as we are thinking about the industry.”

For his part, Sacks explained that based on previous trends, according to local tourism industry-related economic data he compiled going back to 2012, his assessment is Puerto Rico has been showing a post-disaster recovery rate, referring to the back-to-back major hurricanes that struck in 2017, that is faster than other places that have experienced a similar degree of devastation.

Before Hurricane Maria, Sacks said, Puerto Rico had experienced consistent growth; however, 2017 saw a 15 percent drop in visitor spending from the $6.5 billion recorded for 2016, a decline that continued into the early months of 2018, when they began reflecting a growth trend to this day.

Given that year-long pattern, Dean is optimistic that the tourism sector can grow into the double digits in terms of percentage of Puerto Rico’s GDP, with Sacks concurring that Puerto Rico has room and the opportunity to grow.

As for the full economic report, Valentine said it will first be shared with industry stakeholders and eventually made public.

PRISA Group’s entertainment complex at Puerto Rico Convention Center District set to go live

District Live! includes Aloft hotel, entertainment infrastructure, theaters, offices and even a zipline  

Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in the April 4-10, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

From the air, the view of PRISA Group’s new project, District Live!, which stands prominently next to the Pedro Rosselló Convention Center in San Juan’s Isla Grande community, is truly impressive and promises to be “the new heart of San Juan,” PRISA CEO Federico Stubbe Jr. told Caribbean Business.

With less than a year to go before its planned opening at the end of 2019, construction is at an advanced stage. In fact, a first stage, which includes the process of leasing space for everything from media companies to booking events, was already commenced at what Stubbe believes will be the Caribbean’s primary entertainment center.

“With this project, we are delivering a strong message that, after [Hurricane] María, Puerto Rico is re-emerging stronger than ever, with world-class infrastructure, and unique and authentic experiences that enhance the value and personality of our people and our culture,” Stubbe said. “This project will be on a great scale, something Puerto Rico has never seen, and we are sure the public will love it.”

Stubbe, who also serves as vice president of the Puerto Rico’s destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico, said the work to make the idea a reality has been titanic because the multi-use project includes spaces for musical entertainment, performing arts, plastic arts, natural recreational areas, a large-capacity theater, offices and other attractions, which he assures make District Live! a novel economic development model for the island and the Caribbean.

“The complexity of projects that have a multipurpose use like this one, combined with the great risk this type of project represents with the things that are happening and with the general uncertainty that consumes Puerto Rico, has made the effort brutal. But, on the other hand, I can say I am super-excited about how this will turn out,” Stubbe said, explaining that his passion has always leaned toward the development of entertainment projects such as this one.

The developer stressed that District Live! will act as a catalyst for growth of Puerto Rico’s groups and conventions industry, which for many years has lagged due to inadequate infrastructure but began to improve significantly with the opening of the Convention Center in 2005, managed by AEG Worldwide.

What’s it all about?

Stubbe explained that the project has three anchor elements and a main attraction in the form of a modern theater with capacity for 6,000, which he said, will fill a need for midsize events and shows that currently can only count on Santurce’s Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center and Hato Rey’s Puerto Rico Coliseum as potential venue options in San Juan.

Regarding the theater, the developer explained how adaptable it is, calling it the perfect venue not only for music concerts, but also for boxing matches, fashion shows, banquets, galas, graduations, TV awards and similar events that will attract a foreign audience and foster tourism.

“The idea is for demand for places like this to increase. This space has state-of-the-art acoustics in the theater, which is something the [Puerto Rico] coliseum does not have and is necessary for the full experience. We have a 177-room Aloft hotel for young, cool people—those who want to be where the action is. We have Caribbean Cinemas VIP theaters, with 900 seats in eight theaters including a large-format one,” he explained.

In addition to these attractions, the impressive structure, which was built with an investment of more than $150 million and is expected to contribute 2,075 direct and indirect jobs to the local economy, will also have other amenities such as a spacious lounge, balconies and stunning architecture, as well as a zipline that will connect the Convention Center and District Live! over the central plaza.

However, the emblematic anchor to the project, which they have dubbed “the public square of the future,” is built in a central space of 50,000 square feet, which will serve as the entrance portal to District Live!

“For the central square, we were inspired by New York’s Times Square, and it is an easily accessible public square. I say this is going to be the new center of San Juan,” Stubbe remarked. He further detailed that it will include a combined 15,000 square feet of screens throughout the complex, including a 4,000-square-foot screen, the largest in the Americas.

The developer assured this is not an exclusive, high-end project for a specific population, but what is envisioned is the creation of a meeting point for the entire public, with an emphasis on Puerto Rico culture and its idiosyncrasies.

“This cannot be Disney World nor Universal [Studios, in Orlando, Fla.]. This is about who we are as Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico, not as a place but as people. And that is why we are very focused on giving the place a lot of authenticity through experiences, not only architecture. That [Orlando experience] seems to me to be the wrong way to approach a project like this,” the developer explained. “District Live! will be an experience about music, dance, people, our beer, our rum, our Puerto Rican parrot, our nature, our coffee…that’s what it’s about.”

Stubbe also indicated there are numerous other amenities but preferred not to make them public yet. However, he revealed that an agreement was reached with a local broadcasting group that will establish its studio at District Live! allowing the public to see the station’s operations from the central square. He also announced that in 2021, District Live! will host the largest Think Planners convention in the United States.

A new city

The PRISA Group executive explained that the idea for the project evolved from building lodging projects across the island, the experience of which helped the developer to identify the public’s preference for experiences rather than simply places in which to stay overnight.

“When we did the Hyatt House [in the Convention Center District in San Juan], we saw that it went very well. So, we thought about using that same formula to continue building hotels of this type, but we rethought that plan because we realized from our experience at Dorado Beach, in particular, that people do not base their decisions about where they want to travel on where they will stay, but because of their experiences,” Stubbe said.

“When we saw the average length of stay in Puerto Rico, we saw it was only 2.6 room-nights, and compared with the competition, from South Florida to the Caribbean and Hawaii, it is four nights or more, minimum. Then, we were able to identify the challenge and the opportunity,” he added.

The developer assured that the Convention District represents a canvas for the company, a new infrastructure model for the island, “a new city,” he said.

“We believe in the value of new infrastructure that is designed to the needs of today’s and future consumers, not yesterday’s,” he said. “We studied the best in the world. We spoke with the best in the world, with companies that have developed these projects, and along the way defined what is needed in Puerto Rico, and we reached this definition.”

Stubbe emphasized that the project will allow Puerto Rico to project itself internationally as a strong tourism and business destination, not only for individuals, but also for groups and corporations.

“For me, at a global level, this project will allow Puerto Rico to announce to the world that this is how it sees its future, with new world-class infrastructure—the message that we are going to [compete globally] in terms of tourism. It is a very powerful message that Puerto Rico is reborn from the catastrophe but stronger than ever and, frankly, we need it,” he said.

However, Stubbe stressed that District Live! is only one of a battery of infrastructure projects planned by PRISA Group, all aimed at revitalizing the island and opening more international tourism doors.

“We think big. In these days of global competition, one has to think big to break through the mold. The world is getting ever smaller with technology, and it seems to us that this is only the beginning of a broader development in the whole area of infrastructure for the development of entertainment and tourism and of a lifestyle,” he said.

Recent confirmed numbers reveal the scope and potential of the events industry on the island. For instance, during fiscal year 2014, the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center was the venue for 456 functions that had a combined attendance of 251,171 people, and in fiscal 2015, 423 functions were held and attended by 232,659 people. Meanwhile, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016, the Puerto Rico Coliseum hosted 103 events, which saw a total of more than 700,000 guests and over $35 million in gross ticket sales.

Puerto Rico destination marketing organization coordinates Google, TripAdvisor workshops

SAN JUAN – Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization, which last week launched a new website, announced Monday that as part of the brand repositioning efforts, workshops for tourism-related businesses to promote themselves on Google and TripAdvisor will be offered.

The new www.discoverpuertorico.com contains a directory with thousands of companies on the island that offer tourist services as well as an inventory of tourist attractions. Tourism businesses that are not on the website may include their information in the directory at no cost.

A new extranet allows business owners to edit the information of their commercial establishments, “streamlining the process of updating the portal to make it more accurate and useful for the visitor,” the DMO said.

Discover Puerto Rico will offer free workshops from March 25 to 28 around the island to guide business owners on how to access the extranet to update their information on discoverpuertorico.com, learn how to update their information in Google My Business, and learn about Discover Puerto Rico’s cooperative marketing program.

The workshops will be on March 25 at El San Juan Hotel, on March 26 at the Fajardo Inn, on March 27 at the Ponce Hilton Golf & Casino Resort and on March 28 at the Holiday Inn in Mayagüez. All from 8 a.m. to noon.

The TripAdvisor workshop will focus on how to register, the best practices for using the business listing and how to increase the visibility of a business globally.

This workshop will be offered March 29 in the auditorium of the School of Architecture of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus at 9 a.m.

Puerto Rico destination marketing organization launches new website, logo

Puerto Rico to hold first educational convention on hospitality, tourism

SAN JUAN – The executive director of the Tourism Co. of Puerto Rico (CTPR), Carla Campos, and Xavier A. Ramírez of XJTT Hospitality Inc., announced Monday that the first educational convention dedicated to hospitality and tourism in Puerto Rico, HotelierCon, will be held March 13 and 14 at the Cabo Rojo Convention Center.

The convention was created with the aim of improving the competitiveness of the island’s tourism industry by educating on quality standards.

The event will consist of 36 conferences, and more than 30 exhibitors of products and services for hotels, restaurants, travel agents, transportation providers, municipalities, agencies, organizations that provide tourism services and other visitor economy stakeholders.

“Continuing education is key to the professional growth of everyone who is part of the tourism value chain. Learning about new trends and finding out about the latest in tourism innovation is important to position ourselves as a vanguard destination internationally,” Campos said in a release, adding that “Governor Ricardo Rosselló is committed to converting Puerto Rico into the Connector of the Americas and a center of innovation.”

Ramírez, who is organizing the event said the industry must “innovate continuously, and implement modern technologies relevant to the hospitality industry, and we have designed the Puerto Rico HotelierCon for this purpose.”

He added that tourism “has enormous potential to boost the local economy,” and that with the convention, “we wanted to contribute to accelerate the professional growth of our entrepreneurs and improve the competitiveness of all sectors of our industry.”

Besides the Tourism Co., Puerto Rico HotelierCon is sponsored by Caribbean Hotel Supplies Inc.; Expedia Group; the School of Tourism Hospitality and Culinary Arts (EUTHAC by its Spanish initials) of the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Puerto Rico; the island’s destination marketing organization, Discover Puerto Rico; Neptune; Booking.com; National University College / IBC; Combate Beach Resort and the Municipality of Cabo Rojo.

For more information, visit www.prhoteliercon.com.