There are few places in the world that have shown the resilience and strength of Puerto Rico and its people: it’s no secret it’s had its share of challenges, but the Island continues to rise to every challenge—and the current situation affecting the meetings industry is a case in point.
Click on the (very dynamic) DiscoverPuertoRico.com site and you’ll find it hard to look away: beaches, attractions both manmade and natural, culture, hotels… And just two clicks in, you’ll find a robust segment dedicated solely to meetings that deserves its own website.
Brad Dean, Discover Puerto Rico’s CEO, who along with his stellar team of professionals focused on bringing the Island’s MICE segment roaring back post-Hurricane Maria, is now working hard to engage in what’s being called the “new normal” brought about by the pandemic. A little history: Discover Puerto Rico opened its offices in 2018, and by 2019 they were looking at a future sales pipeline that more than doubled, with over $320 million of potential business for the Island. In other words, they had reached and even exceeded not only pre-Hurricane Maria levels, but pre-Zika levels as well.
Pre-COVID-19, the Island’s meetings industry was not only hosting midsize and larger meetings in the Puerto Rico Convention Center—the largest, most technologically advanced venue of its kind in the Caribbean—but they were also seeing city-wide conventions as well as a lot of smaller, medium-sized meetings that expanded outside the metropolitan area by groups looking for a unique getaway experience combined with a very productive meeting environment.
Safety first, second, and third…
After tourism—and life as we knew it—came to a grinding halt due to the pandemic, Puerto Rico’s experience dealing with crises served it well. The Island quickly regrouped and was, in fact, the first U.S. entity to implement strict actions, including a curfew. Today, thorough cleanliness measures remain in place Island-wide, and enhanced policies are being implemented that follow the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) Health and Safety guideline along with locally enforced measures.
While the situation is still fluid and as of July 20 only essential travel is encouraged, it’s important to point out that Puerto Rico has never closed its borders but has put in place strict measures to safeguard residents and visitors. When planning a future trip to Puerto Rico, travelers are required to fill out a Travel Declaration Form through the Puerto Rico Health Department’s online portal, get a molecular COVID-19 test (nasal or throat swab) no more than 72 hours prior visiting the Island and show proof of a negative result or they must quarantine. Non-essential businesses are closed, beaches are restricted to solo sports and exercise; restaurants and museums are operating at 50% capacity and malls remain open with social distancing measures in place. The 10 PM – 5 AM curfew is still in effect, and everyone is required to wear a face mask, subject to a fine. (For travel advisory updates from Discover Puerto Rico, click here.)
Multimedia planning for future events
The meetings industry has had to pivot strongly towards the digital for obvious reasons, but there’s no doubt MICE will always rely heavily on the in-person experience. While digital can go a long way towards maintaining contact, it cannot replace face-to-face meetings and much less the full immersion of a grand incentive trip. As the world picks up the pieces and leans into the “new normal,” Puerto Rico is doing its part to inspire confidence in meeting planners that an eventual return to business is very much possible while still keeping attendees safe by touting a mix of digital assets with new and already established venues.
Discover Puerto Rico is currently partnering with itinerary managing tool, Travefy, to create custom agendas rich in multimedia content that can be experienced both virtually and, ultimately, in person. Features including geo mapping, which connects business listings with google maps, flight trackers, and others make it extremely interactive and engages buyers both during and after the site inspection whether in person or virtually.
On the ground, face masks and social distancing are enforced, and in accordance with the CDC’s guidance for large events and mass gatherings. As an ASM Global managed facility, the Puerto Rico Convention Center is implementing the new VenueShield Environmental Hygiene Program, which applies new protocols including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), food safety measures, air quality control, surface cleaning, physical/social distancing, temperature checks, thermal cameras, hand sanitizers, reduced touch points, contactless transactions, daily monitoring systems, and more. Additionally, the venue will be reducing capacity to 25% and adding social distancing labeling on the floors to ensure 6 feet separation between guests.
The Convention Center has also developed 360 degree videos for planners to explore the venue. Via this content, planners can see the different levels of the venue, as well as its terrace.
The new Distrito T-Mobile, Puerto Rico’s ultimate entertainment destination, is now expected to open in Q4 of 2020 and they are taking this time to develop new, safety-first concepts, including technologically advanced equipment and refined health protocols to guarantee the safety of all visitors and employees. According to Dean, this is a five-acre hospitality entertainment district—adjacent to the Puerto Rico Convention Center—promises to become the entertainment epicenter of Puerto Rico. “It’s like a slice of Times Square with a Latin feel and a Caribbean flavor, and it’s going to provide a whole new level of entertainment and dining options to meeting attendees that have not existed before unlike anything else you’ll find in the Caribbean,” he added.
No passport needed
Moving forward, meeting planners need to be choosier than ever as to destinations and venues for their events. Puerto Rico continues to top the list of Caribbean destinations for US-based planners, thanks in part to the still robust flight availability—there’s even a new JetBlue flight planned from Philadelphia to San Juan slated for August 6, 2020—and the fact that as a Commonwealth of the United States, no passport is needed for US citizens.
But there’s so much more beyond the practical. “The one thing we always encourage everyone who visits is take the time to really experience and taste a little bit of the culture,” said Dean. “Try some mofongo, do the salsa, maybe take the rum tour where you cannot only taste that rum but bottle your own rum. There are so many unique experiences that you just won’t find anywhere else. Puerto Rico offers that unique appeal and cultural difference that you couldn’t find in many US destinations but yet offers the safety, convenience, and amenities of traveling within the US. When you come to Puerto Rico, it’s a great opportunity to experience something you won’t enjoy elsewhere and make memories that will last a lifetime.”
¡Puerto Rico te espera! (Puerto Rico awaits!)