Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Insight logoTourism officials in Puerto Rico are hopeful that two recent hotel openings in San Juan, coupled with two more to come this year in Rio Grande and Vieques, signal the resurgence of corporate and leisure travel as well as the return of investor confidence.

Starwood's Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, which opened in November, is the first full-service hotel and casino to open in San Juan in 10 years.

A month later saw the formal launch of the Verdanza Hotel, the former Holiday Inn San Juan, now an independent, full-service property in the Isla Verde tourism district.

Following those openings will be the arrival of two more Starwood Hotels & Resorts properties this year in Puerto Rico: the 157-room W Retreat & Spa on Vieques, an island eight miles off Puerto Rico's east coast, in May; and the 139-room St. Regis Bahia Beach in Rio Grande, east of San Juan, in the fall.

Willie Chin, the Sheraton's director of sales and marketing, echoed the sentiments of many hoteliers in Puerto Rico when he said, "We are all looking forward rather than backward."

As for his hotel, Chin said, "We want to grow the business market. We've got strong marketing strategies in place, and this property is best positioned to do it. We're next to the convention center and, as business rebounds, this property will benefit."

In fact, Chin predicted that 2011 "will be a boom year for conventions. We're starting to see it now, and we will really see it ramp up in the last half of the year."

The Sheraton hosted the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association Marketplace event in January and also will serve as the official hotel for the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference from May 4 to 6. Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno will deliver the keynote address.

The 503-room property has 35,000 square feet of meetings space as well as a number of resort-like amenities, including the largest casino in Puerto Rico; a spa; four restaurants; 24-hour room service; retail shops; and the fourth-floor, 57,000-square-foot pool deck with an infinity pool, a kids' pool, bars, cabanas, restaurants and views of San Juan Bay.

WiFi is complimentary throughout the hotel, including the pool deck.

A penthouse Sheraton Club Level opened this month with a lounge and an al fresco dining terrace.

All rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows, and 77 of the rooms have balconies.

Chin described the hotel as "an urban resort. We're courting the meetings market, citywide conventions and the pre- and post-cruise leisure traveler as well."

A different vibe entirely is found at the 222-room Verdanza Hotel, which takes its name from "verde," the Spanish word for green, in reference to the lushness of Puerto Rico and the hotel's commitment to environmental responsibility.

The Verdanza underwent major renovations in its transition from chain to independent. It targets the leisure traveler who wants a beach location (it's a two-block walk, although the hotel has a large pool and sundeck area) near Old San Juan (a 75-cent bus ride or a $20 cab tab), as well as nearby shops, restaurants and grocery stores.

The lobby is sleek, the amenities modern, the lobby bar Coladas lively, and the rates realistic (from $172 per room, per night, double).

Green features include the use of biodiesel (converted from cooking oil used in its kitchens), recycled stationery and LED lights.

Ricky Newman, general manager, described the hotel as an "urban retreat with a staff dedicated to customer service and satisfaction. Our bookings are doing very well."

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