NEW YORK -- For the eight properties comprising the
portfolio of International Hospitality Enterprises (IHE), the adversity
following Hurricane Maria's devastation last fall presented unexpected
opportunities amid Puerto Rico's recovery.
Representatives from the San Juan-based hotel management
company were here to offer updates on how their properties have fared in the wake of Maria
as well as to discuss the state of tourism in Puerto Rico's capital and
recovery in general.
Overall the message was that IHE's properties are up and
running, and that for the most part they have been continually open in the
months since Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.
IHE president Jose "Peco" Suarez said that the
properties' supply chain was essentially back within 90 days of the storm. Ben
Tutt, general manager of the Condado Vanderbilt, agreed, adding that other than
occasional glitches with the property's farm-to-table offerings -- "Every
now and then I can't get the right tomatoes" -- things are back to normal.
Those hotels that suffered structural damage immediately got
to work on repairs and other improvements.
Jose Padin, of the 260-room Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde
Beach Resort, said that after the hurricane, the property decided to perform a
complete renovation of its public areas and rooms. Its restaurants and pool and
beach areas are fully operational, Padin said, and 30 rooms at a time are
undergoing renovation, which will include new carpeting and furniture. All
rooms are expected to be completed sometime in fall.
La Concha, a Renaissance Resort has been back to normal for
the past four months or so, said Suarez. Unrelated to hurricane damage, the
property's 248-room main tower is undergoing a $9 million renovation to be
completed this year.
Henry Neumann, general manager of the Best Western Plus
Condado Palm Inn & Suites, said the property didn't suffer any major
damage, although post-hurricane upgrades were made to the front desk area and
pool and breakfast areas.
The Condado Vanderbilt, which IHE positions as its
ultraluxury offering, has been at 95% occupancy since the hurricane, according
to Tutt, and nearly 70% of those are leisure bookings, on par with other years.
As the island's situation improves, bookings for
consultants, engineering firms and others involved in recovery efforts are
tapering off, said Peter Hopgood, IHE's vice president of sales and marketing. "As
the business from the recovery phase is leaving, we see some of that leisure
coming back, and that's why we're optimistic," he said.
The Hotel el Convento in Old San Juan sustained minimal
damage and has been "basically back on track since last month," said
general manager Alfredo Arroyo.
Suarez, who also serves on the board of directors of the
Puerto Rico Destination Marketing Organization, added that Old San Juan "in
the last 45 days came back strong" and the Condado neighborhood "was
pretty normal about a month after the hurricane."
"The main attractions, for the most part, are open,"
Suarez said, noting that El Yunque National Forest is partially open and that
they continue to clear more paths and roads. "Some of the more adventurous
attractions like ziplining are not fully operational; obviously there's a
safety component to these attractions."
Airlift, too, is on the mend. Domestic carriers are back,
said Hopgood, adding that JetBlue aims to be back to pre-hurricane service
levels by summer. He said that although European and Canadian airlines pulled
out en masse after the storm, Iberia is returning next month with five weekly
flights from Madrid, an increase over pre-Maria levels.
Just over a half-year into recovery, the IHE execs
emphasized the island's eagerness to lure back visitors.
Yodil Caban, general manager of the Doubletree by Hilton San
Juan at Gallery Plaza, said, "From the tour operator to the bell service
to housekeeping, they're just so full of passion to provide a great experience
and to welcome anyone who visits."