SAN JUAN -- Puerto Rico's visitor figures are inching up this year,
and that makes Milton Segarra, executive director of the Puerto
Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC), very happy.
"Although the overall increase from January through June was
just 1.5% over the same period a year ago, June's increase was
6.9%," he said.
Hotel occupancies averaged 67% for the first six months, down
from 70% a year ago. However, hotel occupancies at San Juan's 10
largest properties in mid-August topped off at 85%.
The destination, like most of the Caribbean, has struggled for a
comeback since last fall. But Segarra said he sees light at the end
of the tunnel and many reasons for optimism.
Hotel development continues at a rapid pace, with 24 projects
totaling 2,340 new rooms and an investment of $580 million expected
on board by the end of 2003.
"Our inventory will total 15,292 rooms in properties ranging in
size from 15 rooms to 314 rooms," Segarra said. This figure does
not include the convention center in San Juan and its anchor hotel,
which should open in early 2005.
Construction on the convention center is temporarily halted
while an environmental impact issue is resolved, but Segarra is
confident construction will resume by Octoober.
Meanwhile, other venues are hosting the convention crowds.
Coming up Jan. 19 to 21 at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum is the
Caribbean Hotel Association's annual Marketplace, which Puerto Rico
last hosted in 1996.
"We are going the extra mile for this meeting," Segarra said.
"It represents a great opportunity to showcase the destination and
our tourism product."
The PRTC's successful Fly Free program, first launched last fall
and again in February, was brought back in late August to boost
Seven operators offered five-night packages with free air from
10 U.S. gateways to 53 islandwide hotels and paradors.
Segarra's efforts to develop an awareness of Puerto Rico as a
brand include a major ad campaign in October that will again
feature the high-season theme of "You're Not Dreaming. You're in
Ads will concentrate in the the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut
area but will, for the first time, include newspapers and TV in
Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale and Miami,
Testimonials from successful Puerto Ricans now based in the
mainland U.S. will be a component of the campaign.
Agent involvement -- a key PRTC focus this year -- will feature
frequent newsletters with updates and incentives.
Puerto Rico's annual series of road shows and agent seminars
this fall will focus on the eastern, central and western U.S.
In all, $14.9 million is allocated for Puerto Rico's fiscal year
"The U.S. is our No. 1 market, but our branding efforts also
will reach out to other markets," Segarra said. "We have to
diversify our dollars for key return on our investment."
In line with the desire to diversify is the PRTC's focus on
creating new attractions for repeat visitors. "Nature and adventure
travel is a high priority right now," he said.
"We have El Yunque National Rainforest, which many have already
visited, so we are creating a network of 28 smaller national
reserves where travelers can kayak, bike and bird-watch in
conjunction with local tour operators."
Closer to San Juan will be new, one-day guided tours for
visitors with less time. Another initiative will target nautical
tourism, particularly on Puerto Rico's south coast, where charter
boats and yacht excursions will be available.
A revised Web site also is planned in the next 12 months.
Another new program will target cruise ship passengers, who
totaled 1.3 million last year. "We will have 20 musical shows a
week at the piers this winter," Segarra said.
By December, three new electronic kiosks will be in place in
Fajardo and Aquadilla, so that visitors can print out maps and road
For details, call the PRTC at (800) 223-6350 or visit www.gotopuertorico.com.