XLD Group, the Chinese investment firm that owns the Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino in Condado, is so confident Puerto Rico’s tourism sector will bounce back after Hurricane María that it already has plans to build a second hotel, with a projected $40 million investment.
José González-Espinosa, general manager of the Marriott Resort, confirmed plans call for building a 190-room tower where the property’s tennis courts are currently located.
The hotel could break ground in early 2019, and would fly one of Marriott’s many flags, to differentiate it from its sister hotel, the hotel executive further noted.
The expansion plans were revealed Tuesday evening during a gathering where XLD Investment Chair Jun Zhang spoke about his confidence in Puerto Rico as a destination based on the Marriott Resort’s performance and for being one of the Caribbean’s largest islands.
XLD Investment purchased the Marriott Resort for $184 million from Rockwood Capital and Interlink Group in May of this year, as this media outlet reported.
While the hotel sustained damage throughout when Hurricane María ripped through Puerto Rico Sept. 20, it remained operational — using generators — to provide rooms for the scores of emergency and relief personnel that arrived on the island after the storm. It is currently at full capacity.
One of the property’s hardest-hit areas were the 123 cabana rooms comprising the property’s second tower, with damages estimated at $20 million, González-Espinosa said.
However, work is underway to renovate all of the rooms, which should be ready to receive guests in April or May of next year.
Tourism sector ‘back to business’
Meanwhile, González-Espinosa said as Puerto Rico moves out of the emergency and into the recovery phase, the message to potential visitors should also shift to build confidence that the island’s tourism sector is “back to business.”
“Our hotel right now is full, with rooms taken by relief personnel. But we need to build a strategy with the government and the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association to bring back the leisure market,” he said. “The Tourism Co.’s campaign is good for now, but we have to start changing the message.”
Earlier this month, the Tourism Co. announced the first phase of its “meaningful travel” campaign with the launch of a series of “Rebuild Days” at multiple attractions — from parks to historic sites — through the end of 2017 to draw stateside tourists who are seeking ways to make a difference during this time of the year.
“Meaningful travel provides a unique opportunity for those interested in giving back while traveling,” the agency said.
As for the hotel properties that have shut down for repairs post-María, PRHTA Chair Miguel Vega said they are taking the opportunity to remodel their product offer to come back “bigger and better.”
“Puerto Rico will come out on the other side with a stronger product, which must be showcased,” he said.
While a number of luxury hotels — the Ritz Carlton in Isla Verde and Dorado and the St. Regis Bahía Beach, to name a few — have temporarily closed, both executives said there are enough alternatives to cater to that tourist segment.
Meanwhile, they both agreed that while the loss of jobs resulting from the closures presents a challenge for the sector, if a significant number of those displaced workers opted to leave, Puerto Rico still has enough resources to start over.
“There is a lot of capacity here, especially among the younger generation. Tourism one of the most job-friendly industries and one of the most labor-intensive. It welcomes all levels of education among its employees, who can succeed and advance on the job,” Vega said.
The hotelier said Puerto Rico’s tourism sector will have the chance to present its offerings during the Caribbean Hotel Association’s Marketplace conference slated to take place in late January 2018.
The exhibits will take place at the Puerto Rico Convention Center, which the federal government is expected to vacate Dec. 14, after using it for more than two months as the base of operations and disaster relief coordination.