While there has been a shift in visitors from hotels to independent rentals, Discover Puerto Rico forecasts for hotel occupancy in the third and fourth quarters of 2019 show a 16% increase in demand from the prior year, the Destination Marketing Organization’s CEO Brad Dean said.
According to Discover Puerto Rico’s numbers, there were some 865,415 hotel room nights booked during the first quarter ended in March, and another 346,471 independent rentals booked.
When compared to the same year-ago quarter, hotel room night bookings dropped from the 939,561 reservations, while independent rentals jumped from the 194,157 bookings in the same three-month period in 2018. There are approximately 156 hotels accepting reservations.
“Significant increases in both supply and demand for independent rentals in Puerto Rico has resulted in tremendous visitation growth to the island throughout the first quarter of 2019. Prior to Hurricane Maria, there had been a growing shift in visitors to independent rentals, with increased usage of larger rentals,” he said.
Overall, the number of room nights in hotels and independent rentals in the first quarter of this year increased 17% over 2018 to generate the highest first quarter demand in room nights ever recorded in Puerto Rico.
“This increase in booked room nights corresponds to the first quarter arrival data from Aerostar Airport Holdings LLC’s, which saw a 19% increase in arrivals at San Juan International in the first quarter of 2019,” he said.
Air access has been growing at all airports. The Luis Muñoz Marín International airport saw a 23.8 percent year-over-year increase in air traffic in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the first three months of 2018. The airport received a little more than 1.1 million passengers during the current quarter, vs. the 968,435 registered for the same quarter in 2018.
“This is a strong sign of growth, as more carriers expand capacity and add new routes,” he said, adding that there are talks to open new routes between the island and Europe, specifically Great Britain via either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic.
The first quarter of 2019 leads and bookings in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) space “far surpass past three-year and five-year averages,” he said.
Meeting planners are finding Puerto Rico “a top choice” given its ease of doing business as a U.S. territory and allure of a Caribbean destination, Dean said.
Since the first quarter of 2016, there has been a 294% increase in the number of independent rental room nights available and a 338% increase in room nights booked, he said.
“In March 2019, there were more than 9,500 independent rentals available on the world’s leading platforms, exclusive of private and shared rooms. Independent rentals now equate to nearly 70% of the more than 13,000 hotel rooms on the island,” he added.
When looked at from the perspective of hotel room nights available, independent rentals had 1.2 million rooms available, but booked 696,168 during the first quarter of 2019, according to the DMO’s data.
Have we met yet? campaign targets specific markets
Regarding the recently launched “Have we met yet?” campaign, Dean said Discover Puerto Rico spent about $200,000 to produce the effort that is mostly seen in key U.S. mainland markets. The total media spend will be roughly $7.6 million between May and October.
“We did extensive research and the insights went into building Puerto Rico’s new brand identity and this campaign. This included evaluation against competitors, perception, familiarity, overall image and authenticity, all within a variety of markets, which included New York City, Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, select Eastern U.S. markets, diaspora community, Madrid, Spain, Toronto, Canada and Puerto Rico,” he said.
Research showed that Puerto Rico’s brand identity was neutral in the minds of travelers. During an interview on the “En Una Hora” radio show, in which News is my Business collaborates,” Dean said the DMO’s research had shown that the familiar “Isla del Encanto” tagline used to refer to Puerto Rico, does not have as much recognition outside the island or with stateside tourists.
Furthermore, he said the tagline “has been used more to identify Hawaii, not Puerto Rico.”
Finally, Dean defended the DMO’s work so far, saying that of the $25 million budget, 70% is allocated to marketing, sales and promotional work, 21% for payroll costs, and 8% for administrative expenses.
Discover Puerto Rico — which began operating in July 2018 — has 47 employees, of which 80% are Puerto Ricans, he said.