Fairmont El San Juan’s new GM predicts ‘banner year’ in ’23
Next year is shaping up to be a “banner year” for the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel, with an expected rebound in guest reservations, remodeling plans for parts of the property, the opening of new retail spaces, and new perks from the casino, General Manager José Padín, who took over the job in September, said.
During an exclusive interview with News is my Business, Padín offered a rundown of things to come for the property that has seen its ups and downs because of hurricanes, earthquakes, and the COVID-19 pandemic since it came under Fairmont’s management in 2016.
“We expect to see a 7% increase in our occupancy and a 4% increase in our average daily rate, which is the combination we look to for growth,” he said, noting that 2023 will likely be the first “normal” year for the property, barring any unforeseen events.
Padín, a 30-year veteran of Puerto Rico’s hotel industry, took over the position of general manager of the iconic Fairmont El San Juan Hotel in September, succeeding Kelley Cosgrove, who retired after more than 33 years in the sector.
The executive began his career from the ground up, starting as housekeeping supervisor at the Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino in 1992. He then worked as director of lodging at Palmas del Mar, and in 1997 took his first shot as general manager of the former Colonial Hotel and Beach Resort in Isla Verde.
Along the way, he met and worked with many people who are now his “co-workers, not my employees,” at the Fairmont El San Juan, who he said he knows well because of prior relationships with Hilton, one of the beachfront property’s former operators. The property has about 400 employees, but there is still a need for workers in areas like engineering, kitchen, bartending and wait staff.
“For me it’s an honor to work in one of the most iconic hotels in Puerto Rico, which has a great history and elegance. In addition, it means a lot to me to be part of the great team of professionals who offer an excellent service every day,” he said.
“Fairmont El San Juan Hotel is like a jewel of unique quality and beauty that, when observed, leads us to relive several generations from its beginnings in the 50s and 60s of hotels and casinos in Puerto Rico to the modern era where our guests and clients want to experience personalized service with a style that combines luxury and a great social atmosphere,” he added, of the property whose mahogany walls and ceilings, and massive chandelier, are iconic elements of its lobby and entrance areas.
Two months into the job, Padín is predicting that the hotel will rebound now that tourist traffic is expected to pick up.
“The hotel closed last year with a 62% occupancy rate. This year, we’re projecting that to be closer to 70%, which is good, considering the effect of Hurricane Fiona in September, October, and November,” he said. “As we enter the high tourism season, we expect for February and March, including Spring Break, we could see that occupancy go up to between 80% and 85%.”
Next year, Fairmont will also start remodeling several guest rooms, in preparation for what will be a full remodel in the property’s main tower in 2024. Also next year, the hotel will re-envision its poolside San Juan Beach Club to add three new luxury cabanas and replace the furniture. In all, it will invest about $2.5 million in the project that is set to begin in August 2023 and be ready by November of that year.
Foxwoods opening new business lines for casino
As for the partnership between Fairmont and the CT-based Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which took over the operation of the hotel’s casino under the Foxwoods brand, Padín said the nearly year-old agreement is already opening new doors for the hotel.
Two weeks ago, Foxwoods launched its client-exchange program, through which high-rollers — mainly those who bet at table games — are invited to visit the casinos that they manage. The first trip involved about 10 players from Puerto Rico, who were put up for a long weekend, all expenses paid, at the Foxwoods property in Ledyard, CT.
“Fairmont and Foxwoods share the expenses for the trip, which includes not just the chance for them to play at the tables over there, but to also take part in shows and other events that we schedule for them. The next trip will involve players from Foxwoods in Connecticut, which will probably happen in December,” Padín said.
“This is something new for Puerto Rico, because we’re the first hotel on the island that has a relationship with a casino based in the United States,” he said.
As for the legendary Tropicoro nightclub, the first shows are being planned to start in January, with weekend performances by different artists — some of which will bring back the nostalgia of the venue that was part of Puerto Rico’s cultural heyday in the 60s and 70s, Padín said.
More retail spaces planned
The hotel’s retail activity, which was also affected by the pandemic and other events, is also starting to pick up, with the upcoming opening of several establishments, Padín confirmed.
Starbucks, which was a tenant for many years, will reopen in late December or early January, taking up two of the 15 total retail spaces that the hotel has available at its familiar Gallery.
A new high-end sushi restaurant is also under construction and is expected to open in January 2023, as well as a jewelry store that is also scheduled to open in January or February of next year, he said.
“There are at least three other locations that are vacant, which we’re in talks and exploring to fill, which will complete our inventory of 15 retail spaces,” Padín said.