The Puerto Rico Association of Small Inn Owners and Tourism, which groups about eight properties known as “paradores,” summarized 2019 as a year “full of achievements, learning and concerns,” while preparing to usher in 2020 with optimism.
“We can summarize 2019 as a year of substantial adjustments. It was full of challenges in competitiveness, increases in operating costs and new regulations, coupled with changes in the responsibilities of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., and the new marketing strategies implemented by the Destination Marketing Organization,” said Jesús Ramos, president of the association and owner of the Parador Villas Sotomayor.
From the standpoint of exposure and marketing, the landscape is now “more complex,” said Xavier A. Ramírez, head of the Association’s marketing committee.
“We have to boost the number of foreign guests and with digital technology, the markets are more segmented and the strategies to reach customers are diverse,” he said. “This requires constant investments in innovation and participating simultaneously in multiple platforms.”
While the property owners have invested in technology, not all of the smaller hotels have same capacity,” he said.
Meanwhile, Christian Rivera, co-owner and operator of the Parador Guánica 1929, said occupation levels were average in 2019.
“On average, through November we have been close to 6% below 2016, which is the last year that we can compare equitably, and reservations for December have been slow,” said Rivera.
One of the challenges that small inns, have been facing is the “excessive development and poor control of illegal hotels across the Island. As other important destinations in the world have done, Puerto Rico needs to wisely address this problem,” said Juan López, owner of the MaunaCaribe parador in Maunabo and Palmas de Lucia in Yabucoa.
Over the past two years, Association members have invested more than $3 million to modernize the properties and “offer a better product, which is why we’re looking at 2020 with great optimism and as an opportunity,” said Claire Ruiz, general manager of the Parador El Faro.
“Although the DMO is doing an excellent job in attracting more visitors to the island, which is reflected in the [traffic] indicators at the three airports, travelers are still concentrated in San Juan and Isla Verde where there are more than 5,000 residential accommodations and many illegal hotels,” said Ruiz.
Ramos said the 2019 summer season, from May to August, was slower than prior years, affected by rains and the island’s political turmoil which resulted in the governor’s ousting. Tourism Co. data shows that during the summer months, accommodations for foreign tourists increased by 18%. However, in hotels and “paradores” outside San Juan growth was only 2% versus 2018, he said.
Ramos said there are growth opportunities ahead, especially if the government lays the groundwork to “create a more equitable business environment,” Ramos said.