Puerto Rico: A Community Experience

A handful of new upscale properties are coming into Puerto Rico over the next few years – and they’re building in residential resort communities. It’s a savvy strategy with benefits for clients, locals and even the resorts themselves.

More importantly, in these economically uncertain times, they may be the key to keeping the island’s luxury market on its feet. Indeed, Puerto Rico has a lot to look forward to in the next several years, as resorts the likes of St. Regis and Regent open their doors. But there’s more in common with these new resorts than just their high-luxury reputations. Many of the island’s new resorts are building within resort communities, adding a short-term stay component to an already established plot of land with full-time and/or long-term vacation housing—a trend that’s showing no signs of slowing.

And no wonder, says Danna Holck, general manager at the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa. Being a part of the Rio Mar resort community, set in the shadow of the mountains of the El Yunque rainforest, has worked in the property’s favor since it opened over a decade ago as a Westin. “It helps to keep business alive,” she explains. “Even in the off-season, when business levels drop because it’s a down time across the region, there’s always activity [at the resort].” Residents of the community continue to use the resort’s golf course, spa, restaurants and more, providing a steady flow of income that allows the Wyndham to maintain its upscale standards. “It keeps the resort flowing, keeps our work going, and keeps our employees employed with full-time hours,” Holck says.

Of course, that golf course, that spa, and those restaurants might not exist at all without the support of community residents—which makes vacationing inside a resort community a savvy choice for clients, too. “There are so many more amenities, generally, when you have a resort community [around you],” Holck says. Communities are generally anchored by a golf course. At the Wyndham, make that two championship courses. The Ocean Course, designed by Tom and George Fazio, features a signature 16th hole set right on the water. Greg Norman’s River Course follows alongside the Mameyes River, with shots framed by picturesque mountains and tropical greenery. The 7,000-sq.-ft. Mandara Spa offers state-of-the-art treatments, and strength training and cardiovascular equipment in its adjacent fitness center. There’s also a beach club separate from the Wyndham’s central swimming pool. “That helps occasionally when we’re doing work on our pool, because there’s always another pool to go to,” Holck explains.

Because clients and locals staying together in resort communities use the same facilities, Holck says, clients are able to get a more authentic experience of their destination—another bonus for travelers. “About a month ago, I was at the clubhouse and we had some live music for members,” Holck recalls. It was part of a regular series of live music on Friday nights that’s mainly for community residents. That night, “There were a whole bunch of guests who came from the resort, and they loved the music and danced and got to mingle with members of the resort. They got the chance to go beyond just the hotel to experience the flair of the local culture and people.” That’s just one example, she continues, “I’m sure it happens more times than I’ve seen it.”

Resort communities add value to guests’ experiences and help the resorts themselves stay active. So is that why building within them has become a trend in light of recent economic downturn? Holck is skeptical. “I don’t think it’s happening because of that. Even 10 years ago in resort communities, residential membership and guest components combined in a beneficial way. And that wasn’t during a tough economy, it was just because it made good sense.”

Rates at the Wyndham Rio Mar start at $379 per room per night.

coming soon It’s that same good sense that’s bringing the St. Regis brand to the Bahia Beach resort community also set near El Yunque. General manager David Kurland says that the new, 139-room property, opening in November, features the highest level of personalization, elegance and guest experiences of any St. Regis in the world—owing partly to the community that surrounds it. “Being situated in 483 acres of a perfect paradise, the larger community improves the guest experience by simply being able to offer our guests more,” he explains. “From nature walks and water activities to dining establishments and access to a magnificent golf course, our guests have a multitude of exciting activities to choose from.”