Puerto Rico Plural

The “Spanish Virgin Islands” are avoiding the effects of the recession by innovating, expanding, and re-introducing the world to its offshore islands.

There’s no doubt that the Caribbean’s tourism sector has suffered in the past year. But Puerto Rico shows fewer signs of the economic slowdown than nearly any other destination in the region. New properties are opening on the island for the first time in years. North American airlines are resuming routes to and from San Juan. And certain niche markets throughout the country are thriving, now more than ever before.

That’s because, according to Mario Gonzalez, deputy executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, the destination offers a collection of attractions different from any other island in the Caribbean. “Puerto Rico is not just one island,” he says. “It’s an archipelago, with the islands of Vieques and Culebra.… This makes us unique to the market” when compared with other large islands like Jamaica and Hispaniola, he says.

To emphasize that fact, the destination has launched a campaign promoting “The Islands of Puerto Rico”—emphasis on the “s” in “Islands.” “This is the first time Vieques, Culebra and other islands are used in our advertising,” Gonzalez says. “We want people to know that we’re more than just a pretty beach.” Using photos shot by Elliott Erwitt on a recent trip to the island, the campaign is “focused on our diversity: diversity of product, diversity of geography, and diversity of tourists who come here,” Gonzalez says. And it’s no coincidence that those are also the very things likely to lure your clients to Puerto Rico in the coming year.

what’s new Puerto Rico’s about to get even more diverse, particularly when it comes to product. Several new hotels are planned to open on the island in 2010, breaking a long period of relatively little development on the island.

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Starwood, in particular, is investing heavily in the destination with three new hotels. The first to open, Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, aims to change the way clients think about convention-oriented hotels. Though it sits right next to the Puerto Rico Convention Center, the Sheraton’s amenities compete with any hotel on the Condado strip—the only significant difference is the lack of a beach. In fact, the resort opened as the Sheraton Puerto Rico Convention Center Hotel & Casino, but Starwood dropped the “Convention Center” from its name to emphasize the fact that this isn’t your everyday meetings destination. The Sheraton’s Sunsational Savings package gives guests every fourth night free, as well as $100 in resort credit for stays of four nights, and $150 for stays of five or more nights. Rates start at $219.

Next to open will be the W Retreat & Spa, Vieques, due to open this month, marking the first W in the Caribbean, and one of only three W Retreats & Spas in the world. Starwood also plans to bring luxury to the Puerto Rico mainland with the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort due to open in Rio Grande, a small town outside of San Juan, in the fall. For more on Starwood’s developments in Puerto Rico, refer to the February 2010 issue.

The new Verdanza Hotel continued the spirit of rebirth in San Juan when it opened its doors in December. Set in the popular Isla Verde tourist region, the hotel has staged a tiny revolution, operating as the only independent full-service hotel in the city. The result: a combination of the ambiance of a boutique resort and the services and amenities of larger, branded properties.

To that end, the hotel’s 222 rooms include all the services you’d expect from an upscale resort in the Caribbean: complimentary high-speed Internet access, iPod docking stations, flat-screen TVs and a customized pillow menu. Guests can upgrade to one of the resort’s 60 Pool Club rooms that look out on the pool area, whirlpool and “spray park,” a water-based playground for kids featuring fountains, water jets and waterfalls. Parents can relax at the pool while the kids play in the fountains right next door, or get active at Verdanza’s rooftop fitness center. And of course the whole family can take advantage of nearby attractions like the beach (bike taxis transport guests to and from the water) and the Isla Verde Urban Garden, with its 1-mile jogging and walking trail.