José González Espinosa, Area General Manager for Marriott Puerto Rico. (Brandon Cruz González / EL VOCERO)

Two months after Marriott International jumped into the all-inclusive market, the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino in Condado launched the program in Puerto Rico, while the hotel chain prepares for the construction of a new resort in Isla Verde, among other projects in the pipeline.

The vacation package -available only for groups- offers a variety of experiences and culinary options from buffet-style lunch and dinner to lunch à la carte and unlimited beverages. For adults, the amenities include access to spa facilities and tennis courts. For kids, the adventure includes a pool with a 90-foot spiral water slide, an arcade and other entertainment venues. Rates go from $358 for a single-occupancy fare to $265 for a double. To book this deal, groups can be as small as a party of 10 or as large as 150. The first groups are scheduled to arrive in mid-December.

“We are always trying to innovate with new programs and new services. Two weeks ago we launched an all-inclusive package for groups here in San Juan,” José González Espinosa, Area General Manager for Marriott Puerto Rico, revealed. “This is the first hotel in San Juan to offer this travel option.”

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(Courtesy Marriott)

The program is only part of Marriott’s expansion plan on the island. Marriott International, the world’s biggest hotel chain, operates 30 brands in over 7,000 properties across 131 countries and territories. Nine of those brands have franchises in Puerto Rico: Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, Four Points, Courtyard, Marriott, La Concha Renaissance, AC Hotel and Aloft, currently under construction.

“We believe in the destination. In the last few years, we have been adding brands to our portfolio. For example, the AC Hotel in Condado, which is two blocks away from the Marriott, and now the Aloft at the Convention District in San Juan, scheduled to open in Feb. 2020, and we have more projects in the pipeline,” González said in general terms.

Are there any plans to expand into Isla Verde? asked THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.

“Absolutely. Isla Verde is in the map. We also have projects in other parts of Condado. There are additional projects in the southern and western parts of Puerto Rico, including another one in Ponce,” responded the hotelier.

“It will be a new hotel, a new brand. I can’t give you many details. We are in the early stages,” he added of the project in Isla Verde.

Dual-Brand on the Horizon

The new ventures also embrace other hospitality models. The San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino in Condado underwent a major makeover after the damages suffered from Hurricane Maria two years ago, and it embarked on an $80 million renovation of its 404-room main tower. More changes are on the horizon.

“We plan to build another tower. It’s going to be a new brand to transform the hotel into a dual-brand. We haven’t decided on the brand yet, but it will be an option for long-stay customers,” shared González of a trend that combines multiple concepts under one roof.

“I think this is the power of a brand, catering to different segments. Puerto Rico is a perfect example of how we are developing brands in the destination and being part of the success of the destination,” he added.

The changes in the lodging sector, due -in part- to the boom of independent rentals like Airbnb don’t worry him. “We see them as part of the customer needs and every destination has Airbnb. Instead of seeing them as competition, we should see them as another offer for the customers. What we have to do is create the demand. The more demand you create, the more Airbnb’s you can have, more hotels and the more revenue you can bring to the island.”

Recognizing the opportunity for growth in this sector, last April, Marriott International launched its Homes and Villas home-sharing initiative, according to Forbes. The program offers 2,000 high-end properties in over 100 destinations throughout the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America.

DMO Budget

Like other members of the tourism industry, González favored a proposal to increase Discover Puerto Rico’s budget insisting the marketing strategy of the entity is working. Last week, the House of Representatives held hearings to discuss a bill that would allocate an additional $10 million for the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), a private non-profit corporation responsible for promoting the island internationally as a tourist destination, which operates with public funding.

During the debate of the measure, however, questions surfaced about Brad Dean, head of the DMO, and his priorities since the current budget reflects an increase in payroll expenses and charges for the acquisition of lavish furniture like a desk and a chair at a price of $10,600.

“We feel very strongly that the DMO needs more funds. We need to continue investing in marketing to create more demand... I really think that the way they are investing their marketing funds, when you see the return on investment, how much you get back in revenue per customer, is one of the best we’ve ever had,” González said.

“Part of our strategy in Puerto Rico is working together with the DMO, and the Marriott has aligned its marketing strategy and our marketing plans so that we can maximize resources without confusing the customers.”

Among the Best Employers

Marriott’s commitment goes beyond expansion plans and travel packages. González highlighted that the Sheraton ranked second on Puerto Rico’s Best Medium Employer list and the Marriott grabbed the fifth position on the Best Large Employer list. At the beginning of the year, Marriott International also ranked #31 on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

“We are here for long. We don’t see Puerto Rico as short-term. We want to be here growing and being part of the destination,” concluded González.

Reporter for The Weekly Journal. She is a curious and fearless journalist, equipped with 16-plus years of writing. Cynthia received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and English Literature from Sacred Heart University.

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