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Paradors Turn 30
The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Is Celebrating The 30th Birthday Of Its Paradors Program With A Promotional Campaign Aimed At Increasing Weekday Occupancy
By EVELYN GUADALUPE-FAJARDO
August 28, 2003
Room for improvement: Puerto Ricos paradors are showing their age. . .with some of the 924 rooms in the program in need of a facelift
The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the paradors program with a promotional campaign called "30 Years of Family Tradition."
In its three decades, the program has grown from only 106 rooms to the equivalent of a large hotel with 924 rooms scattered across the island (which represents approximately 8% of the islands total inventory of 12,317 rooms) and 800 employees. The paradors in the program today have an average occupancy rate of 50% on weekends but only 10% to 20% on weekdays.
As a birthday gift, the Tourism Co. is investing $600,000 in a promotional campaign aimed at generating visitor traffic to paradors on weekdays; the campaign will run from Sept. 1 through December 2004. Another $1.4 million has been invested in "Ven celebra tu isla," the agencys year-round institutional campaign to promote internal tourism.
Contrary to a large hotel, the islands 23 paradors (two other properties are being removed from the program because they have more than 75 rooms) lack amenities such as 24-hour room service, laundry service, fitness centers, beauty salons, spas, and golf courses. But thats not what the program was designed for. Paradors are meant for budget-conscious travelers.
Among other requirements, paradors must be located outside the San Juan metro area, must have at least seven rooms and a maximum of 75, and must be family-owned & -operated. The average room rate is $65 to $120, compared with $95 at a small inn not in the paradors program.
CARIBBEAN BUSINESS visited 18 of the paradors on a recent Wednesday and Thursday and found that most seem to meet the requirements of the program, offering affordable rates, picturesque locations, and nearby attractions such as beaches, mountains, and historical sites. Others, however, are lacking, with shabby accommodations, outmoded furniture, and peeling paint.
"It is true that some paradors need affection and should have their appearance and infrastructure improved. However, there are no special government incentives for parador owners, who run a break-even business or even report financial losses because they dont generate enough tourist traffic," said Myrna Hau, president of the Parador Owners Association. "If paradors had an incentive, they could be in a position to compete with other hotels in terms of infrastructure. If the tools arent provided to people who dont have the financial means to improve their property, then they shouldnt be blamed. Paradors are members of a government program and they [the government] should do everything possible to help."
Parador Oasis in San German was the latest property forced out of the paradors program because of unsatisfactory conditions. Parador Caribbean Paradise in Patillas had no alternative but to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Earlier this year, the Tourism Co. and the Economic Development Bank (EDB) developed a tourism-guarantee fund (TGF) to help small and midsize tourism-related businesses obtain private loans of up to $12 million. The initial $1.5 million allotment, invested by the Tourism Co., enables the EDB (in charge of outsourcing the funds operations) to guarantee up to $12 million in tourism investments.
In April, Parador Villas Sotomayor in Adjuntas became the first beneficiary of the TGF, which guaranteed $500,000 of a $3 million private loan to liquidate the mortgage payments and expand & renovate the property.
The EDB granted Parador Posada Porlamar in Lajas a $2.3 million loan, instead of a guarantee on a private loan, so it could expand and upgrade. There are others applying for a guarantee under the TGF, including the oldest member of the paradors program: Parador Guajataca in Quebradillas. This property is seeking a $5 million loan to remodel the facilities and build a convention & recreational center.
"[Parador Guajataca] hasnt been remodeled since it joined the paradors program in 1973," said owner German Chavez. "We tried to obtain a private loan a few years ago, but it didnt happen. I believe its mandatory nowadays to operate a modern facility in order to attract other markets. We have an old building that doesnt meet customers requirements because the rooms are too small."
Julio Perichis, owner of Parador Perichis in Cabo Rojo, says its difficult to secure financial assistance from the government. "The last time I tried to get a government loan, they told me it had to be for no less than $3 million. Thank God for private banks," he said. "Today, I reinvest my earnings in the property."
The following is a snapshot of the 18 paradors CARIBBEAN BUSINESS recently visited.
Parador El Buen Café in Hatillo is a cozy 20-room property conveniently located right off PR2, just west of Arecibo. It is tidy and has a midsize swimming pool. The standard rooms have cable TV, a phone, air-conditioning, and a small refrigerator. The owners have a restaurant across the street, also called El Buen Cafe, where an additional 13 rooms are being constructed on the second floor. The hotel is near the Rio Camuy Cave Park, Arecibo Observatory, La Sardinera Beach, and Los Murillos del Faro.
Parador El Guajataca in Quebradillas, the islands first parador, offers guests a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean. Rooms are rather sparsely furnished, though each has a private balcony overlooking the sea. Bathrooms are small but functional, and each has a tub. Theres a swimming pool and a basketball court on the property.
"I stayed here five years ago and the property hasnt changed a bit," said Jasmin Lopez, a resident of Mayaguez who was staying at Parador El Guajataca. "The facilities should be modernized."
Parador Vistamar, also in Quebradillas, has an amazing ocean view. "The rooms are clean, but they are nothing to write home about. The television is old-fashioned, and the air-conditioning in my room isnt working too well," said Milagros Medina, who stayed at Parador Vistamar for two nights during her month-long visit from Pennsylvania.
Some of the rooms at Parador Caribbean Paradise in Patillas have balconies with views of the mountains or the Caribbean Sea, as well as in-room coffee makers, air-conditioning, and cable TV. The property also has a convention hall for groups of up to 150 and offers all-inclusive packages for two.
Situated in a fishing village in Guayanilla, Parador Pichis is within walking distance of two fast-food restaurants. It has two small swimming pools, a game room with two pool tables, banquet facilities for up to 2,000 people, a cocktail lounge, and two restaurants.
Parador Palmas de Lucia is on Lucia Beach in Yabucoa. The rooms have cable TV, private baths, and ocean-view balconies. The parador offers a three-day, two-night all-inclusive package.
"For the past four summers, Ive stayed at Palmas de Lucia because I feel its the closest parador to the San Juan metro area and Palmas del Mar [in Humacao]," said Gina Novobilsky, a California resident visiting from New York for 16 days. "The rooms are comfortable. The service at the restaurant, however, must be improved. I would like someone to ask if I need anything else, and I would like fresh coffee rather than microwaved coffee."
Rooms at the Fajardo Inn have a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. The property, which is extremely clean and well kept, has splendid gardens spread over five acres. It is a little tricky to reach, however, because of poor signage. One sign has only the word inn above an arrow; all the other paradors have the official sign and logo. As of June 30, the property is no longer in the paradors program because it has more than 75 rooms.
The west coast has the highest concentration of paradors, with 18. Parador Villas del Mar Hau in Isabela opens onto a long private beach. This family-friendly parador is decorated in Caribbean pastels with Victorian wood-trimmed cottages. It is unpretentious but well equipped. Each cottage has a balcony and cable TV, and some have air-conditioning.
Parador El Faro in Aguadilla was recognized by the Tourism Co. for its food & beverage service. The parador is clean and has a nice indoor garden as well as three restaurants. According to the Tourism Co., El Faro will be dropped from the paradors program in the next two months because, like the Fajardo Inn, it exceeds the programs limit on rooms.
Also in Aguadilla, Parador La Cima has nearby access to six beaches and is a five-minute drive from the Punta Borinquen golf course at the former Ramey Air Force Base. There is a pool and an exercise room. Most of La Cimas customers are conducting business at the former base.
"Ive stayed at La Cima for the past seven years," said New Yorker Evelyn Badillo, who had booked a 10-night stay this year. "The service and food are good. The pool is clean, and they keep it open till 11 p.m., which is good for the kids."
Parador JB Hidden Village in Aguada seems aptly named. No signs in the town point to the property, which is on a steep downward slope off a side street. The parador has 36 rooms, each with a private balcony, air-conditioning, and cable TV.
Parador Villa Antonio is conveniently located on a Rincon beach. The Mayaguez and Aguadilla regional airports are 30 minutes away. The parador offers villa-type rooms with kitchenettes.
Parador Highway Inn in Cabo Rojo offers standard, well-kept rooms. The huge neon sign on PR-100 makes the property seem gaudy.
Parador Joyuda Beach is right on the beach in Cabo Rojo and near the Tourism Co.s gastronomical route, which offers plenty of dining options.
Parador Perichis, also in Cabo Rojo, has rooms with balconies facing the sea. It is within walking distance of the beach.
Parador Boquemar in Cabo Rojo is near the beach and town of Boqueron, a popular spot for locals on weekends. Rooms have air-conditioning, small refrigerators, and TVs. Those on the second and third floors also have private balconies.
There are three paradors at La Parguera in Lajas, a small town with world-class diving, a natural reserve, and a bioluminescent bay: Parador Villa del Mar, Parador Posada Porlamar, and Parador Villa Parguera.
Villa del Mar is situated atop a hill and boasts a panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea and the bioluminescent bay. Some of the rooms at the waterfront Parador Posada Porlamar have an ocean view. Parador Villa Parguera offers guests live music, dancing, and comedy shows on weekends.
Hans Albrecht, a resident of Switzerland, and his nine-year-old son stayed at Parador Villa Parguera after booking a Fly & Drive package, which includes airfare, a car rental, and hotel accommodations. "Its a nice property with a spectacular view," said Albrecht, who spent two nights each in Isabela and Lajas and four in San Juan.
Tourism Co. designed paradors program to lure tourists from San Juan
The Puerto Rico Tourism Co. had an ambitious goal 30 years ago: to spread the tourist dollars outside of San Juan.
At the time, there were only three major hotels outside the San Juan metro area: El Conquistador Resort & Country Club in Fajardo; the former Mayaguez Hilton, now the Mayaguez Resort & Casino; and the Ponce InterContinental.
Roberto Bouret, executive director of the Tourism Co. in the Rafael Hernandez Colon administration, and former Tourism Co. Deputy Director Carlos Diago decided to create a subsidiary called Paradors of Puerto Rico. The Paradors of Puerto Rico program was designed to entice local families to visit family-run properties in towns where there was little economic development.
In 1974, the first four members joined the paradors program: El Guajataca in Quebradillas, El Martorell in Luquillo, La Casa del Frances in Vieques, and El Verde in Rio Grande. All had already been operating as independent hotels. Soon after, Baños de Coamo, Hacienda Gripiñas in Jayuya, and Hacienda Juanita in Maricao entered the picture. Of these initial members, only El Guajataca remains in the paradors program.
"El Martorell was using the word parador in its name before the paradors program was developed, so the Tourism Co. told the owner to drop the word or join the program," said Rafael Molina, deputy executive director of internal tourism at the Tourism Co.
Today, there are 23 paradors (El Faro in Aguadilla and Fajardo Inn are being removed from the program because they have more than 75 rooms), contributing 924 rooms to the islands inventory.
The Tourism Co. is trying to add at least two more properties to the paradors program: the former Hotel Americano at la Central Guanica, which, was an hacienda from 1918 until 1988, and the former Hotel Americano at La Central Aguirre. Hotel Melia in Ponce is rumored to want to join the program.
The prospective owner of La Central Aguirre, Juan Lopez, who also owns Palmas de Lucia in Yabucoa, plans to work with the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture to restore the abandoned building to its original condition. The hotel will have 24 rooms, a restaurant, and a pool.
The concept of the parador originated in Spain in 1928. Since then, castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries, and other unique buildings have been converted into hotels. King Alfonso XIII opened the first parador to enable people to enjoy the natural surroundings of the Sierra de Gredos mountain range. Today, there are 83 government-owned paradors in Spain, with some 5,000 rooms.
Bouret sent Diago to study Spains paradors program so he could implement a similar concept in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the Tourism Co. began searching for new hostels all over the Puerto Rico.
"On one of the trips, they came across Hacienda Gripiñas, which was an abandoned house owned by the mayor of Jayuya," Molina said. "The Tourism Co. bought the building and some of the land and designed Hacienda Gripiñas from scratch."
Hacienda Gripiñas, about two and a half hours from San Juan, was formerly a coffee plantation. The paradors ceiling fans, lush gardens, porch hammocks, and more than 20 acres of coffee bushes evoke that history.
Another popular spot among locals is Parador Hacienda Juanita in Maricao, which was also a coffee plantation. The Tourism Co. leased the abandoned property from owner Pepe Collazo to develop a parador; later the agency sold it back to the Collazo family.
Unlike the paradors in Spain, which are all owned by the government to preserve their historical and culture value, Puerto Ricos paradors must be privately owned and must be operated by the proprietor.
There is a popular misconception that parador owners receive more government incentives than other hotels. In fact, the only advantages parador owners have are that they pay a 7% room tax, compared with 9% for hotels without casinos and 11% for hotels with casinos, and get free marketing.
Like other hotels on the island, paradors also receive an 11% discount on their electricity bills, complimentary signage directing visitors to their properties, a 90% income-tax exemption for 10 years (100% if the property is in Vieques or Culebra), a 100% exemption on municipal license taxes patentes for new businesses and 90% for existing businesses, and a 100% exemption on excise taxes for articles imported or acquired locally.
In 1975, the government expropriated the land on which Baños de Coamo lies. It was later leased to Antonio Umpierre for 30 years, but there is a legal entanglement between the government and a third party regarding the contract.
While developing the paradors program the Tourism Co. created another subsidiary, Que Pasa Tours, with had offices in San Juan and New York. Que Pasa Tours promoted the paradors through the Fly & Drive package, which includes airfare, car rental, and hotel accommodations.
It was the first time the Puerto Rico government acted as a travel wholesaler. Competitive pressure from U.S. travel wholesalers forced the local government to abandon the project after only three years, but U.S. travel wholesalers still offer the Fly & Drive package.
Also developed in 1974 were the Municipal Tourism Committees, which organized events to attract visitors to the municipalities that have paradors.
Tourism Co. unveils campaign to celebrate 30th anniversary of paradors program
The Paradors of Puerto Rico program is celebrating its 30th birthday. As a birthday gift, the Tourism Co. is investing $600,000 in a promotional campaign aimed at generating visitor traffic to paradors on weekdays, when their occupancy is lowest.
Another $1.4 million has been invested in "Ven celebra tu isla," the agencys year-round institutional campaign to promote internal tourism. Historically, the Tourism Co. has allotted $1 million from its marketing budget for the parador program. This year, the Tourism Co.s budget is $28 million.
Nevertheless, the islands parador owners say theyve been neglected for the past three years. They note that "30 Years of Family Tradition" is the first marketing campaign developed by the Calderon administration specifically for them.
"Not having a real promotional campaign outside of Puerto Rico puts us in a difficult situation," said Myrna Hau, president of the Puerto Rico Parador Owners Association & owner of Villas del Mar Hau in Isabela. "There are few paradors reporting good occupancy rates. Those who are we categorize as commercial paradors because they are close to main highways. I believe the government should give more attention to the parador program because it represents the Puerto Rican hotel industry."
The government is now providing that attention with the paradors anniversary campaign, which will offer tourists a package of two nights at regular price and a third at $30, except Fridays and Saturdays. It will run Sept. 1 through December 2004 in Puerto Rico, the northeast coast of the U.S. mainland, Florida, Texas, Chicago, Canada, and Europe.
According to the Tourism Co., 90% of parador guests on the weekends are locals. The majority of weekday guests are corporate travelers; of the leisure travelers, most are Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland or Europeans.
"Our challenge is to surpass the average 50% occupancy rate at paradors on weekends," said Rafael Molina, deputy executive director of internal tourism at the Tourism Co.
Puerto Ricos paradors have an average occupancy rate of 10% to 20% on weekdays. Their occupancy peaks on weekends and in summer, when many locals go on vacation.
"Parador owners get upset when they try to compare their occupancy rates with those of San Juan hotels, which we all know is [an unfair comparison because] San Juan is a cruise port and has an international airport," Molina said. "San Juan also hosts citywide conventions and caters more to corporate travelers who use loyalty programs from large hotels to book rooms."
The Tourism Co. recommends that members of the parador program concentrate on attracting locals, who the agency says are their most loyal customers. "If paradors target U.S. tourists, then they are competing with the San Juan hotels," Molina said. "They could target retirees, senior citizens, and people who have Mondays and Tuesdays off from work. They also must drop prices on weekdays to lure price-conscious customers."
Besides investing in the anniversary campaign, the Tourism Co. and the Municipal Tourism Committees are organizing sporting events to spark interest in the paradors.
Puerto Rico Paradors Program
Parador: Year Joined Program / Original No. of Rooms / Current No. of Rooms / Owner(s)
Bahia Salinas: 1997 / 18 / 24 / Miguel Rosado
Baños de Coamo: 1976 / 48 / 48 / Antonio Umpierre
Boquemar: 1986 / 20 / 75 / Angel L. Rodriguez
Caribbean Paradise: 2001 / 24 / 24 / Carmen L. Rodriguez
El Buen Cafe* 1996 / 20 / 20 / Hector Martinez
El Faro** 1989 / 32 / 75 / Erick & Jesus Ruiz
El Guajataca: 1973 / 38 / 38 / German & Jaime Chavez
El Sol: 1985 / 40 / 51 / Jose & Dennis Bechara
Fajardo Inn** 1998 / 42 / 98 / Kim Amrud
Hacienda Gripiñas: 1975 / 9 / 19 / Edgardo Dedos
Hacienda Juanita: 1976 / 11 / 21 / Luis Rivera Lugo
Highway Inn: 1998 / 17 / 26 / Alejandro Asencio
J B Hidden Village: 1992 / 33 / 42 / Julio Bonilla
Joyuda Beach: 1991 / 41 / 41 / Jose L. Tamayo
La Cima: 2001 / 41 / 41 / Zo Ann Balcerzak
Palmas de Lucia: 1998 / 19 / 34 / Juan Lopez
Perichis: 1986 / 15 / 49 / Julio Perichis
Pichis: 1996 / 58 / 58 / Luis Emmanuelli
Posada Porlamar: 1987 / 15 / 29 / Rafael Pancorbo
Villa Antonio: 1987 / 55 / 61 / Ilia Ruiz & Hector Ruiz
Villa Del Mar: 1996 / 15 / 25 / Ardellis Ferrer
Villa Parguera: 1983 / 50 / 70 / Henry Pancorbo
Villas del Mar Hau: 1997 / 38 / 38 / Myrna Hau
Villas Sotomayor: 2002 / 35 / 35 / Jesús Ramos
Vistamar: 1984 / 35 / 55 / Carlos Fernandez
*El Buen Cafe is in the process of adding 13 rooms, for a total 33.
**El Faro and Fajardo Inn are no longer in the program.
Source: Puerto Rico Tourism Co.
Puerto Rico Tourism Co.- Endorsed Guesthouses & Small Inns
Name: Type / Rooms
Condado & Puerta de Tierra
Aleli by the Sea Guesthouse: Guesthouse / 9
Arcade Inn: Guesthouse / 19
At Wind Chimes Inn: Boutique hotel / 22
Casa del Caribe: Guesthouse / 13
Coral Princess Inn: Boutique hotel / 25
El Canario by the Sea: Small inn / 25
El Canario Inn: Small inn / 25
El Prado Inn: Guesthouse / 22<P>Isla Verde
Borinquen Beach Inn: Guesthouse / 12
Casa Mathiesen Inn: Guesthouse / 54
El Patio Guesthouse: Guesthouse / 14
Green Isle Inn: Guesthouse / 21
Hosteria del Mar: Guesthouse / 20
Numero 1 Guesthouse on the Beach: Guesthouse / 14
Tres Palmas Inn / Guesthouse / 17
Tu Casa Guesthouse: Guesthouse / 20
El Coqui Posada Familiar: Guesthouse / 13
Posada El Palomar: Guesthouse / 20<P>Cayey
Jajome Terrace: Guesthouse / 10
Ceiba Country Inn: Guesthouse / 9<P>Culebra
Posada La Hamaca: Guesthouse / 10
Scenic Inn: Guesthouse / 10<P>Hormigueros
Paradise Guesthouse: Guesthouse / 8
Hotel Ocean Front: Guesthouse / 13
Sonia Rican Guesthouse: Guesthouse / 17
Andinos Chalet & Guesthouse: Guesthouse / 13
Estancia La Jamaca: Guesthouse / 9
Gutierrez Guesthouse / Guesthouse / 13
Casa Cubuy Ecolodge: Guesthouse / 9<P>Rincon
Beside the Pointe on the Beach: Small inn / 8
Casa Isleña Inn Guesthouse Small inn / 9
Casa Vista del Mar Guesthouse / 2
Coconut Palms Inn: Guesthouse / 6
Lemontree Waterfront Suites: Guesthouse / 6
Sandy Beach Inn: Guesthouse / 13
The Lazy Parrot Inn / Small inn / 11
Amapola Inn: Guesthouse / 5
Crows Nest Inn: Guesthouse / 16
Hix Island House: Guesthouse / 12
Endorsed properties are those certified by the P.R. Tourism Co.
Source: Puerto Rico Tourism Co.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.