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Tropical Storm Jeanne Puts A Dent In Local Tourism Activity

Hotels report some damage but managed the crisis efficiently


September 23, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Tropical Storm Jeanne damaged local hospitality properties and left them without electricity and water after hitting Puerto Rico Sept. 15 and 16. Although it badly hurt business in the tourism sector, hoteliers were on the ball to manage the crisis.

"[Tropical Storm Jeanne] has been devastating for the hospitality industry," said Erin Benitez, executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA). "Hotels lost a lot of group business during the weekend."

However, Tourism Co.’s Executive Director Jose Suarez said it is too soon to estimate Jeanne’s economic impact on the tourism industry, and said damage has been minimal. "Only some damage to the landscaping and a few leaks have been reported," he said.

"We’ve been in constant communication with the PRHTA and hoteliers to make sure the government solves their problems as soon as possible," explained Suarez. In addition, the Tourism Co. served as liaison between water suppliers and hotels and was on hand to help in other ways as well.

"Some hotels in Condado already have water and electricity. [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority] expect power and water to return to the metro area during the weekend," said Suarez.

Benitez said most of the hotels successfully implemented their emergency plans, which included free meals, snacks, and special activities to entertain tourists stuck indoors while riding out the storm.

For nearly five days, most hotel operations were self-sufficient, relying on their generators, cisterns, and other internal resources.

One of those properties to manage the crisis successfully was the Caribe Hilton. "Recently, we acquired two brand-new generators," said the hotel’s General Manager Jose Campo. "They provide energy to all the facilities, including air conditioning for the public areas and guest rooms."

However, it cost the Caribe Hilton $6,000 per day to run the generators. "The lack of electricity places a burden on hotels because of the additional expenses we incur to serve our customers. These include paying overtime," said Campo, who praised his staff’s dedication to customers and willingness to go the extra mile.

Regarding damage, Campo said water leaked through the doors and windows, flooding 100 of the 646 rooms. The storm also caused minor damage to the landscaping. "We’re cleaning up the guest rooms. We should be finished within a week," he added.

The Wyndham’s vice president of Resorts, Richard Cortese, told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS that the power outage really hurt operations at the Wyndham El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa because it was entirely booked. More than 1,100 delegates from the U.S. mainland, Costa Rica, Panama, and other countries were here to attend the U.S.-Andean Countries Conference.

As of press time Monday, Cortese said the resort had been without power since Sept. 14, when Jeanne’s winds hadn’t even hit Puerto Rico with full force. The power outage interrupted the conference and tourists’ plans.

"We’re are considering buying stronger generators to fully power our hotels on the island," said Cortese. "Our hotel in Jamaica is equipped with full-power generators. Hurricane Ivan [a category four hurricane] hit Jamaica [two weeks ago], and the hotel continued operations without major difficulties," he explained.

He said about 120 of El Conquistador’s 750 rooms had water damage; the hotel didn’t accept reservations throughout the weekend. As of press time Monday, cleanup was already underway, and the hotel had resumed other operations.

About 80 rooms at the Wyndham Condado Plaza Hotel & Casino also had water damage.

Although Cortese praised the efforts of the Tourism Co.’s Jose Suarez, he still doesn’t know what kind of assistance—if any—hotels will receive for damage. Free hotel stays and other complimentary services will cost the hotels as they try to deal with the problems.

The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan Hotel, Spa & Casino also had its share of problems. One of the hotel’s generators failed after more than three days of use, leaving part of the 416-room property without power.

As of press time Monday, the Intercontinental San Juan in Isla Verde was closed, since its generator went down on Saturday. The storm caused a big tree to fall affecting the hotel’s entrance.

According to Tourism Co.’s Suarez, Hospitality properties in Patillas, Rio Grande, and the central part of the island were also damaged.

The Espiritu Santo River overflowed and flooded most of Rio Grande Plantation’s rooms, while strong winds damaged the pavilions’ roofs, said Suarez. "Hacienda Gripiñas in Jayuya also closed operations because roads were blocked with debris and fallen trees," he added.

The management of the Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa in Rio Grande reported damage to the property’s landscaping and beach, but the hotel’s personnel and contractors helped clean up immediately. By Friday, the resort’s casino, pool, beach, and restaurants were once again open.

"Recently, Westin invested more than $1 million in new drainage on the golf courses...which allowed us to reopen it the weekend after the storm," said Evy Garcia, public relations director of Tishman Hotels in Puerto Rico, the owner of the Westin Rio Mar and the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel & Casino.

The Westin was nearly sold out during the weekend, as the Architects Association’s annual meeting wasn’t cancelled.

The Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel & Casino, meanwhile, had its electricity back the day after the storm, said Garcia.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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