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Tourism Industry Pulls Together To Help Vieques

Negative publicity after U.S. Navy bombing accident last year has affected hotels and restaurants on the Isla Nena


August 3, 2000
Copyright © 2000 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico’s tourism organizations have joined forces to minimize the negative publicity that has afflicted Vieques tourism industry.

Tourism has been affected following a U.S. Navy bombing accident that caused the death of soldier David Sanes last year.

According to statistical estimates presented by several hoteliers at a press conference in El Convento Hotel, Vieques’ (also referred to as Isla Nena–"Baby Island") tourism activity dropped nearly 70% year over–presenting problems for an island whose economy depends mainly on tourism.

To help relieve the pain, the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association (PRHTA), and the Vieques Chamber of Commerce have put together a marketing plan to promote the positive tourism attributes found on Isla Nena.

The Tourism Co. has invested $200,000 in a marketing campaign for Vieques that began last year with the unveiling of a new logo promoting the destination as one of Puerto Rico’s hidden treasures.

The Vieques Chamber of Commerce hopes to collect an additional $20,000 also for marketing purposes.

Components of the new marketing plan includes adding Vieques’ attractions to the Tourism Co.’s web page (, dedicating the January issue of Que Pasa! Magazine (the island’s official guide), to Vieques and promoting the Isla Nena as an excellent travel option to stateside and international travel writers along with travel wholesalers visiting Puerto Rico in the months to come.

Furthermore, the Tourism Co. plans to promote Vieques’ hotels in its road shows and spotlight seminars for stateside travel wholesalers and travel agents.

"Vieques is suffering from a perception problem that needs to be resolved," said Jose Corujo, executive director of the Tourism Co. "We want to portray the Isla Nena as one of Puerto Rico’s wonderful treasures."

The PRHTA has also agreed to lend a helping hand by promoting Vieques as a travel alternative to its membership so they can pass the word on to hotel guests.

"One of the great attributes of Puerto Rico’s tourism industry is the way we pull together in a crisis situation," said Rick Newman, PRHTA president. "The tourism industry is not involved in the Vieques controversy but it is surely affected by it."

Hoteliers and restaurant owners are feeling the pain

Burr Vail, executive director of the Vieques Chamber of Commerce and owner of Hacienda Tamarindo in Vieques, said he might not be a statistical wizard when it comes to figuring out the number of hotels in crisis, but he did know that his and other properties are hurting due to low occupancy.

"Last summer our hotels were full to capacity," Vail said. "This summer, it feels as if a hurricane has hit the island." He added that during this year’s Memorial Day weekend, many of the properties had no guests.

International press coverage of the protests against U.S. Navy activity on Vieques has had a cumulative impact on tourism there. After the accident in spring 1999, press and curiosity seekers went to the island. Since the arrests of those trespassing into Navy-occupied territory, even local weekend visitation traffic has dropped.

"This winter was strange," Vail said. "Our advanced bookings were down and the number of stays were shorter from stateside visitors."

Vieques has a total of 140 rooms, including rental houses. Local restaurants are also suffering from the loss of visitors.

"I used to have two restaurants in my property, but I had to close one down," said James Weis, owner of Inn on the Blue Horizon in Vieques and president of the Vieques Chamber of Commerce. "Most of our restaurants in Vieques open four days a week and others are closed for the weekends."

"A lot of locals ignored the negative publicity about Vieques," said Sharon Grasso, owner of Bioluminescent Bay Tours in Vieques. "What happened this summer was that everyone went to Cuelbra."

Pot of gold on the other side of rainbow

Fortunately, there may be a pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow for hoteliers in Vieques, which is the grand opening of the $50 million, 156-room Martineau Bay Resort for the upcoming winter season (December 15 to April 15).

Martineau Bay Resort is Rosewood Hotels and Resorts’ newest Caribbean property, located on 42 acres with the amenities of five-star resorts. The luxury hotel operator is investing a hefty amount to promote Vieques through its worldwide reservations system for upscale guests. That promotion is expected to benefit Vieques as a tourism destination.

Vieques hoteliers are hoping the arrival of Martineau Bay will alleviate the slump–so confident that many are expanding their properties. As an example, the six-year-old Inn on the Blue Horizon is adding 32 condo-units (one to three bedrooms) to its existing 9 rooms.

"We are working on the financing at the moment," said Weis. "We hope to break ground on the project by late spring of next year."

Also, the three-year-old Crow’s Nest in Vieques is on the verge of changing ownership. It is being sold for $5 million. Eli Belendez, who is one of the three local investors who will buy the property, will have administrative control. As part of the sale, the hotel will have to be remodeled so its new owners can obtain government incentives. Belendez plans to add 15 rooms to the existing 14, construct a tennis court, and modernize the hotel’s facade.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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