Harvey was just one part of a historically brutal Atlantic hurricane season this year. In September, with Houston barely dried out, Category 5 Hurricane Irma and Category 4 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico back-to- back — with Maria leaving up to 95 percent of the island without electricity for weeks or longer. Since then, the Puerto Rico Convention Center (PRCC) has served many purposes, from a place of refuge for people fleeing the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Irma, to a command center post-Maria. Despite the devastation, PRCC didn’t sustain any major damage, making it a main hub for relief efforts.
Puerto Rican government officials, the U.S. military, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have all set up shop at PRCC — an operation that will continue through Dec. 24, according to Milton Segarra, CDME, president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico. “It’s thousands of people working together, and incredibly complex in terms of logistics,” Segarra said. “The military stays at the convention center. They took one side of the exhibition floor, and they have converted that into phenomenal housing facilities. And then you have all sorts of information technology and communications at the convention center, too. So, it became immediately not only the command center, but also the model that could be used in order to aid in the recuperation of Puerto Rico.”
Moving forward, Segarra wants to ensure meeting clients don’t count Puerto Rico out. “The most important thing right now for us as the destination marketing organization in charge of groups and conventions in Puerto Rico is, since day one,” Segarra said, “we’ve been communicating with our clients that already have a piece of business for Puerto Rico and clients that were considering Puerto Rico for future business.”
Meet Puerto Rico has worked to be as transparent as possible about the extent of damage to attractions and hotels, Segarra said, “so [clients] can make intelligent decisions either to maintain the business as it was already agreed upon, or postpone the event or relocate the business to another jurisdiction or country.”
Next month, PRCC will reopen its doors to conventions, starting with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace — the region’s largest tourism marketing event — on Jan. 30.
Meanwhile, Meet Puerto Rico’s honesty has paid off, according to Segarra. “[Clients] saw our transparency,” he said. “They saw that we wanted to make sure that while we recover in Puerto Rico, we provide a safe environment that will provide the very basics, so that any convention that is coming to Puerto Rico is successful.”