Skift Take

El Distrito is an ambitious plan, and the island is throwing an extraordinary amount of effort toward making it a success. This is something that matters to business leaders. Hopefully, visitors will have the same enthusiasm.

Puerto Rico is broadening its marketing in a push to be seen as more than just a destination for beaches and sun two years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. As part of its plans to diversify offerings, the U.S. Caribbean territory is looking to turn itself into a business and entertainment hub.

While the island’s marketing leaders probably won’t be discarding the postcard-perfect images of Puerto Rico soon, they are keen to attract the dollars that business tourism can bring. Next year provides significant opportunities for Puerto Rico to demonstrate that it can compete as a first-class convention and entertainment destination.

Key to that effort will be the launch of El Distrito, which Brad Dean, CEO of the marketing organization Discover Puerto Rico, called “one of the most significant developments in the history of Puerto Rico tourism.”

Adjacent to the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, El Distrito is an ambitious, high-tech, immersive gathering spot that will combine dining, retail, and entertainment in its five acres. Venues operated by Puerto Ricans are being developed specifically for El Distrito to highlight local flavors and experiences.

Visitors will also be able to get a literal bird’s-eye view of the site thanks to an urban zip line overhead. The 50,000-square-foot main plaza will feature an advanced digital system of LED screens.

El Distrito already has three high-profile businesses set to anchor it. The Music Hall, a mixed performance venue planning to host concerts, corporate events, and more has space to accommodate 6,000 spectators. Caribbean Cinemas VIP expects to open an eight-screen theater complex, and a new Aloft Hotel will provide 177 guest rooms on-site.

Dean hopes El Distrito will give visitors a new take on the island.

“Now they’ll know Puerto Rico as the entertainment capital of the Caribbean,” he said at a recent Discover Puerto Rico event in New York City.

Milestone in post-hurricane recovery

Set to launch in the first quarter of 2020, El Distrito will be a major milestone in the island’s recovery after Hurricane Maria. Among the first group of visitors to experience El Distrito after it opens is the World Travel and Tourism Council, who plan on holding its Global Summit 2020 in San Juan in April. Strong positive reactions among convention attendees might provide an opening for additional business and convention tourism in Puerto Rico and leave behind reminders of the negative effects the hurricane brought.

Puerto Rico’s tourism numbers this year give some reason for optimism, according to Dean.

“Flights have resumed at a level above pre-Hurricane Maria, and tourism activity is not only up versus last year, but actually up versus the pre-hurricane travel,” he said.

The focus on business and entertainment is a recent development tourism leaders have taken to show off the island beyond its scenery and weather. Earlier this year, its Have We Met Yet? campaign promoted its cultural and historical attractions to travelers. That effort is expected to continue thanks to the 500-year anniversary of San Juan. And Puerto Rico has tried to promote island hospitality, pitching itself as the friendly neighbor everyone wants to drink, dance, and dine with.

Discover Puerto Rico is hoping the excitement surrounding El Distrito will further the island’s buzz and become the new hub of San Juan.

“This is like a slice of Times Square with a Latin feel and a Caribbean flavor,” Dean said.

Disclosure: Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali serves on the 25-member advisory board to Destination Puerto Rico, as part of Skift Foundation‘s commitment to helping Puerto Rico in its tourism recovery.


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Tags: discover puerto rico, puerto rico

Photo credit: Shown here is an artist's rendering of El Distrito in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Caribbean island is keen to attract the dollars that business tourism can bring, and this high-tech entertainment district is central to this initiative. El Distrito San Juan

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