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Puerto Rico Eyes Medical Tourism, Facebook Ads To Boost Business

Puerto Rico may look to hospitals to boost its tourism. But as one expert cautions: Cuba is expressing the same interest.

José Izquierdo, executive director, Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

José Izquierdo, executive director of Puerto Rico Tourism Co., said the commonwealth is exploring ways to boost tourism to the island, with medical tourism part of its outreach. That is because Puerto Rico has not only facilities, but American-trained medical professionals as well. And costs for healthcare are as little as 40% of those on the U.S. mainland, Izquierdo said.

Izquierdo's comments came during Bisnow's event focused on Latin America and the Caribbean in Miami, and comes at a time when the commonwealth is pushing for private development and avenues to push tourism from 7% to 15% of the total economy as it battles through a $70B public debt crisis.

He was part of a hospitality panel that included Francisco Luis, a partner with Kevane Grant Thornton; Christian Glauser-Benz, vice president of development with Dream Hotel Group; Colin Hannan, the founder of The Foundry Collective; Jose Gelabert-Navia, regional diretor for Perkins+Will; and Mike Wilson, the chief operating officer with OBM International.

Colin Hannan, founder, The Foundry Collective

Hannan said medical tourism has become a catchphrase in various countries, and not all of them have been successful. For instance, he cited a hospital project in Medellin, Colombia, that never gained the attention for medical tourism “because of misconceptions. It's actually a wonderful city.”

But Hannan said he has worked on designing a luxury hospital connected to a Ritz-Carlton in Puerto Rico, and is waiting for the economy to improve to launch. But it is an aspect that Puerto Rico should push, Hannan said, given that his firm has been approached by the Cuban government for medical facility development that would cater to foreign tourists.

He said the current political climate may make that project, at least for his firm, difficult to accomplish.

“The idea, we thought, was extraordinary because it's the best hotel on the island,” he said of the Puerto Rican project. “I think it behooves Puerto Rico to do something about it.”

Hannan also said that luxury projects in Latin America have found new life through direct digital marketing, which “kind of levels the playing field a little bit” among all developers and countries.

“The direct digital avenue has opened up so many opportunities,” he said. “We sold million-dollar residences to people we found through Facebook. I never expected that to happen.”