Hospitality in a Hurricane - Marking One Year Since Hurricane Maria's Landfall in Puerto Rico
This post is part of a series reflecting on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico. It recognizes contributions of Hilton Team Members in recovery efforts, the importance of travel and tourism to Puerto Rico, and the optimism that envelopes the island today #CoverTheProgress
As response and recovery efforts continue in the Carolinas and Southeast Asia, we want to also #CoverTheProgress Puerto Rico has made one year after Hurricane Maria. #WeAreHilton #HiltonStrong
Marisol Colon is the General Manager of the Embassy Suites San Juan Hotel & Casino, located in the Carolina area of San Juan just two blocks from Isla Verde Beach, and the Embassy Suites by Hilton Dorado del Mar Beach Resort, the only all-suite beachfront resort in Puerto Rico. She and Yeiza Figueroa, Director of Sales at the Embassy Suites by Hilton San Juan, are two “Hilton Heroes” who left their families to make sure guests and other Team Members were safe during the hurricane.
This time last year, Marisol and Yeiza were busy guiding their teams as they prepared for Hurricane Maria. Today, Puerto Rico and the renovated properties are open and ready for business. Marisol says “we’re ready for travelers to discover our enchanted island” and encourages everyone to explore the gastronomy and authentic experiences the island offers.
Marisol and Yeiza, who have a combined 45 years of hospitality experience, reflect on the last year…
Q: How did you prepare for the hurricanes?
Marisol: Guests safety are always our top priority. At Hilton, our job is to provide a home away from home. No one knows the magnitude of being a general manager until you go through something like this, because you carry the responsibility of so many lives. My team was and continues to be extremely devoted to the wellbeing of our guests.
Q: Why did you choose to stay at the hotel during the hurricane?
Yeiza: We all wanted to be at the hotel to take care of our guests and my coworkers are like my second family. I went into survivor mode as I helped manage the command center and general operations. We knocked on every door to make sure each guest was comfortable and felt supported.
Marisol: Our job was to provide as much stability as possible. When the storm hit we had 500 tourists, locals and Team Members staying at the hotel for shelter. We had buffets to feed everyone, movies for the adults, games and music to entertain the children. We provided a sense of community.
I was so inspired with how our entire team pitched in to help. For example, Aziel Mendez normally works as a cook, but for three weeks in addition to managing the buffet, he cleaned and repaired leaks in the ceiling. No job was too big for him. During that first week after the storm our operation survived because of Team Members like Aziel.
Q: What has the past year been like in terms of recovery?
Yeiza: Helping others has been great therapy for me because I was able to keep my mind busy. My husband worked with FEMA and on weekends, we would take supplies and water to remote areas of the island which were hit hardest.
I’m super excited because last month I was able to buy a new home and both of my children are in college in the U.S. studying biology.
Q: How did the Hilton community come together during Hurricane Maria?
Marisol: One of our values at Hilton is to provide leadership in our communities. For several months following the storm our hotels were a “safe space” for local residents who lost their homes. When a vocational school needed a space for their graduation, we donated a ballroom.
Several local Team Members showed their resilience including Marjorie Vega, a suite attendant at the Embassy Suites Dorado. She helps local residents clean, re-paint their houses as well as disseminates important recovery information.
For several weeks, Aziel along with the food and beverage team made enough food to help feed the community. We fed lunch to hundreds of people in small towns.
The outreach from Hilton Team Members from around the world was also incredible. So many people sent supplies, water and food to help our hotels and community. We want them to know they made a direct impact on our island and are helping Puerto Rico rise again.
Q: Why should tourists visit Puerto Rico now?
Marisol: We’re open and ready for business. We’re all excited about the renovations and we know guests will enjoy the food and the sandy beaches.
Yeiza: We’re coming back stronger than ever. We want tourists to discover the island, drive around, talk to the locals and experience the Caribbean culture.
Hilton (NYSE: HLT) is a leading global hospitality company with a portfolio of 15 world-class brands comprising more than 5,500 properties with nearly 895,000 rooms, in 109 countries and territories. Dedicated to fulfilling its mission to be the world’s most hospitable company, Hilton earned a spot on the 2018 world’s best workplaces list, and has welcomed more than 3 billion guests in its nearly 100 year history. Through the award-winning guest loyalty program, Hilton Honors, nearly 82 million members who book directly with Hilton have access to instant benefits, including digital check-in with room selection, Digital Key, and Connected Room. Visit newsroom.hilton.com for more information, and connect with Hilton on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube.Download Article Photos