The average person arriving in Puerto Rico can't wait to throw on a bathing suit and stake out a lounge chair by a pool or on a beach and begin a relaxing stay in paradise. But come this March, a very different kind of visitor will be checking in. One that wants to throw on a bathing suit, then take a 2.4-mile swim, then jump on a bike for a 112-mile ride, and finally top it all off by running a marathon.
Sound like paradise? Maybe not to you or me, but to the athletes who compete in the 2011 Ironman 70.3 Series, it is. I suppose if you've got to torture yourself, what better place to do it than in the Caribbean.
Already known as a premier meetings destination of the Americas, Puerto Rico is primed to become better known as the "Destination of Champions" for hosting youth, amateur, and professional sporting events.
Most recently, Puerto Rico was selected as the World Triathlon Corp.'s (WTC) kickoff location for the 2011 Ironman 70.3 Series. The event, taking place on March 19, 2011, is part of the Ironman 70.3 Series that now includes 46 races worldwide and serves as a qualifier for the 2011 Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3, presented by Ford.
"The Puerto Rico Convention Bureau has been promoting sports meetings and sports tourism for over a decade. Puerto Rico offers an optimal setting for athletes and spectators to enjoy a variety of major sporting events," states Ramón Sánchez, executive vice president and COO of the bureau. "Events like the Ironman 70.3 San Juan, the PGA Puerto Rico Open, and the World Baseball Classic give us the opportunity to showcase the island's capacity for meetings and congresses related to the sports market."
And that isn't the only big event the island has attracted. Last month, Puerto Rico hosted the U.S. Masters Swimming 2010 Summer Nationals, attracting an estimated 1,500 swimmers and guests to the island for this highly competitive amateur swim competition. Events were held at the Natatorium of San Juan, a world-class facility with a 10-foot deep, 10-lane, 50-meter competition course and an eight-lane, 25-meter warm-up area in the diving well, in a stunning outdoor, yet covered, facility designed after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics swim complex.
Puerto Rico is home to dozens of purpose- built facilities for almost any sport, including baseball, basketball, swimming, diving, tennis, volleyball, track and field, soccer, and equestrian.
Puerto Rico's largest sporting facility, the Coliseo de Puerto Rico, is a worldclass sports arena that can host up to 18,500 spectators for basketball, hockey, ice-skating, tennis, gymnastics, boxing, and concert events.
Other top facilities include the Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium, an ultramodern baseball stadium with majorleague- level, two-tier stadium seating designed for 12,500 and complete with a year-round clubhouse, and the Caguas Sports Complex, with purpose-built facilities for volleyball, soccer, weightlifting, gymnastics, baseball, tennis, swimming, and handball events, featuring seating for up to 3,200.
All offer great venues for special events, receptions, and activity options for meeting or incentive groups.
On the more traditional side, Puerto Rico features 24 golf courses, 14 of which are championship caliber. These awardwinning courses have been designed by the likes of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Greg Norman, George and Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Arthur Hill, and Puerto Rico's own Chi Chi Rodriquez.
In addition to the Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico, the latest addition to the island's folio of golf courses is Bahia Beach. Redesigned by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., the scenic 6,979-yard layout overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is part of the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, scheduled to open later this fall. Other top courses located on the grounds of Puerto Rico's top resort properties include the Rio Mar Beach Resort and Spa - A Wyndham Grand Resort, which features two courses: the Greg Normandesigned River Course and the famous Ocean Course designed by George and Tom Fazio.
These two golf courses are located by the ocean and at the foot of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. The El Conquistador Resort, The Waldorf Astoria Collection features a 6,662-yard Arthur Hills course. The 72-par course is both challenging and player-friendly, with breathtaking vistas.
Hoteliers in Puerto Rico continue their commitment to expand and improve offerings of top hotel brands, services, and amenities by pouring an estimated $2.1 billion into new developments and $350 million into renovation and expansion projects throughout the island.
Many developments in the pipeline, such as the opening of the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, will look to meetings and conventions as a primary market. Others, such as JW Marriott-, Regent-, and St. Regis-branded properties, are ready to serve high-end corporate groups and the incentive market. Investments throughout the Caribbean island will greatly benefit meeting groups by providing additional choices, new amenities, and services to planners and delegates.
"Puerto Rico has a long-term vision and strategy to develop its tourism product and serve the meetings and conventions market," states Ana María Viscasillas, president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. "With more than $900 million contributed to the island's local economy through group meetings and conventions each year, we understand the significance of continuing to develop and expand our tourism infrastructure to serve this important market segment."
Getting Your Goat
For the people of Tobago, Easter heralds the dawn of one of the most anticipated events on the island. The Buccoo Goat and Crab Race Festival is a serious business that has all the pomp and pageantry of Ascot.
The course is about 100 meters long, and there is a maximum of 10 goats per race. Each jockey has to wear the silk of the goat's owner and white shorts and be barefoot. Jockey and goat proudly walk around the ring.
There is betting, but it is discreet. The goats are then loaded into the starting stall (accompanied by much banter from the commentators perched precariously in the judges' box). A yellow flashing light signifies that they are under starter's orders, the gates flip open, and the race is on. Goats lead, with the jockeys running behind and holding the goats on short lengths of rope. This is no gentle jog; the goats are very fast and, of course, the jockeys have little control over them and the best fun is had when a goat suddenly veers across the other runners. The finish is often chaotic, with all 10 runners nearly ending in the grandstand at the end of the course.
The afternoon is interspersed with various cultural events and the occasional crab race. These events attract sizable crowds and resemble a large village fair.
The Push for Meetings
With continued expansion of hotel capacity and conference facilities, along with a proven track record as a host for major regional and international conferences, Trinidad and Tobago is poised to develop into the Caribbean's most viable business tourism destination. And the islands are serious about meetings. Last September they started a convention and visitors bureau.
Four new hotels—for a total of 900 rooms—are scheduled to open within the next 12 months, including the already-opened 428-room Hyatt Regency Trinidad. In Tobago, the Tobago Hilton offers facilities for small meetings and conferences.
Several major airlines make regular and chartered flights to either island. You can catch a flight or ferry to commute between them.
Trinidad is a major transport hub for the Caribbean, and access to the island from key destinations in the U.S., South America, and Europe is easy, with international airlines providing flights into Piarco International Airport. Flights into Tobago's Crown Point International Airport are also available from major European destinations.
On both islands, roads and public transportation systems are well developed, and rental vehicles, from buses to luxury SUVs, are easily available. Beyond business, Trinidad and Tobago is known for its exciting nightlife and multi-ethnic cultural festivals, providing unique opportunities for social events and team building.
Originally published Sept. 1, 2010