Colorful culture abounds in this Caribbean destination
MEET - Hacienda Don Carmelo
This breeding and training facility for Puerto Rico's famed Paso Fino horses is located in the city of Vega Baja in the north central part of the island. The lush 60-acre property overlooks the Atlantic, and its 125-year-old Samán Dormilón tree and tree house make the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable evening event.
STAY - Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino
You can't get much closer to the convention center than here. The 503-room property, which is adjacent to the Puerto Rico Convention Center, also has 35,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as 57,000 square feet of outdoor event space -- enough to accommodate up to 1,800. With nine different room categories to choose from, there's a space for everyone in the meeting.
PLAY - Bacardi Rum Factory
At the famous rum factory, groups can tour the facilities, learning about the history and production process involved in one of Puerto Rico's most famous drinks, while enjoying a sip or two along the way.
Jenny Mamer-Bohn, travel and events category manager for Inver Grove Heights, MN-based CHS Inc., was looking for an exciting destination for her company's two big meetings this February. "The No. 1 thing we wanted was to go to a 'wow' location," she says. "We've done meetings in Arizona, California, and Florida, but we felt like we were running out of the 'wow' factor. So, we took a look at Puerto Rico, with the guaranteed nice weather, no passports required, U.S. currency, and great airlift."
For Mamer-Bohn's groups, Puerto Rico didn't disappoint. This February, she successfully hosted two different meetings for CHS, a global agribusiness owned by farmers, ranchers, and cooperatives across the U.S., at the El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort & Spa. The first meeting was designed as an educational program for approximately 500 farmers and company stockholders, along with their spouses; the second group consisted of CEOs of large cooperatives from 40 different states.
One thing in particular that added excitement to both programs was the resort's private island, Palomino Island, which is only a 15-minute ferry ride from the property. "We had a day at the beach and it was wonderful," she says. "We had a band, and food, and watersports equipment was available and they just loved it. It's a real added plus for the El Conquistador to have that island."
In addition to delivering a "wow" factor for meetings, Puerto Rico also gave Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt a much-needed break from a particularly brutal winter this February. "They were very excited to go," says Susanne Turner, president and owner of Bonita Springs, FL-based meeting planning firm Turner & Associates. "It's some place everyone likes to go to get out of the winter."
Every year during the first week of February, the major publishing company meets to discuss its new spring line of books, and Turner has been working with Houghton Mifflin for the past 25 years. It wasn't until fairly recently, however, that the organization began meeting in Puerto Rico.
The first time was in 2013 and, ever since, the group of 100 or so employees has met at the El San Juan Resort & Casino, A Hilton Hotel. "They loved Puerto Rico so much we rebooked on the spot," she says. "For a meeting, El San Juan really does a great job." The group will meet in 2016 in Boston for an anniversary year, but plans to return to Puerto Rico in 2017.
Turner has also brought other groups to Puerto Rico to properties that include El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort & Spa, and the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa. She says that many of her groups enjoy Puerto Rico because of its easy accessibility, beautiful beaches, and variety of activities, from the luxurious resorts and beaches to shopping and the rainforest.
Meeting Planners' Needs
Meeting group business is particularly important for the island destination, and for Meet Puerto Rico, the nonprofit organization that works to bring meetings, conventions, trade shows, and incentives to the destination. Earlier this year, Meet Puerto Rico announced a new business model that would focus on the creation of national sales managers; branding; and strategic partnerships.
"Now is the perfect time to capitalize and reinforce that improved global branding [for Puerto Rico] and use it as a platform to help secure large convention center and city-wide groups," says Milton Segarra, Meet Puerto Rico's president and CEO. "This new business model is an aggressive roadmap that will help us secure and reach these goals."
Segarra also notes that Meet Puerto Rico will help planners promote their events via social media channels, including its platform, Eleventes, and continue to invest in new hotels, marketing, and the growth of its convention center district.
"Plans to link the Puerto Rico Convention Center district to Old San Juan are currently under way," he adds. "The Paseo Puerta de Tierra project is a $29-million investment in a boardwalk linking historic Old San Juan with other popular tourism areas nearby, giving pedestrians and cyclists safer and easier access to the convention center district." Phase one is expected to be complete in late 2015.
ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Puerto Rico Convention Center (600,000 sf)
9 to 11 percent
Pinnacle Awards Go To:
• Puerto Rico Convention Bureau
• El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort & Spa
• La Concha, A Renaissance Resort
• Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
• Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa
• Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino
Paseo Puerta de Tierra is just one of many new developments taking place on the island. Here's a closer look.
In October 2014, Puerto Rico welcomed its first extended-stay property, Hyatt House San Juan. The 126-room hotel, located in the convention center district, combines the comforts of home with a hotel setting and has studio and one-bedroom suites that overlook the ocean and San Juan Bay.
Construction is currently under way for the $29.7-million Hyatt Place San Juan, which will open next door to the Hyatt House San Juan. The 149-room property is expected to open by early 2016.
In December 2014, the historic Condado Vanderbilt Hotel reopened, offering 319 luxury guest rooms and suites, the island's first hammam spa, two pool lounges with butler service, and a restaurant helmed by internationally acclaimed chef Jose Cuevas.
The 400-room Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa unveiled a new multimillion-dollar renovation of its rooms last year, the first step in a major series of improvements that the 500-acre resort will undergo by the end of this year.
The 299-room Embassy Suites San Juan Hotel & Casino and the 174-room suite Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar Beach Resort have both undergone major updates. All 299 suites at the Embassy Suites San Juan Hotel & Casino have been renovated, and all suites at the Embassy Suites Dorado del Mar Beach Resort have received upgrades to the bathrooms.
El San Juan Resort & Casino, A Hilton Hotel, recently introduced a new two-level suite that can be used by smaller groups. The 1,590-square-foot Casa del Mar suite offers views of the Atlantic and Isla Verde beach. Features include a spacious living room with a full bar, kitchenette, a dining table for six, a Steinway piano, a second-floor sundeck, a private patio, and a second private patio with a covered terrace.
El Conquistador Resort & Las Casitas Village, were recently awarded a prestigious Blue Flag award for Palomino Island, by the Foundation for Environmental Education
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This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.