Puerto Rico is Meetings-Ready

Major investments and a new branding campaign are making this Caribbean destination a standout for meetings.

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Earlier this year, Meet Puerto Rico, the destination's organization for meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (MICE), unveiled a new branding slogan: "On a tropical island. In the Caribbean." In addition to drawing on Puerto Rico's rich natural beauty and enviable location, the campaign has an additional focus on being more than ready for meetings.

"Puerto Rico is positioning itself as an ideal destination for meetings," says Milton Segarra, president and CEO of Meet Puerto Rico. "The type of experience that you have here is really special. We're concentrating on being a destination that can provide one-of-a-kind experiences that make the difference in that meeting."

According to Segarra, those unique experiences include Puerto Rico's culture, adventure, gastronomy, and technological sophistication. Not only that, he says, it's also easy to travel to Puerto Rico, and will be even easier in the near future.

"The Puerto Rico government has a private-public partnership alliance with a Mexican-based company that will be investing approximately $1.4 billion over the next 30 to 40 years to make our airport even better," Segarra explains. Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport has also seen increases in air service. "Southwest Airlines now services Puerto Rico from Orlando and Tampa," says Segarra. "Delta Air Lines has increased its frequencies between Puerto Rico and Chicago and expanded its service from New York's JFK, too. JetBlue Airways has also increased its flights significantly."

Investment is not limited to the airport, either. There are also plans for an incoming project and entertainment venues that will enhance the overall visitor experience. Segarra points to the anchor hotel for the area's convention center - the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, with more than 500 rooms. There will also be three new developments coming online in the convention district: A 126room Hyatt House San Juan that will be open by the end of 2014, a 252-room Courtyard by Marriott property, and another 200-plus-room hotel that has yet to be named. The last two are scheduled to come online in the next 24 to 30 months.

"You're looking at more than 600 new rooms that will be close to the convention center," says Segarra. Right now, he says, there are an estimated 8,000 rooms available near the convention center, enabling Puerto Rico to "accommodate any mid- to large-size group for our convention center."

The convention center district will also soon be home to a new world trade center building that will house offices, entertainment venues, and restaurants, as well as a project that will link the district to Old San Juan. "This link will consist of a boat or ferry that can transport people between the two locations in just a few minutes," says Segarra.

Construction of the new building is set to begin this year, and it will have more than 100,000 square feet of office space, in addition to 10,000 square feet of meeting space. The entire project, called Bahia Urbana, is expected to take four years to complete.

Steve Silverman, managing director of sales and marketing for the El Conquistador Resort & Las Casitas Village, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, agrees that meeting groups will find a wealth of experiences from which to choose. "When groups are on property, they really love the outdoor activities," he says. He also says he's seen a healthy number of requests for golf and spa activities from groups.

Silverman maintains that there are two main factors that make Puerto Rico so appealing to groups. First is convenience - there's no passport needed from the U.S. The second is heart. "The people and the warmth of this destination are just incredible," says Silverman. "You receive really great, genuine service, and that resonates especially throughout our team, too."

Luxury in Paradise

Puerto Rico is also home to a variety of luxurious accommodations that include the 1,400-acre Dorado Beach, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve (one of only two Reserves in the world) and the 483-acre St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico. Two recent investments are also demonstrating the growth potential of Puerto Rico's luxury hotel market. In March, New York-based investment firm Paulson & Co. bought the historic Condado Vanderbilt and La Concha Renaissance hotels for $260 million. When the Condado Vanderbilt opens after an extensive renovation and restoration, the 319-room hotel will offer 30,000 square feet of meeting space. La Concha, a Renaissance Resort, has a total of 483 rooms and suites, with 30,000 square feet of meeting space and a 17,000-square-foot casino.

Encanto Group also announced plans to invest $200 million to develop a new marina community on Puerto Rico's eastern coastline, recently purchasing the Punta Candelero Beach Resort and the Marina at Palmas del Mar, approximately 45 minutes from San Juan. When The Yacht Club Marina at Palmas del Mar is completed in May, it will become Puerto Rico's only resort marina with a total of 158 boat slips.

Hotel Updates

In September 2013, the 571-room Conrad San Juan Condado Plaza was renamed and rebranded as The Condado Plaza Hilton to emphasize the historic hotel's former name - The Condado Plaza. It has more than 41,000 square feet of flexible meeting space and is centrally located in San Juan.

Also in San Juan, the recently renovated Caribe Hilton, which sits on a 17-acre peninsula, offers more than 65,000 square feet of meeting space with 24 different meeting rooms. The property also recently refreshed its website to make it easier for planners to access floor plans, group offers, and testimonials.

El San Juan Resort & Casino also recently debuted the results of a renovation, adding a corporate lounge for private check-in, two exclusive corporate floors, a new fitness center, a gourmet "Grab & Go," and the first Caribbean location of a Meat Market Miami restaurant. It has 35,000 square feet of meeting space to accommodate up to 1,222 guests indoors.

At the El Conquistador Resort & Las Casitas Village, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, the 500-acre property is currently renovating its ocean-view Las Corrales Ballroom and its Club 21 Lounge. The ballroom is getting re-carpeted corridors, and new lobby furniture. Recently, the resort's spa was also rebranded as a Waldorf Astoria Spa. In 2008, the resort built a brand-new convention center and a new water park for both children and adults.

Partnering With Planners

"We want to empower planners with authentic options to make their meetings different and unique so that the return on investment is a better one," says Segarra. "And we want to make sure we provide the necessary tools that meeting professionals need to make their decisions. We want to make it simple. We want to make sure that Puerto Rico is ready to not only meet but to surpass the expectations of our clients and attendees."