The National Guard Association of the U.S. marched into San Juan, Puerto Rico, in late August for a meeting that attracted close to 4,300 registrants, plus a few thousand more family members. All told, the meeting was worth $10 million to San Juan, and was among the largest conventions ever held in the Puerto Rico Convention Center, says convention bureau official Teresa Martinez.
But NGAUS officials weren’t surprised at the turnout. The organization is a strong supporter of the new 580,000-square-foot facility, having booked it even before its completion in 2005. “We do an awful lot of pre-screening, and Puerto Rico presented an excellent package,” says NGAUS’ Brigadier General Stephen Koper. “It was not as much of a leap of faith as you might imagine.” The senior official of the local Guard organization also is highly involved in preparing the bid, he says, and works closely with the governor, city, convention bureau, and convention center, to ensure everything is up to snuff.
Koper and NGAUS Communications Director John Goheen are glad their confidence bore out. As Goheen says, “They took good advantage of vertical space so, unlike at more horizontal centers where you can walk half a mile to get somewhere, here you just took an escalator.” Koper gives the center an A-plus also for the handling of NGAUS’ premier event, a formal dinner. “It was outstanding in every aspect, from the movement of people to catering, staffing, audiovisual, and decorating.”
Coordinating between the 13 hotels that hosted the NGAUS General Conference attendees sounds daunting, but ran smoothly, including the shuttles transporting guests between the hotels and convention center, Martinez adds. Koper credits the local guard for putting together “a fantastic shuttle system that received very high marks from our people.” While it would have been even better to have been able to house some attendees and, particularly, NGAUS staff at the still-to-be-completed Sheraton hotel adjacent to the center, Koper says using 13 hotels in this case worked well.
When asked if his group would bring its convention back to Puerto Rico, Koper says with a laugh, “Not until next week.” He adds, “This was our largest conference ever, in terms of attendance, and the feedback was excellent, so obviously our people wouldn’t mind returning.”
But not in 2008, when NGAUS will have a decidedly different site: Baltimore. “We try to stay close to Washington during election years because we are fortunate enough to have all the candidates come to be with us, and we want to pick a venue where they can get to us with relative ease,” Koper says. After D.C., the group will meet in Nashville, and Austin, Texas.