PUERTO RICO IS READY FOR ITS close-up.

Given recent world events, Puerto Rico is an attractive destination with a unique opportunity to attract new association meetings business, according to meeting planners who recently attended the Meet the Greens Puerto Rico Invitational Golf Classic and Marketplace (see list of sponsors, below right).

Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, so that means association meeting planners don't have to deal with tax issues and attendees don't need passports. The currency is the same, and many Puerto Ricans are fluent in both Spanish and English.

“Puerto Rico's diverse activities for meeting attendees is its greatest strength,” said independent planner Steven King, president of King Stringfellow Group, Inc., of Bel Air, Md. “There is history and charm in Old San Juan; beautiful resorts with all the amenities one expects from a first-class resort; great beaches; and the mountains and rain forest for those who are more adventuresome. Another important factor is the air service to the island — the best in the Caribbean.”

Puerto Rico also is perceived as a safe offshore destination. “I wouldn't hesitate to book a meeting in the Caribbean today,” King said. “If anything, recent world events have helped to make it a more attractive destination because room rates have come down some and airfares are cheaper, too.”

Long-Awaited Convention Center

For many associations, the missing link for Puerto Rico meetings has been the lack of a convention center. But that will change in 2005, when phase I of the $200 million, state-of-the-art Puerto Rico Convention Center opens for business, with more than 600,000 square feet. Phases II and III of the center's expansion plans include two additional 150,000-square-foot exhibit areas.

The convention center's importance is “huge,” according to independent planner Phelps Hope, president of Aspen Productions in Atlanta. “To have an island property that can handle groups that need more meeting space will make Puerto Rico so much more attractive to a larger market base.”

Rooms to Spare

Puerto Rico is also making a major investment in hotel development. More than 3,000 new rooms will open over the next two years, bringing the island's total number of hotel rooms to more than 16,000, and existing hotels are undergoing extensive renovations and expansions.

This architect's rendering of the interior of the Puerto Rico Convention Center shows public space in the 580,000-square-foot facility. The San Juan center is scheduled to open in 2005.

Meet the Greens Puerto Rico Sponsors:
Puerto Rico Convention Bureau
Primedia Business, The Meetings Group
Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort & Golf Club
Wyndham El Conquistador Resort
Wyndham El San Juan Hotel & Casino
Cendant Car Rental Group
Avis/Budget, Latin America and Caribbean
Enesco History Craft Gifts
St. Andrews Products
Tehama Apparel
TSE Golf
Travel Services Inc.
Hyatts of Puerto Rico
Caribe Hilton
Sol Meliá Paradisus Puerto Rico