ABOUT 40 MEETING PROFESSIONALS teed off in May at the third annual Meet the Greens Invitational Golf Classic and Marketplace. Hosted by the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, Sol Meliá Paradisus Puerto Rico, and the Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa, the event, which ran from May 22 to May 25, was co-sponsored by the Meetings Group/Primedia Business Magazines & Media, publishers of Corporate Meetings & Incentives magazine.

On the first day of the two-day golf event, teams took to the fairways at the Coco Beach Golf and Country Club, adjoining the Paradisus property. Designed by PGA tour professional Tom Kite along with Bruce Bease of Willowbend Golf & Land Design, Coco Beach consists of four nine-hole layouts — the Mountain, Lakes, Ocean, and Palm courses — meant to give the golfer distinctive experiences on each nine. Among the more memorable are signature par-3 holes on the Mountain course with elevated tees offering panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean to the north and El Yunque rain forest to the south.

A second day of golf had been planned for the River Course at the Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort and Country Club, designed by Greg Norman, but a torrential downpour overnight left parts of the course unplayable. Course officials took a potentially bad situation and turned it into a plus, demonstrating how events can proceed even in the face of a punch from Mother Nature. Since the Rio Mar and Coco Beach courses are both operated by Willowbend Golf Management, officials were able to seamlessly relocate the tournament back to Coco Beach for a successful second day.

In the meantime, nongolfers got to see some of what Puerto Rico has to offer, whether it was trip to El Yunque rain forest or Old San Juan, or a relaxing day on the beach and in the spa at the Westin Rio Mar.

The second night of the event was held at one of Puerto Rico's unique off-property venues, a 45-acre, privately owned facility within the rain forest. With the ability to accommodate groups of up to 750 people, Revealing Rain Forest can be used for dinners or team-building events and exercises. These can include (as it did for the Meet the Greens attendees) hiking through tiki torch — lit trails, swinging across rivers via wire cables, or sitting down to dinner serenaded by the sounds of thousands of coquí frogs.

There was plenty of interesting discussion among the planners about the imminent changes in passport regulations for travel to the Caribbean. It was generated by the breakfast/roundtable at the Coco Beach Country Club, held before the first day's golf outing. Roundtable moderator Rick Hud, vice president global sales for the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, referred to the island as the “most international destination within the U.S.” This means, he believes, that Puerto Rico is well-positioned to take advantage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative's new rules, scheduled to go into effect in January 2006, that will require Americans visiting the Caribbean to have a valid passport to re-enter the United States. However, Puerto Rico (and the U.S. Virgin Islands) do not fall under the regulations.

No matter how the new passport regulations play out, tourism and travel officials in Puerto Rico are convinced that their island is fast becoming the hottest Caribbean destination for meetings. Its traditional advantages, such as its tropical location and status as a U.S. territory, are being supplemented by improvements to the island's hospitality and meeting infrastructure, the climax of which will be the opening of the new convention center later this year.

The Puerto Rico Convention Center — at 580,000 square feet, the largest in the Caribbean — is set to open November 3, and it will add “a completely new dimension” to Puerto Rico as a meeting destination, Hud said. Chronic traffic congestion will be eased by the completion of the Highway 66, or Corredor del Este, project, which also should be complete later this year.

The three-day annual Meet the Greens Invitational Golf Classic and Marketplace was headquartered at Sol Meliá Paradisus Puerto Rico. Paradisus is an all-inclusive brand within the Sol Meliá hotel chain, with properties in Cancun, Mexico, and Punta Cana, Costa Rica, as well as Puerto Rico. The Paradisus is Puerto Rico's only all-inclusive resort and does 60 percent of its business in the group market. The Paradisus also hosted the Meet the Greens Marketplace trade show, as well as the closing dinner and awards ceremony. The Westin Rio Mar hosted the opening-night reception, a luncheon, and spa treatments on the final day for those attendees looking for a nongolf experience.

Sponsors

  • American Airlines
  • Caribbean Special Events
  • Caribe Audiovisuals
  • Caribbean Trading Co.
  • Group Services Inc.
  • Entertainment Concepts
  • Paradisus Puerto Rico
  • Revealing Rain Forest
  • Show Designers
  • The Meetings Group — Primedia Business Publications
  • Westin Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort & Spa
  • Travel Services Inc.
  • San Juan Marriott