Puerto Rico is ready for its close-up.
I came to that conclusion after joining 40 meeting planners at the Meet the Greens Puerto Rico Invitational Golf Classic and Marketplace, May 18 to 21. The event, co-sponsored by MM's parent company Primedia Business, The Meetings Group, included a spirited two-day golf, a charming marketplace tour of Old San Juan, and the opportunity to enjoy two of the island's top resorts, the Westin Rio Mar and the Wyndham El Conquistador.
Why Puerto Rico?
The meeting planners I spoke with said that Puerto Rico's most obvious advantages as adestination flow from its being a U.S. commonwealth. What this means for planners is that they don't have to deal with tax issues — and, importantly, their attendees don't need passports. I brought my passport, just in case, but I never needed it. The currency is the same as on the mainland, and many Puerto Ricans are fluent in both Spanish and English.
“Puerto Rico's strengths for meetings, conferences, and symposia are easy access to the island from destinations all over the United States, as well as the luxurious resort hotels,” said Rob Rydell, director of site selection and marketing for Keene Research Institute, a medical meeting planning company in Villa Park, Calif. Puerto Rico also is perceived as being a safe offshore destination. “Even with the unstable status of current world events, I have no hesitation about bringing our medical groups to Puerto Rico,” Rydell said.
Phelps Hope, president of Aspen Productions in Atlanta, also believes Puerto Rico's close proximity to the U.S. mainland is a big competitive advantage. For Hope and others flying from Atlanta, Puerto Rico is a three-hour, nonstop flight. And it's about a four-hour flight from many other major U.S. airports in the busy Northeast corridor.
Come for the Golf
In the next few years, don't be surprised when you see the golf magazines touting Puerto Rico as the hot, new international golf locale.
The island already features several high-caliber golf courses among its 18 existing courses, but with seven new courses coming on line in the next year, Puerto Rico is positioning itself to be the top destination for golf in the Caribbean. And in October 2004, the Hyatt Dorado Beach Resort will host the 2004 World Amateur Team Championships. Additional buzz:
Golf architect Ron Garl is designing 18 holes at Inter-Continental Cayo Largo Resort in Fajardo, on the eastern end of the island. The resort is scheduled to open this fall.
Former PGA Tour player Tom Kite and Bruce Besse of Willowbend Design are creating 36 holes of golf at the new Sol Meliá Paradisus Coco Beach Resort & Casino in Rio Grande. An October opening is planned.
The Caguas Hampton Inn Golf Club in Caguas and the El Legado Golf Resort in Guayama are each building 18-hole courses.
The Ponce Hilton Hotel & Casino is creating a 27-hole complex. Eighteen of the holes are already open.
During the Meet the Greens tournament, we played the River Course (designed by golf great Greg Norman), and the El Conquistador, designed by noted golf architect Arthur Hills. Norman built a high number of risk-reward holes into the River Course, and I found that to be quite thrilling. At the El Conquistador, the elevation changes and the green complexes are first-rate.
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
Travel Services Inc.
Hyatts of Puerto Rico
Sol Meliá Paradisus Puerto Rico