Nearly 60 meeting planners discovered all that Puerto Rico has to offer last week at the second annual Meet the Greens Invitational Golf Classic and Marketplace hosted by the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau and the Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort and Country Club.
The event was co-sponsored by the Meetings Group magazines. About 18 teams of four hit the links for the two-day, which was played under a best-ball, low-net team score format designed by event coordinator Golf Logistics LLC, Marietta, Ga.
On day one, players teed off at the Westin Rio Mar’s River Course, designed by golf legend Greg Norman, which winds along the Mameyes River and is framed by the mountains behind and the sea below. It is one of two championship courses on the property, the other being the Ocean Course, designed by George and Tom Fazio.
On day two, the tournament shifted to the nearby Wyndham El Conquistador Resort for a completely different but equally spectacular and challenging golf experience on the hilly terrain of the Arthur Hills-designed track.
Non-golfers were invited on a tour of Old San Juan, which was first settled in 1508 by explorer Ponce de Leon, and El Yunque, the 28,000-acre jungle which is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Park Service. Guests who chose not to participate in golf or the tours enjoyed the recreation at the Westin Rio Mar and El Conquistador resorts.
The new Paradisus Resort—the island’s first and only all-inclusive resort—hosted the opening night reception, and the Wyndham El Conquistador welcomed the group for dinner on night two, following the Meet the Greens Marketplace at the Westin Rio Mar, the host hotel. The team of Scott Robinson, national sales manager at the Westin Rio Mar; Daniel Danko, director of marketing, Mack Trucks Inc., Allentown, Pa.; Nadine Rog, manager, meetings and conventions, Cordis Inc., Miami Lakes, Fla.; and guest Dorothy Gross took first place.
A tour of the grounds found the new Puerto Rico Convention Center taking shape and on schedule for a late 2005 opening. The 580,000-square-foot building will be the largest convention center in the Caribbean, with 152,700 square feet of exhibit space and a 36,200-square-foot ballroom. SMG, Philadelphia, has been hired to manage the facility. In the next few weeks, a striking glass facade will be constructed, which will provide a view of the ocean and Old San Juan from all three levels. The convention center already has four confirmed bookings, according to spokesperson Teresa Martinez. Overall, group bookings are on the rise throughout Puerto Rico, jumping 36% in 2003 over the previous year. To further stimulate interest this year, the bureau is offering a special “Caribbean Cash” promotion: Groups that book a minimum of 100 rooms by June 30 will receive cash back of $3 per room night to be used as credit toward other meeting expenses.
It’s the diversity of the island that appeals to planner Joan Esbri-Cullen, meeting coordinator, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York, who attended Meet the Greens. Esbri-Cullen has brought groups to Puerto Rico in the past and plans to return in the future. “My attendance always surges when I come here." As the airline hub for the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is very easy to get in and out of, and U.S. travelers don’t need a passport because it is a U.S. territory. With U.S. currency, English and Spanish as official languages, and “the most hospitable people,” she said, it’s very easy to get around the island. "There are so many layers to Puerto Rico beyond the beach and sun.".
Attendee Nancy Larson, senior buyer at Carlson Marketing Group, Plymouth, Minn., has also held meetings at the island’s resorts in the past. “Once you get to the resorts, there’s so much they offer there,” said Larson. “You can do one or two events off property but it’s not necessary.”