Those lie in the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, Europe and in luxury tourism.
To target them, the bureau has shifted personnel and now has sales offices in Miami, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Madrid in addition to San Juan.
The bureau is also expanding its web presence to have microsites in English, Spanish, Portuguese, German and French to link with associations’ and organizations’ websites in an effort to garner more business, said Neil Mullanaphy, the bureau’s acting president and CEO/senior vice president of sales.
“Europeans feel comfortable here. Latin Americans feel comfortable here, … and North Americans, too,” he said, adding that Puerto Rico’s tropical location and bilinguality (Spanish and English are spoken here) are beneficial attributes.
Those comfort zones are coupled with the facts that U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to visit Puerto Rico, a United States commonwealth; the 7-year-old, 580,000-square-foot Centro de Convenciones de Puerto Rico (or Puerto Rico Convention Center) in San Juan has established itself as a prime meetings space in San Juan and the Caribbean; and the island's lodgings sector is rumbling toward growth mode.
For instance, the convention center just hosted the nine-day, 538-team Jeep Volleyball Championship tournament, which utilized 30 courts and had entries from as distant as Tampa and Colorado.
“Many times a year, we have three events going on at once here,” said Margaret Colon, the center’s director of sales and marketing. “We have 400 plus events here annually.”
Besides conventions that are national and international in nature, the nautical-themed and –designed center this year is hosting 35 graduations and 20 proms.
“People want to be in this building,” Colon said. “This building has brought great possibilities not only citywide, but also national and international.”
Mullanaphy and others with the 38-employee, 300-member bureau admit it’s more than just Puerto Rico as a business destination for groups, meetings and conventions.
“Also, it’s what they can do as a group; what they can do individually,” he said.
That means Puerto Rican explorations away from convention spaces (more than 1.3 million square feet) and lodgings (more than 13,500 guestrooms), taking advantage of the offerings on the 110-by-35-mile Caribbean island.
Puerto Rico is a place where the heritage dates to Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus’ claiming Puerto Rico for Spain in 1498 and Spain ceding Puerto Rico to the U.S. after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The island’s distinctive diversity of culture and cuisine includes ever-popular Puerto Rican rums such as Bacardi and a buen provecho (Spanish for “enjoy your meal”) attitude about its morphing culinary scene fusing Puerto Rican, Spanish, African, Taino and American fare.
Photo: Rick Martinez
The Jeep Volleyball Championship had competition on 30 courts for nine days at Centro de Convenciones de Puerto Rico (or Puerto Rico Convention Center) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The quest is to land more conventions like the International Convention Congress Association, which visits the convention center and San Juan in October for five days.
Tourism in Puerto Rico currently is a $3.6 billion a year industry. Of that, about a third in groups and conventions, a third in corporate gatherings and a third in leisure, said Teresa Martinez, the bureau’s marketing and communications director.
While Puerto Rico Tourism Company operates with the slogan “Puerto Rico Does It Better,” Puerto Rico Convention Bureau uses the motto “Puerto Rico Smooth” as the foundation for its efforts to lure meetings and gatherings.
When it comes to convention and meeting gatherings, the bureau is pushing to create the atmosphere, infrastructure and support to grow the group market. A primary focus is on international associations’ gatherings, Mullanaphy said.
“The interesting dynamic in international meetings is they have” shorter time frames from awarding conventions to having them compared to national associations in the U.S.
To help accommodate those visiting groups, there is currently about $1 billion in construction going on at 20 hotel projects, according to the convention bureau.
The Condado Vanderbilt, a historic luxury hotel which first opened in 1919, reopened late last year after a $100 million-plus renovation.
The projects are part of ongoing efforts by the San Juan Marriott to remain vibrant, said Julian Cable-Treadwell, director of marketing. It was only 15 years ago the 513-room, 21-story urban beachfront hotel closed for six months for a wholesale overhaul, he said.
“The reality is we are a group hotel,” said Jeanette Aviles, the hotel's sales and marketing director. “We partner very closely with the convention center.”
The hotel is located in the just-emerging convention district, which expects to eventually have more than 1,800 rooms as part of a mixed-use, multi-faceted waterfront locale being developed as the Bahia Urbana (or Urban Bay) project.
Partnerships with a multi-phrase approach how Bahia Urbana is being built, Martinez said.
Partnerships are also how the bureau hopes to further build its groups business, Mullanaphy said. “It really makes sense for us to give that value proposition.”
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