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San Juan Joins Bestcities.net Global Alliance
Entry will boost Puerto Ricos meeting & conventions business in international markets
By JOANISABEL GONZALEZ-VELAZQUEZ
September 9, 2004
San Juan is the first Latin American and the first Caribbean destination to become a member of BestCities.net, an international organization that strives to set and follow best business practices within the meetings & conventions industry.
BestCities.net is the only convention bureau alliance with nine partners on five continents. It aims to create a network of potential customers and businesses in member destinations and to offer convention delegates a combination of top-quality services and facilities.
To join, member cities must have at least 10,000 hotel rooms located near major convention venues, which, in turn, should have a capacity to serve at least 20,000 people.
"San Juans entry has catapulted Puerto Rico into the international meetings & conventions arena," said Ana Maria Viscasillas, CEO of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau (PRCB). "This will greatly benefit Puerto Ricos economic development."
For Viscasillas, this development is the PRCBs most important accomplishment in years. It gives Puerto Rico the same credibility as other member cities (Boston; Cape Town, South Africa; Copenhagen; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Edinburgh, Scotland; Melbourne, Australia; Singapore; and Vancouver, Canada), which all have successful meetings & conventions markets.
It also enhances Puerto Rico as a destination, will help promote the forthcoming Puerto Rico Convention Center (slated to open in 2005), and offers numerous business opportunities for the local hospitality industry and the island as a whole.
According to Meeting Planners International, the meetings & conventions market is the fastest-growing segment within the tourism sector, and it generates $102 billion of economic activity around the world.
Meetings & conventions are already important business in Puerto Rico. In fiscal year 2003, the PRCB booked 460 groups and 221,627 room nights, bringing in $500 million to the industry. Viscasillas estimates that meetings & conventions contribute indirectly another $400 million to the local economy every year.
To ensure quality, BestCities.net members must complete annual self-assessments; clients evaluate the city following both the bidding and the event. Destinations must fulfill requirements related to such areas as transportation, accommodations, and meeting venues.
Paul Vallee, former BestCities.nets chairman and executive vice president of Tourism Vancouver-The Greater Vancouver Convention & Visitors Bureau, said member cities must not only provide for the needs of the convention market, but their tourist attractions must appeal to leisure travelers as well. Because convention delegates may come early or stay after their events, this can generate added revenue for the tourism industry.
Why San Juan?
San Juans natural attributes, infrastructure, and meetings facilities helped it gain entry. "We wanted representation from different regions to appeal to people from all over the world," said Vallee. "Puerto Rico is located in the subtropics, and we were looking for diversity."
Vallee, who came to San Juan for a site inspection in 2003 (CB Sept. 4, 2003), listed locals pride in their city, a knowledgeable hospitality industry, and the PRCBs dedication and organization as three of Puerto Ricos strengths.
In addition, he said Puerto Rico has a very good reputation within meetings & conventions circles abroad, and he believed San Juan and the PRCB will add value to the alliance.
"It was an excellent experience [coming to Puerto Rico]," recalled Vallee, who visited to check up on a number of problems after Puerto Rico was given provisional entry into BestCities.net in 2002. Among them was the need to create a San Juan brand to market the city, the need for more international flights, poor conditions at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (LMMIA), and delays in construction of the Puerto Rico Convention Center.
"Once we saw progress, and everything was in place, we recommended the city," said Vallee.
"We [at the PRCB] believe the island can play a major role in the meetings & convention market," said Viscasillas. "The PRCB doesnt take no for an answer. In fact, our motto is that negotiations start when a potential client says no," explained Viscasillas.
"After we learned what improvements were needed to join, we drafted an action plan," said Viscasillas. The bureau worked with government agencies and the private sector to improve the islands public perception and travelers experience.
To create San Juans brand, the municipal government helped the PRCB by contributing $25,000 to develop a marketing plan. "It was a challenge to create a brand for the city because as a Caribbean island, we traditionally focus on the island as a whole, not on cities," explained Viscasillas.
In addition, the Ports Authority is investing $38 million in several renovation projects at LMMIA, (CB July 22 and CB Aug. 26), while the Tourism Co. is increasing air access to San Juan. Construction of the convention center resumed by the end of 2002 as well.
Whats in it for San Juan?
Membership in BestCities.net increases the islands potential to increase business in the conventions market, especially at an international level.
To start, the PRCB aims to increase by 5% its international customers database, and to generate nearly $4 million in new businesses during its first year under the alliance.
"San Juan, Puerto Rico has gained eight allies around the globe," Viscasillas said. "The alliance [drums up business for other members] by referral, but also by integrated marketing efforts. For example, all our publications will include the BestCities.net logo, and San Juan will provide customers with information on every BestCities.net partner. Other members will do the same for San Juan. Every dollar we invest will reach eight destinations and their respective customers."
That BestCities.net will broaden San Juans international exposure is important because although the PRCB invests many resources to advertise in its primary market, the U.S. mainland, it lacks the funds to do so internationally.
"City partners will benefit from the business opportunities in other destinations," said Viscasillas. "Member cities will offer meeting planners the opportunity to sign multiyear contracts. For instance, if Vancouver lands a group and the group agrees to sign this contract, for the next several years, it will hold its events in other BestCities.net cities, such as San Juan."
The alliance has also developed several plans to boost the destinations images and marketing efforts.
BestCities.net has various committees; Puerto Rico is represented on each one. Committees handle such matters as operations, convention service, public relations, and technology and develop strategies to benefit every destination.
The benefits go beyond bringing in more groups. Viscasillas said local hotels and tourism-related businesses can benefit from the credibility BestCities.net gives to its members. This can help hotels forge marketing & sales strategies with hotels from the same chain located in other member cities.
It is likely that the alliance wont exceed 12 members, which makes membership even more powerful. "To prevent competition, member cities dont allow nearby cities to join," added Vallee.
In return, every partner is required to invest $25,000 in the alliance. Funds are used for marketing, publications, and special events, including site inspections of every partner destination.
San Juan now has to live up to the credibility it has gained from membership. "It is essential for Puerto Rico and for San Juan to keep up local infrastructure and tourism initiatives," said Viscasillas. "Our reputation is on the line now. Thats why it is so important for the convention center to open on schedule. We also have to bring in additional flights and improve our transportation system and physical appearance. Not only will this guarantee our market position, but it will improve the quality of life in Puerto Rico."
BestCities.net was launched in February 2000 in Melbourne, Australia, one of the five founders. The others were Boston, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, and Vancouver. To date, the alliances database has more than 570 clients, and members have exchanged 115 sales leads.
Destinations interested in joining can apply every two years. Dubai and Cape Town joined the alliance in 2002. San Juan and Singapore entered this year.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.