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Puerto Rico’s Convention Center

Scheduled to open in 2005, the Convention Center stands to generate over $3.5 billion for the economy in its first decade—if the island can meet the expectations of a demanding meeting & conventions market.


September 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Convention Countdown

Puerto Rico is taking a big step to appeal to the meetings & conventions market, the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry

In fall 2005, Puerto Rico should be opening its $415 million convention center, occupying 580,000 gross square feet across 113 acres of prime real estate in Isla Grande, San Juan. The new convention center promises to generate $3 billion for the local economy in its first decade of operations, to create over 9,000 new direct and indirect jobs, to provide plenty of business opportunities for the island’s tourism industry, and to position Puerto Rico as one of the premier destinations for meeting planners and organizations throughout the world.

"Puerto Rico needs to envision the convention center as a gateway, as a window of opportunity. It is a gateway to the Americas because it is the best meeting venue in the entire Caribbean and Latin America. It is a window of opportunity for businesses currently on the island and a gateway to new ones that will generate thousands of jobs," said Manuel Sanchez Biscombe, executive director of the Convention Center District Authority (CCDA).

The CCDA projects the convention center and adjacent operations will generate $300 million annually. This figure doesn’t include the nearly $900 million a year that the meetings & conventions (M&C) market currently represents for Puerto Rico, according to the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau (PRCB).

Part of a bigger puzzle

The convention center, which will accommodate 10,000 delegates and offer 188,900 square feet of meeting & exhibit space plus 1,950 parking spaces, will in fact serve three roles in the socioeconomic development of all of Puerto Rico but particularly of the capital, San Juan.

First, it will significantly enhance the island’s appeal as a tourism destination by providing an ideal venue for large conventions, catapulting Puerto Rico into a competitive position in the international M&C arena. These large conventions, called citywide conventions, include 5,000 delegates or more who book more than 2,000 room nights.

According to estimates by the CCDA, the convention center will generate 75,000 room nights in its first year of operations. When completed, in 2012, it will occupy a total 1.3 million square feet and should be generating 225,000 room nights annually.

Second, it will be the cornerstone of the biggest redevelopment project to be proposed in recent years: a mixed-use urban district at the entrance to the Condado and Old San Juan tourism districts. The public and private sectors would invest over $1.3 billion in the project, which would include residential housing, two hotels, office and retail space, a casino, restaurants, a movie theater, and recreation facilities.

Third, it will generally serve to increase the contributions of the tourism industry—and of related industries—to the local economy.

Local hoteliers optimistic but say more needs to be done

Puerto Rico is facing some tough competition for M&C business from the likes of Cancun, Mexico, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., among others.

Local hoteliers welcome the new convention center as a big step toward improving Puerto Rico’s standing in the market and attracting new business opportunities. Rick Newman of Flagship Services Corp. said the convention center is bound to benefit Puerto Rico since it will be able to host major conventions of up to 10,000 delegates.

"These events will generate more economic activity for the island. We should be seeing citywide conventions, where delegates stay in two or more hotels and hold events at several facilities. We haven’t been able to serve those events because we have lacked the facilities," said Newman. "Soon, however, we will have a new convention center, something the industry has pushed for since the 1980s which will bring many benefits. Hotels will enjoy high occupancy rates, and transportation services will see high demand, as will restaurants, stores, and tours."

Newman and others in the tourism industry believe, however, that Puerto Rico still has many areas to improve, and it must do so quickly. The industry is most concerned about a possible deficiency in the room inventory, the fragmentation of marketing efforts, transportation challenges, and the need to create a service mentality and protect the island’s environment and natural attractions.

"It is essential to educate present and future generations about the value of tourism and how important it is protect our resources and public places," said veteran hotelier Raul Bustamante.

Ensuring there are sufficient rooms is crucial to the convention center’s success. The government has awarded the contract for the Convention Center District’s anchor hotel to the partnership Garfield-Interlink, which plans to open a 500-room Sheraton hotel in 2007. The company already has the permits to add another 352 rooms at a later stage (CB March 25).

The CCDA also envisions a second hotel in the district that will have 920 rooms. Before requesting bids for that project, however, the agency wants to analyze the performance of the convention center.

Regarding the island’s room inventory, Newman said, "The convention center’s activity will create additional demand for hotel rooms, which will benefit the development of new hotel projects in the [San Juan] metro area. We are somewhat behind in the room inventory. Some efforts are under way already, but we need to do more. It is extremely important to have those rooms available, not only during an event but before and after."

Newman explained that staff members of an organization holding a meeting or convention often arrive at the destination a few days early to set up, and stay for a while afterward. "Those stays could add up to seven days, which would help local hotels fill the gap in occupancy, if there is any," he said.

Newman is doing his part to increase the island’s room inventory with this month’s opening of the 225-room Holiday Inn San Juan in Isla Verde. Other projects in the pipeline include the 240-room expansion of the Caribe Hilton and the renovation of the Vanderbilt and La Concha hotels, which will add 757 rooms when they reopen in 2005.

Like Newman, Bustamante is confident Puerto Rico will perform outstandingly in the international M&C arena, in part because the PRCB has 40 years’ experience promoting Puerto Rico, the island has numerous attributes, and its work force is exceedingly capable.

The PRCB will be in charge of selling and marketing the convention center to groups from abroad, while operator SMG will handle local groups. Since SMG is the world leader in managing convention venues and arenas (CB July 22), the Puerto Rico Convention Center stands to receive tremendous international exposure.

"Puerto Rico enjoys a privileged geographic location, perfect for the international market, which we should pursue more aggressively," said Bustamante. "That Puerto Rico has gained acceptance into the alliance [CB Sept. 9] is the greatest acknowledgement of our performance in the hemisphere and globally, but we need more rooms to supply future demand."

To build those new rooms, however, the government’s permitting process needs to be significantly more efficient. Hotel projects can remain in the pipeline for years, held up in the permitting process or for other reasons. In some cases, government permits have been challenged in court and revoked, costly setbacks for developers.

"This year will see the best results for the local tourism industry since 2000. With this economic rebound comes greater demand for rooms," said Bustamante. "We should be moving forward with the construction of the Sheraton—the convention center’s anchor hotel—and other projects that have been in the pipeline for years."

Bustamante also noted that convention delegates don’t necessarily stay at the same type of hotel. Some may choose expensive hotels, while others may choose more affordable accommodation—hence the need to expand the island’s room inventory with a variety of options. It also means that issues such as the quality and number of transportation options and problems with the traffic between the hotels and the convention center must be addressed.

"The conditions of the infrastructure and the accessibility of roads near the Convention Center District are a concern. Old San Juan is on an islet connected to the district by only two bridges [over the San Antonio Channel]. We certainly need to restore those areas, and that process must be hastened," said Bustamante.

The Tourism Co.’s executive director, Jose Suarez, said the convention center is the focal point for a complete transformation of Puerto Rico’s tourism industry. The strategies implemented by the Calderon administration are only part of the things that need to be done, he said.

"It is no small task to put in place all the elements needed to offer the best experience to our visitors," said Suarez. "We could have the best facilities at the airport, the best roads, and the best taxi drivers, but that would all vanish if we didn’t offer good service. On the other hand, we could offer the best service, but that would mean less if our facilities weren’t up to par."

Suarez urges patience. "The convention center will come to fruition once it is stable and generating revenue, which could take many years," he said. "Improving our infrastructure, room inventory, transportation services, and traffic flow is an ongoing process, a never-ending task. It is essential for us to work together."

Economic Development & Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra added that the convention center is one of the components of an economic-development agenda to benefit the entire island.

There are three other major projects on that agenda: the transformation of the 8,600-cuerda (approximately 8,353 acres) former Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba into a tourism-residential project, the development of the $824 million Port of the Americas in Ponce, and the expansion of the air-cargo facility at Aguadilla’s Rafael Hernandez Airport. In total, the four projects represent 36,500 direct and indirect jobs over 10 years.

"Through the years, Puerto Rico has shown an ability to adapt to new economic challenges, and these projects set the course for the next five to 20 years," said Segarra.

The convention center, he added, is coming along at the right time for Puerto Rico. "Our local business community is strong and stable; we have capital and knowledge to support this project, and that is very important," said Segarra. "The convention center is good not only for visitors but for locals as well. Through the convention center, the tourism industry should grow to contribute even more to the island’s economy."

Suarez said the convention center has already transformed the island’s tourism industry for the better. "The convention center has made possible the integration of all tourism sectors, including hotels, transportation providers, and restaurants," he said. "Now, government agencies are more aware of the importance of the infrastructure (including the port facilities), safety, and the quality of our attractions, and how all of these elements affect tourism."

Puerto Rico could gain millions from M&C market

Puerto Rico does host meetings and conventions, but it has been losing out on significant business opportunities because it hasn’t been able to accommodate large gatherings.

"Puerto Rico already has a reputation within M&C circles, but it has lacked a meeting venue on the scale of the new convention center," said Ana Maria Viscasillas, CEO of the PRCB.

With the new convention center, Puerto Rico will be able to further penetrate the global market for meetings and conventions, the fastest-growing segment in the tourism industry. On the U.S. mainland, the M&C business is among the top 25 economic sectors. It accounts for 27% of hotel guests. In 2001, 13% of the business trips on the mainland, or 90 million, were taken primarily to attend a convention or seminar.

Associations, of which there are tens of thousands on the U.S. mainland alone, are among the biggest customers in the M&C market. According to the American Society of Association Executives, association meetings yield 26 million overnight hotel stays every year.

In Puerto Rico, business from the M&C market has been growing modestly in recent years. The PRCB booked 231,400 room nights in fiscal year 2004, some 4% more than the 222,860 booked in the previous year.

The convention center is Puerto Rico’s bid for a much bigger slice of the M&C pie.

Laying the groundwork for the convention center

Suarez said the convention center has served as the foundation from which the private and public sectors have collaborated on improving other tourism areas.

"Puerto Rico is preparing to grab a big share of the $102 billion M&C worldwide market," he said. "Everything we have done in the past few years has been aimed at improving the visitor experience. We [the government and the private sector] have been working as a team on the [Tourism & Transportation Strategic] plan, but the convention center urges us to consolidate our efforts even more."

Suarez noted many of the Tourism Co.’s initiatives supporting the convention center were based on recommendations of those within the tourism industry. These include transferring oversight over local travel agents, taxis, and other tourism transportation services from the Public Service Commission to the Tourism Co.

The Tourism Co. also claims credit for adding 208 weekly flights, amounting to 26,055 seats, to and from Puerto Rico. This translates into a direct $42 million impact from airport fees and aircraft servicing and an indirect $121 million impact from visitor expenditures.

Suarez also noted 1,500 hotel rooms will be coming online in the San Juan metro area alone within the next two years and that the Tourism Co. has implemented a system to assign local hotels ratings of one to five stars based on their accommodations and amenities. The star rating system, which is used around the world, should make it easier for visitors to choose lodgings.

"A total of 1,500 new rooms will be added in the metro area by 2006, when the convention center is slated to host its first event. That represents a 15% increase in the room inventory," said Suarez.

"These additions benefit the island in two ways," he added. "First, they obviously increase the number of available rooms. Second, they provide an array of lodging alternatives, including moderately priced accommodation. The latter is particularly important because trends indicate travelers, including convention delegates, are looking for more affordability."

Puerto Rico’s first attempt to target meetings & conventions

The forthcoming Puerto Rico Convention Center in Isla Grande isn’t the island’s first bid to attract more business from meetings and conventions. In the early 1970s, the government conceived of a convention center for the Condado tourism district.

The $10 million El Centro de Convenciones (El Centro) was completed in 1976 at the site where the government recently inaugurated the Window to the Sea Plaza. State of the art for its time, the convention center could accommodate 5,000 people.

Despite its promise, El Centro was plagued with difficulties and closed in the early 1990s; it was demolished a few years later.

One problem was that construction was delayed for two years, which slowed sales. In fiscal year 1974, the Tourism Co. reported 628 conventions with 119,637 delegates. The numbers fell in the following two years before El Centro opened. There were 372 conventions with 97,184 delegates in fiscal year 1975 and only 296 conventions with 76,192 participants the following year.

A second problem was the failure to appreciate El Centro not only as a venue for locals but also as a tool for attracting foreign capital.

Executives from Hyatt Hotels, which the government had hired to manage El Centro (and which was also managing the Condado Beach and La Concha hotels), expressed their concern to CARIBBEAN BUSINESS: "People must realize that even though tourism represents only 5% of the gross national product, it has a very big impact psychologically. People must realize that tourism is one thing that doesn’t take one penny out of the country but instead adds to it. Every dollar spent is one whole dollar in the country’s lap [CB April 5, 1976]."

Differences between Hyatt and El Centro’s owner, the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco), led to the cancellation of the hotel chain’s multimillion-dollar, 20-year management contract. Hilton International, which was operating the Caribe Hilton, assumed management of El Centro, but it soon encountered similar problems to those Hyatt had had.

Pridco subsidiary United Hotels then took over El Centro’s operation, and the problems only got bigger. These included a lack of working capital, a lack of trained personnel to manage the property, and excessive involvement by the government in the decision-making process.

Despite the many troubles with El Centro, the Tourism Co. could appreciate the potential in the convention business as early as three decades ago. So could CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, which forecast: "Conventions could be a very big business for Puerto Rico. Everyone concerned with the future of tourism, including the government, should try to involve experienced, pragmatic, business-oriented people in dealing at the highest levels of Tourism.... [Otherwise] this chance for a new life will dwindle away into just another topic of meaningless discussion."

The Convention Center District: a grandiose urban project takes shape

For four years, the Convention Center District Authority (CCDA), created as a government agency in 2001, has been working to realize the Rossello administration’s vision of a mixed-use (commercial-residential) district in San Juan.

Construction of the main component of the district, a convention center occupying 580,000 gross square feet, was among the projects halted by the Calderon administration in 2001 and was the subject of a legal dispute with Plaza Las Americas. Those matters settled, construction resumed in 2002 and is now 60% complete. The opening date of the convention center is fall 2005.

"Many things have been accomplished in the past few years. We conducted a second feasibility study after the terrorist attacks in 2001, established the financing terms for the district, and the government made a commitment to repay the $415 million debt through the Tourism Co." said Manuel Sanchez Biscombe, executive director of the CCDA.

"Today, we are on time and on budget." Biscombe said the Convention Center District represents a milestone in the history of local tourism. "The district symbolizes a new way of life," he said. "We hope this project, which will forever change the physical appearance of San Juan, will stimulate surrounding communities and municipalities to renovate their properties. It will be a catalyst and a model for redevelopment projects in the San Juan metro area and in the rest of the island, improving the quality of life in Puerto Rico."

The district

Construction of the Convention Center District, which is spread across 12 parcels in Isla Grande, has involved renovating the water and electrical infrastructure and developing new roads. The Department of Transportation & Public Works, for instance, is designing a rotunda in front of the district to connect Baldorioty de Castro, Muñoz Rivera, and Fernandez Juncos avenues.

Although additional details on the transportation plan haven’t been revealed, the district will get a new road network to connect it with Condado, Santurce, Miramar, the Isla Grande Airport, the Pan American Piers for cruises, and other port facilities. There will also be several pedestrian routes to facilitate economic activity and allow access to the new office buildings.

The district will provide 868,955 square feet of office space, 227,000 square feet of retail space for restaurants, shops, and cinemas; 7,349 parking spaces, 225 residential units, a park, pedestrian walkways, two hotels, a casino, and a museum. Slated for completion in 2012, the district promises to generate $300 million a year, and 9,380 direct and indirect jobs for the local economy. The district’s construction phase will generate 2,648 direct and indirect jobs.

"The district is already evaluating proposals for 50% of the residential units, and the partnership Garfield-Interlink will develop the 500-room Sheraton hotel, the district’s anchor hotel," said Biscombe.

Biscombe is confident the Sheraton hotel, scheduled for completion in 2007, will be able to provide enough rooms to accommodate major conventions, especially since the hotel will be able to add another 352 rooms. He said the CCDA won’t call for bids on a second hotel until it can evaluate the performance of the convention center and determine if additional rooms are needed.

The convention center

Biscombe said building the steel-and-concrete convention center, as tall as a 13-story building, has been a massive undertaking and required the application of new techniques.

The amount of concrete used would serve to build 550 average-size houses; 12 tons of steel were used in the center’s holding structure; and the air-conditioning system could cool 720 houses. A total of 700 employees have worked on the project through 18 construction firms or construction-related businesses, eight of which are locally owned.

The partnership TVS International-Jimenez & Rodriguez Barcelo designed the convention center, which is already being talked about in architectural circles. Every detail is there for a reason, perhaps as a symbol of the island’s history, modernity, and landscape.

Biscombe said the design incorporates an array of textures and colors to evoke Puerto Rico’s natural environment. The steel grid, for example, resembles waves, while beige colors bring to mind the island’s sandy beaches.

The convention center will offer 580,000 gross square feet of construction, 1,950 parking spaces, and capacity for 10,000 delegates. The designers have allowed room for an additional 450,000 gross square feet to be developed in two phases, evenly divided on either side of the main building. The expansion would bring the total square footage to over one million. The CCDA, however, isn’t planning to embark on the expansion until it has determined demand.

The government has hired SMG to operate the facility for $125,000 a year; in total, the convention center’s operation will require an annual investment of $2.3 million. Philadelphia-based SMG, also operator of the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in Hato Rey, has 27 years’ experience running meeting venues and entertainment facilities worldwide (CB April 22).

The company runs 49 convention centers, or 98% of the government-owned exhibition spaces, in North America, including those in Atlantic City, Miami, Houston, and Toronto. In total, SMG operates more than nine million square feet of meeting and exhibition space. It also operates 1.4 million seats in entertainment venues such as arenas, coliseums, and stadiums. In 2003, SMG served over 16 million people who attended over 4,500 conventions, exhibitions (including trade shows), and corporate meetings, among other events.

P.R. Convention Bureau: 40 years promoting the island as the perfect meeting venue

Ana Maria Viscasillas, CEO of the four-decade-old Puerto Rico Convention Bureau (PRCB), is confident the island has all the elements to succeed in the growing meetings and conventions (M&C) market.

"The meetings & conventions market is the future for Puerto Rico, whose history and fast development have blended well to transform the island into a desirable meeting destination," said Viscasillas.

Ticking off some of the island’s attributes, she said, "Puerto Rico possesses a 500-year history, Latin rhythms and cultural richness, a world-renowned rain forest, great beaches, a well-developed infrastructure, prestigious hotel chains, Wi-Fi Internet access, a well-developed and updated communications network, the stability of the U.S. currency, and more. I don’t think any meeting planner could find such a great combination of amenities, attractions, and facilities elsewhere in the Caribbean or in any other place."

Viscasillas explained that meeting planners want the whole package from a destination. "The meeting planner is in charge of providing delegates with the best convention or meeting experience and so will look for a venue that will help him or her succeed, one that offers credibility, a high level of service, and consistency," she said.

Puerto Rico has demonstrated its ability to provide this and more, taking care of everything involved in holding a meeting, convention, or other event. "That is why Puerto Rico is such a familiar name within the M&C arena, because we have fulfilled our customers’ expectations every time," said Viscasillas.

The bureau’s role

A good deal of credit for the island’s success in attracting meetings and conventions goes to the PRCB, which has been promoting Puerto Rico for four decades.

"In the past 40 years, we have become a business partner to the hospitality sector and other tourism-related industries," said Viscasillas. "The PRCB has focused on marketing Puerto Rico and served as a bridge between meeting planners, organizations, hotels, convention suppliers, party coordinators, and others. For every dollar we spend on marketing, Puerto Rico receives over $1,000."

According to Viscasillas, the PRCB’s efforts are responsible for a quarter of the conventions and other group events on the island; local hotels generate the remaining three quarters. In fiscal year 2004 (ended June 30), the agency booked 231,400 room nights, almost 50% more than were sold in fiscal 1999.

Viscasillas said the PRCB’s contributions are priceless and have been recognized with more than 18 awards in the past decade. "Our 500 members have benefited from the bureau’s operations; most of them have remained with us for over 15 years," she said.

Shaping up for the challenges to come

Viscasillas looks forward to the opportunities presented by the 580,000-square-foot Puerto Rico Convention Center, which she said enhances the island’s position in the M&C market.

The PRCB, which is the selling and marketing agent of the convention center, has been preparing for the convention center since it was announced in 1998. These preparations have included opening six regional sales offices stateside and abroad for the agency’s staff of 48, among them 23 sales executives, in Chicago, Miami, New York, Washington, Madrid, and Old San Juan, its headquarters.

"We decided to reorganize the bureau and establish operations in those regions that were bringing convention business to the island," said Viscasillas. "Our office in Washington continues to be a very important component because the federal capital is the Mecca of associations, but each office contributes a great deal to the PRCB’s efforts."

The PRCB also launched the Ambassador Program and has invested in developing its website, In fiscal year 2003, the site handled an average of 7,500 visitor sessions that generated $1.2 million in sales. Under the Ambassador Program, professionals in Puerto Rico and abroad who do business on or with the island serve as liaisons, touting the island’s advantages as a meeting destination.

Viscasillas said the efforts are paying off as the PRCB already has $1 billion in tentative bookings and approximately 17 definite groups for the convention center. The latter figure means 131,035 delegates will visit San Juan between 2006 and 2013.

"This is only the beginning," said Viscasillas. "The convention center will bring many business opportunities not only to San Juan but to the rest of the island as well. Meeting planners are looking for offshore meeting venues where delegates can travel with a companion. While the delegates attend their meetings, their companions can help to boost leisure tourism."

She noted many delegates often stay several days before or after an event and might be interested in visiting places away from the convention center, which would benefit hotels, tourism attractions, and others outside the San Juan metro area.

Viscasillas stressed that the success of this major endeavor for Puerto Rico would require the support of all locals. "We must join efforts and create alliances and partnerships.... This is about creating a team. Each of us is called to join the team and fulfill our respective professional and civic responsibilities. The team should be entirely devoted to selling the brand of Puerto Rico abroad," she said.

Meetings & conventions mean big business, tough competition

There is big money in the business of meetings and conventions (M&C). On the U.S. mainland, the M&C market is among the top 25 industry sectors that most contribute to the gross domestic product. It generates 27% of hotel guests. In 2001, 13% of business trips, or 90 million, were taken primarily for the purpose of attending a convention or seminar. Globally, the M&C market is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry.

That is easy to understand considering the sizable number of groups that hold meetings and conventions. In 2002, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service recognized more than 71,000 associations on the U.S. mainland alone (most with headquarters in Washington), which, combined, had an annual budget in excess of $21 billion.

According to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which has more than 23,000 members, approximately nine out of every 10 associations hold meetings every year, generating 26 million overnight hotel stays and accounting for 67% of the total M&C business.

Associations also have a major economic impact as employers. The ASAE said associations have 260,000 full-time employees and another 35,000 part-timers.

Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) "Future Watch 2004," a survey of meeting professionals and convention suppliers, indicates the numbers should be increasing after two years of corporate budget cuts and downsizing, direct results of a brief economic recession, 9/11, the war on terrorism, and soaring fuel prices.

According to the report, M&C suppliers in the States expect 11% more proposal activity or inquiries this year than there were in 2003 and expect employment by the sector to increase by 3%. Corporations’ annual budgets for meetings and conventions are projected to increase from $4.1 million to $5.3 million, while those of associations and societies will hold at $1.4 million. There should also be greater activity in international business travel, which meeting planners in the States expect to yield an 11% gain in the number of meetings hosted for international groups.

Organizing for success

Setting up a meeting or convention is no easy undertaking. It doesn’t only involve the group putting on the event, the venue where it is being held, and the attendees—who may be such groups as businesspeople, academics, or professionals (physicians, architects, lawyers, engineers, etc.). It also often involves hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, technology experts, audiovisual technicians, designers, exhibit coordinators, tour guides, printing companies, and many others.

Numerous professional groups have been organized in the past several decades to help ensure each meeting or convention is a success. The International Congress & Convention Association is among the most prestigious of these. Founded in 1963, the Netherlands-based association has members in 80 countries. The membership includes 149 convention bureaus, 179 convention and exhibit members, and independent meeting-related professional organizations.

Even older is the Virginia-based Convention Industry Council. Established in 1949, it has 31 member organizations, which represent more than 98,000 individuals and 15,000 firms and properties related to the M&C sector. The council was founded to promote professionalism within the sector.

MPI, publisher of "Future Watch 2004," is considered one of the top M&C organizations. Founded in Dallas in 1972, MPI is the largest association for meeting professionals, with nearly 19,000 members in 66 chapters and affiliates, including Puerto Rico. MPI strives to empower meeting professionals by providing opportunities for educational, professional, and business growth.

Puerto Rico’s convention bureau recently succeeded in gaining membership for San Juan in the global alliance. Started in 2000, the alliance now includes nine partners across five continents, which together will market their respective venues, seek to create more business opportunities by signing multiyear contracts, and work to establish the best business practices for the M&C business (CB Sept. 9).

Tough competitors

It is hoped that San Juan’s membership in will improve its position against other destinations competing for a piece of the M&C market. San Juan’s competition comes from cities as familiar as Cancun, Mexico; as near as Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and as unusual as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Cancun, for example, has an inventory of 26,500 rooms in 143 properties, including the most prestigious hotel chains. The hotels offer 33,907 square feet of meeting space, while Cancun’s convention center occupies 54,000 square feet and has a capacity for 3,000 people. In total, Cancun’s hotels and meeting facilities could accommodate 50,000 convention delegates at a time.

Cancun’s convention center is only 20 minutes from the international airport and has 3,500 hotel rooms nearby. Nearly two-dozen airlines serve the destination. Cancun also boasts a tropical climate and a wide variety of leisure and entertainment options, including sports and a vibrant nightlife.

Known as a leisure destination for years, Fort Lauderdale entered the M&C arena a little over a decade ago. Today, 30% of its tourism business comes from the M&C market. Over seven million people visit Fort Lauderdale every year. The city has 31,000 rooms in 671 hotels, 3,500 restaurants, and the 600,000-square-foot Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center at Port Everglades. Each year, the convention center hosts over 300 groups with up to 10,000 delegates each from across the world.

In the August issue of its magazine, the Meeting Professional, MPI reported a boom in the construction of convention facilities on the U.S. mainland. Cities such as Orlando, Fla., and San Francisco are investing millions to upgrade their facilities, while Pittsburgh, Pa.; Columbia, S.C.; Richmond, Va.; Washington; and others are constructing new convention centers.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority opened its $800 million Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in June. Situated on the South Boston Waterfront about 10 minutes from Logan Airport, it boasts 516,000 square feet of contiguous meeting space, 160,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and a 40,000-square-foot grand ballroom.

The Puerto Rico Convention Center at a glance

Slated to open in 2005, the Puerto Rico Convention Center will be the largest and most technologically advanced meeting venue in the Caribbean and Latin America.


The convention center is being built on a 113-acre lot on the grounds of the former Miramar Naval Base in Isla Grande, San Juan, 4.75 miles from Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, 2.25 miles from Old San Juan. 2.75 miles from both the Hato Rey financial district and Plaza Las Americas, and 4.25 miles from the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras.


Total space: 580,000 gross square feet (sq. ft.)

Total exhibit space: 152,700 sq. ft. on Level 1 that divides into three halls of 40,900 gross sq. ft., 40,500 gross sq. ft., and 71,300 gross sq. ft.

Exhibit space dimensions: 268 feet by 574 feet

Exhibit space capacity: 19,965 people in theater-style seating layout; 12,710 in banquet-style seating layout; 16,075 in reception layout

Total meeting space: 36,200 sq. ft. on Levels 1 and 2 combined

Meeting rooms: 12 rooms (four on Level 1, eight on Level 2) that subdivide into 25 breakout rooms, plus a 4,000-square-foot balcony that overlooks the exhibit hall and has a capacity for 400 people

Meeting rooms capacity: 80 to 500 people using theater seating

Total ballroom space: 39,500 sq. ft. on Level 3 that divides into two areas of 14,000 sq. ft. and 25,500 sq. ft.

Ballroom terrace: 12,800 sq. ft. with an unobstructed view of San Juan Bay

Ballroom dimensions: 145 feet by 278 feet

Ballroom capacity: 4,388 people in theater-style seating layout; 3,290 in banquet-style seating layout; 4,158 in reception layout

Public spaces (including concourses): 96,000 sq. ft.

Support, service & administration space: 200,000 sq. ft.

Parking: 1,950 spaces

Source: Convention Center District Authority

Room Inventory in San Juan Metro Area*

Total number of rooms: 6,780

Total number of hospitality properties: 58

Hotel: 6,162 rooms; 38 properties

Other (timeshare or condo-hotel): 332 rooms; 2 properties

Guesthouse: 286 rooms; 18 properties

*As of August 2004 Source: Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

Pie chart divided according to number of rooms

Source: Puerto Rico Tourism Co.

CB graphic by Jorge E. Tous Beltran

Definite Room Nights & Definite Bookings Sold by the PRCB

Fiscal Years 1999-2004

1999 / 2000 / 2001 / 2002 / 2003 / 2004

Room nights: 157,887 / 246,516 / 222,867 / 228,062 / 222,860 / 231,400

Bookings*: 310 / 445 / 480 / 455 / 462 / 554

*Includes hotel leads, and groups sold by hotels that received support from the PRCB.

Source: Puerto Rico Convention Bureau

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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