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With New Title, 'The Voice' Of Puerto Rico Tourism Is Spreading The Word
BY TOM POWERS
21 March 2005
Formerly vice president of marketing at the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, Ana Maria Viscasillas, was named president and CEO last June. With the new Puerto Rico Convention Center slated to open later this year, she sat down for an interview with MeetingNews correspondent Bob Curley.
MeetingNews: What's the biggest difference between this job and your previous positions within the agency?
Viscasillas: I'm a lot more involved now in bringing continuity to our projects and expanding our reach in the community. I used to control a bit of my time, but now not so much [laughs]. I'm quite pleased to see how my passion for marketing the destination translates into what I'm doing now. Now, I'm the voice.
MN: Are you still on target for opening the convention center this year?
Viscasillas: It looks like it will be opening at the end of the year, with the convention center hotel opening in 2007. We had elections last November, and the transition in government may have slowed down financing, but the fact that we're on time and on budget says a lot about the credibility of the destination. We have bookings in January, and we look forward to welcoming them.
MN: Your meeting room nights increased about 4.4 percent through June 2004. Has that continued? Are the increases you're projecting in 2005 attributable to the new convention center?
Viscasillas: For the first time in three years we are on target for our year-end goals. We're working hand-in-hand with meeting planners so they see us as an extension of their sales team.
As for returning to pre-2001 levels, I think that's going to take a little longer. The new convention center will bring in more citywide business. We hope that in the next 24 months we will be at a similar level to 2001. We're also going to reach 16,000 hotel rooms and double our meeting space. A brand-new Holiday Inn opened in San Juan in December, and Bill Marriott was here last weekend to announce a new Renaissance Hotel at the former La Concha Hotel in Condado.
MN: Apart from the convention center, what would you say is the most important change in Puerto Rico for meetings and conventions?
Viscasillas: The new hotel development, and the total investment of more than $228 million in expansion and renovations of hotels and resorts.Renowned hotel chains continue to invest in Puerto Rico, which denotes their confidence in the success of the tourism industry.
MN: How does Puerto Rico continue to thrive in a Caribbean market that only promises to get more competitive?
Viscasillas: The Puerto Rico Convention Center will be the largest in the Caribbean and the most technologically advanced in Latin America.We will continue to educate meeting planners about the advantages of Puerto Rico, such asour political status as a Commonwealth of the United States; that U.S. citizens do not need a passport; that we speak English; and that our infrastructure and economic development are well-advanced.
MN: San Juan has long been the destination for meeting groups; any thoughts on how to expand the market to other parts of the Commonwealth?
Viscasillas: In the western part of the island, the Puerto del Sol region, which includes the towns of Rincon and Mayaguez, has the infrastructure for small to medium-sized meetings, as well as pre- and post-meeting opportunities. Hewlett-Packard has a plant in that area, and we're anxious to showcase the region for other meetings.