Puerto Rico Sees Meetings as Key to Growth

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Tourism officials here are looking to 1998 as an opportunity to build upon the success of this year, one in which the island experienced a 31% increase in Puerto Rico Convention Bureau-generated group bookings. That increase, among other factors, lead to nearly 150,000 room nights, a 37% increase over 1996 and new-found revenue in excess of $50 million into the economy, according to Jorge Pesquera, executive director of the PRCB.

"We want Puerto Rico to be recognized as the place where North and South convene. Meetings are our future," Pesquera said. "The growth of the meetings and tourism industry in Puerto Rico has been tremendous, and will continue to be over the next 10 to 15 years as various projects develop."

One of those projects is the $1.2 billion development of the Golden Triangle waterfront complex, a project that officials expect will stimulate an already rapidly growing meetings market. "The Golden Triangle Project is considered to be the most expansive waterfront development undertaking in the history of the U.S. and its territories," Pesquera said. "We will be able to successfully compete with any mid-tier stateside or off-shore meeting destination." When all is said and done, Puerto Rico will have a new convention center, complete with 300,000 to 500,000 square feet of meeting space; an additional 2,000 to 3,000 hotel rooms; as well as shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, according to the PRCB.

In addition, Pesquera said the development of a meetings planner Web site, as well as the launch of a massive marketing effort, contributed to the continued growth of the market.

Speaking at the annual membership meeting of the PRCB, Pedro Rossello, Gov. of Puerto Rico, reaffirmed his commitment to the bureau's aggressive effort to grow the meetings market by signing a statute to increase hotel room taxes from 7% to 9% to fund further developments.

"Our convention center will be easy to reach by sea and land. There will be a ready access to an abundance of hotels, as well as to a wide variety of restaurants and recreational activities," Rossello said.

Hotel developments are nothing new. This year, more than $400 million was spent to expand and renovate various properties, including five new openings this year. New properties and expansions added 2,000 hotel rooms in 1997, according to Pesquera.

The new properties include the Westin Rio Mar Beach Resort & Country Club; the Embassy Suites Hotel & Casino; the Colony San Juan Beach Hotel; the Wyndham Old San Juan Hotel and Casino, and the Ritz-Carlton San Juan Hotel & Casino. Together, the new properties bring an additional 162,000 square feet of meeting space to the island, the PRCB said.

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