Puerto Rico's increased lift, new facilities to spur market

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- With groundbreaking for the Puerto Rico Convention Center set to take place by year's end, the island already has started to break new ground on the meetings and convention front.

The island currently has many hotel projects in the works, most with substantial improvements for the properties' meeting facilities, said Jorge Pesquera, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau.

In addition, Pesquera said many airlines recently have announced major expansions into the Caribbean market.

"Group business is one of the fastest-growing market segments in the world, and the meetings business in Puerto Rico represents more than half a billion dollars in direct spending and generates more indirectly," Pesquera said.

"Hotels and airlines eager to capitalize on such a growing market are strengthening their products and services accordingly."

For instance, TWA recently began daily, nonstop service from Los Angeles to San Juan, making it easier for West Coast companies to hold conventions in Puerto Rico.

From 1992 to 1998, American, American Eagle, Continental, Delta, Northwest, TWA, US Airways and United increased passenger movement into Puerto Rico by 1 million passengers, according to Felix Laboy, executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau.

"In the past, PRCB has focused its marketing efforts on the East Coast," Laboy said. "But the new services will enable Puerto Rico to capture a larger share of the West Coast-based business."

The PRCB will begin focusing more heavily on the West Coast business, Pesquera said.

Meanwhile, the $495 million convention center will have more than 500,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space when it opens in 2002. It also will include a 110-acre trade district with a hotel and retail and residential space.

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