They say the colors of Puerto Rico are perfect for inspiration, combining the green to encourage balance, blue to improve performance, red to increase energy and orange to promote enthusiasm. This color palette of the island provides the ideal backdrop to connect for a meeting or convention, as attendees can take advantage of stunning natural wonders, eye-popping architecture and even the blue cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.
Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, notes the value propositions of hosting meetings and conventions in Puerto Rico are notable, including the fact that U.S. citizens do not need a passport, the dollar is used, English is widely spoken and there are no cell phone roaming charges, as it’s considered domestic travel by all phone plans. “While the rich culture gives it a worldly allure, there are conveniences of being a U.S. destination, such as common pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS island-wide,” he says. “Not to mention that the same federal laws apply.”
Plus, the island’s remarkable venues offer all the modern technology and amenities one needs for a successful event in today’s climate. “The people of Puerto Rico are famous for their hospitality and ability to make all travelers feel as though the island is their home away from home,” says Tara Leigh Dickie, director of event sales & services at Fairmont El San Juan. “Puerto Ricans want all guests to experience the heart and soul of their island and take pride in everything it has to offer.”
From its stunning white-sand beaches and blue waters, and famous waterfalls in El Yunque National Forest, to the Caribbean culture full of music and passion, meeting attendees and visitors quickly realize one visit is not enough and will want to return year after year.
In 2022, the capital city of San Juan is celebrating its 500th anniversary — a historic milestone — with events held at a local level through the summer. “There is an immersive walking tour, giving visitors and residents a chance to travel back to the 16th century and explore one of the oldest cities in America,” Dean says. “This is an incredible moment to spotlight the unique city of Old San Juan — a feast for history buffs and explorers alike, with impressive forts, open plazas and hidden patios.”
The essence of Puerto Ricans traces back to the ancestors that shaped the island’s story — people of Spanish, Taíno and African heritages. Whether it’s Old San Juan’s walking tour or visiting the southern town of Ponce, or exploring African culture in the northern town of Loíza, there are plenty of ways for groups to learn about the island’s rich history.
No matter what size or type of group is visiting, Puerto Rico boasts an array of venues, properties and activities that can cater to a variety of needs. From something low key to soak up the scenery, to a luxurious 5-star option, to an immersive look at the island’s fascinating history and culture, or an adrenaline-pumping option that explores outdoor adventure, Puerto Rico has plenty to offer that caters to the variety of personalities in any type of meeting.
For large-scale events, the Puerto Rico Convention Center (PRCC) has 600,000 sf of total space, with 15 meeting rooms and 29 breakout rooms. “It is the largest and most technologically advanced convention center in the region, and also one of the greenest, with a 20,000-panel solar array and numerous other sustainable initiatives,” Dean says. “The Puerto Rico Convention Center has an impressive GBAC Star facility rating, and is the only venue to earn this in the Caribbean.”
Opened in 2021, Distrito T-Mobile, is a unique 5-acre experiential complex that combines the best in global retail, destination dining, art, entertainment, music, technology and hospitality. The facility also features the Coca-Cola Music Hall, a mixed-use performance venue with space for more than 6,000 people, including a 900-guest VIP section, two outdoor bars and a stage for performances. “Distrito T-Mobile is a perfect option for off-site events, conventions and performances, offering a multisensory, audiovisual and technologically advanced experience,” Dean says.
As it relates to hotels, the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort has one of the Caribbean’s largest ballrooms, and offers more than 58,000 sf of outdoor event space. The layout combines world-class recreation and exceptional meeting facilities across 24 flexible meeting rooms. From major corporate conferences to tropical retreats, Wyndham Grand Rio Mar offers ideal space for meetings of any size. “Over 48,000 sf of indoor event space provides the best backdrop for a productive meeting in paradise, while gorgeous outdoor areas — including beachside — offer bountiful options for team building, group activities and all types of island events,” says Evy Garcia, director of sales and marketing for Wyndham Grand Rio Mar. “We also offer winning expertise from the on-site destination management company to ensure group gatherings function seamlessly.”
The property is nestled on 500 acres along a 2-mile section of golden beach adjacent to the El Yunque National Forest — the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system — and the Mameyes River, so there are plenty of activities for meeting attendees to enjoy during off times. “We also offer guests plenty of dining experiences with our nine restaurants and bars, and a variety of amenities, including a 7,000-sf casino, two world-class golf courses, a spa and fitness center, multiple lounges and entertainment venues, a tennis center and three beachfront pools,” Garcia says.
For travelers looking to take home an authentic taste of Puerto Rico, the resort has created the popular new Rio Mar Market, a creative “pop-up” hub with local designers, artists, boutiques, home décor and more, conveniently located right in the lobby. This collaboration with Pop Projects aims to encourage guests to shop small and support local Puerto Rico businesses.
Then there’s the iconic Caribe Hilton, which boasts more than 65,000 sf of flexible space, four ballrooms, an auditorium and 24 meeting rooms. The hotel is only a half mile from the PRCC, and underwent a $150 million renovation after suffering damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino recently renovated its 7,000-sf grand ballroom and pre-function space. “Our oceanfront outdoor terrace is perfect to host receptions and events,” says Joaquin Cruz, director of sales and marketing for San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. “We have four beautiful breakout rooms with natural light overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. And offer amazing culinary options with the ability to tailor menus based on clients’ and programs’ needs.”
The resort also offers a dedicated events management team to partner with planners to cover all details of events to create memorable experiences. On property, attendees can get involved in beach volleyball tournaments, yoga sessions, salsa lessons and play at the casino. Off property, downtown San Juan is located within 10 minutes from the hotel, so there are plenty of opportunities for horseback riding, golf, zip lining and the famous catamaran tours around the island.
Located just a 5-minute drive from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel, situated on the world-famous Isla Verde Beach, one of the top beaches in Puerto Rico, has more than 30,000 sf of flexible meeting space to accommodate groups of all sizes. “Our majestic Grand Ballroom, accommodating up to 900 guests, boasts crystal chandeliers, a large welcoming foyer and stunning ocean view terrace,” Dickie says. “The hotel also has several outside venues perfect for group events — guests can enjoy dining under our famous 300-year-old Banyan tree, an opening event poolside at our Well & Being pool, or create a night to remember under the stars listening to the waves at the El San Juan Beach Club.”
Meetings Made Easy, based in Las Vegas, has booked and continues to operate programs in Puerto Rico due to a variety of reasons. “Some of the biggest factors are the ease of getting to a destination, the majority of hotels are within 15 minutes of the airport, and the locals are passionate about hospitality and food,” says Michael Ferreira, MHA, DES, owner and founder of the company. “Attendees don’t need a passport to travel to the destination, so planning becomes much simpler. We believe that the ability for our group attendees to surf in the morning, hike in the rainforest in the afternoon and enjoy dinner in old San Juan at night makes this a no-brainer.”
He cites the island’s popular bioluminescent bays — Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Laguna Grande in the northeast in Fajardo, and La Parguera in the southwest in Lajas — the rainforest, the hotels and resorts around the island, and Old San Juan as favored attractions for attendees. “We can’t think of other destinations where there is this much to offer attendees,” Ferreira says. “It is important for people to travel to a place where they can experience the culture, food and spirit of that place. This is what Puerto Rico offers, plus so much more.”
Meetings Made Easy recently held an annual client event called the #MMEexperience2021 at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan for clients. “It’s an event where we show our best 35 clients how much we value them,” Ferreira said. “We knew our clients would fall in love with Puerto Rico since the majority of them had never been there before. Our clients were so happy with the hotel, excursions and service at the end of the event, that now all they want to do is book a trip to Puerto Rico. It was a huge success.”
Ron Hersh, president of Columbus, Ohio-based World of Travel, has been planning various meetings in Puerto Rico for close to 25 years. “Most have been professional tax-deductible seminars, as well as cruise groups spending pre- or post-time in San Juan,” he says. “The major incentive for Puerto Rico for us is that there are no documents needed to enter, and it a tax-deductible destination for our meetings.”
Some of his favorite things to arrange for meeting guests are rainforest tours, kayaking experiences and Old San Juan tours. In fact, he recently returned with a meeting group for 80 people at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, which he touts as being a tremendous success because of all the attendees were able to do.
Puerto Rico is a foodie and spirit aficionado paradise, given the cultural influences on gastronomy and being the rum capital of the world. Various rum distilleries provide a fun and immersive touchpoint for those attending meetings and events. “The island is also a major coffee producer,” Dean says. “A plantation or ‘hacienda’ tour is another great option to dive into the history of local production. Additionally, the farm-to-table movement is flourishing with many prevalent farms, countless restaurants and bars featuring a plethora of locally sourced ingredients.”
For those looking to immerse themselves in the great outdoors, Discover Puerto Rico suggests chartering a catamaran to an islet or cay, or organizing a group kayak tour of one of the island’s aforementioned bioluminescent bays. “Step off the beaten path for an underground adventure with a plethora of caves to explore,” Dean says. “Or head inland for a tour of El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest service. Visit for a hike, bathe in natural pools, or relax and enjoy the scenery among 240 plant species and some of the best bird watching.”
For the more adventurous, people can get their adrenaline pumping at Toro Verde Adventure Park on the longest zip line in the Americas, “El Monstruo,” or “The Monster,” which is 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) long.
As the global COVID-19 pandemic began to escalate and travel around the world came to a halt, Discover Puerto Rico had to adapt and shift its strategy. “We have found new ways to meet travelers and meeting attendees where they are, particularly given their level of comfort,” Dean says. “Many venues now offer hybrid capabilities for those who may not be ready to travel, in addition to virtual site visits. As some planners are focusing more of their meetings on ‘experiences,’ we have been able to assist in finding creative ways to incorporate local cultural engagement and team building into the agenda.”
And it goes without saying that outdoor meeting options are endless in Puerto Rico, which is friendly for groups hoping to be in open air to allow for social distancing. Garcia notes she’s starting to see more groups book their meetings and conventions at Wyndham Grand Rio Mar and utilizing the many fresh-air venue options and outdoor activities, from team-building breakout sessions to golf and tennis. “With multiple beachside event locations, the resort is perfectly suited for mixing and mingling in an awe-inspiring atmosphere,” she says. “We’re also seeing a huge interest in wellness programming and sustainability.”
COVID certainly changed the way meetings were happening at the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel. “Our team at the hotel made sure to follow all local guidelines in reducing capacity levels, meal service adjustments, as well as vaccination requirements,” Dickie says. “Also, created by Accor, the ALLSAFE Meeting guidelines were implemented to create a safer meeting environment throughout the pandemic. In 2022, as guidelines are changing and many restrictions have now been lifted in Puerto Rico, we are adapting to these new guidelines and look forward to welcoming meetings again to the hotel.”
Puerto Rico boasts six different ecosystems for those who truly want to be one with nature, and the island boasts an incredible range of art from new street art to top-of-the-line museums with classic works. There is also an array of cave systems that make for activities unlike anywhere else, and the west shores of the island are a surfing haven. “Additionally, we hear from planners that visit that they are always blown away by the warm hospitality they find here. They arrive as a guest, but leave as family,” Dean says.
While Puerto Rico’s offerings certainly make the destination stand out, it’s also incredibly convenient and hassle-free. Puerto Rico offers meeting attendees a variety of options in terms of indoor and outdoor venues. The ideal weather is prime for various outdoor activity options ranging from golf to swimming, to tennis and everything in between. Plus, it’s easy to travel to as there are non-stop flights from many U.S. airports, vaccinated travelers are no longer required to present a negative COVID-19 test to enter, and Puerto Rico is excluded from the CDC requirement to provide a negative COVID-19 test result to return to the mainland U.S.
“Our unique culture sets us apart,” Dean says. “The destination is filled with an exotic flair, with a rich history thanks to our Taíno, African and Spanish roots, and unparalleled nature offerings. You can experience the island in an immersive way through its food, drinks and music.” | AC&F |