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Smooth Meetings in Puerto Rico

"Smooth Meetings” is the phrase that the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau has adopted to represent the island as an ideal meetings destination.

If a recent four-day press trip sponsored by the bureau is any indication, Puerto Rico is smooth indeed.  A commonwealth of the United States (no passport required for U.S.  citizens, and the currency is the U.S.  dollar) located less than a four-hour flight from New York City, Puerto Rico is an easy trip.

A quick ride from the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU) took us to our host hotel – the 513-room San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, which recently completed a $2.2-million lobby renovation.  Located in San Juan’s Condado district, an area that is an interesting mix of beachfront, urban, and residential, the hotel itself offers beach access, an in-hotel casino, live music in the evenings, and spacious meeting and event facilities.  An ideal destination for visitors and locals alike, it’s in close proximity to great nightlife restaurant choices, like Jam Rum Bar & Bistro Moderne, where we enjoyed dinner our first night.

Our second day featured a tour of the Puerto Rico Convention Center — conveniently located to SJU, Old San Juan, and the Condado hotels — which offers 152,700 square feet of exhibit space, the largest ballroom in the Caribbean, and 39,500 square feet of meeting rooms.  The architecture and design of the facility represent its island surroundings, with a sweeping roof that mimics the ocean’s waves, and materials and décor that call Puerto Rican history to mind.

Currently undergoing massive development, the waterfront Puerto Rico Convention Center District is expected to add two more hotel properties as part of a mixed-use urban center called the Bahia Urbana (Urban Bay) project, expanding the district’s inventory to more than 1,800 guest rooms.

We then enjoyed a lunch of cantaloupe-mojito gazpacho and pork tenderloin in a spicy tamarind sauce at the adjacent Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino.  A 503-room, LEED- certified, AAA Four-Diamond resort that opened two-and-a-half years ago, the property features 35,000 square feet of event space.

We also visited other nearby properties, including the 416-room Ritz Carlton, San Juan; the 382-room El San Juan Resort & Casino; and the 248-room, 235-suite La Concha – A Renaissance Resort, which is home to one of Condado’s finest dining establishments, Perla.  The site of our last dinner on the island, Perla is housed inside a stunning shell surrounded by a pool that casts reflections of the water around guests as they dine.

At 110 miles long and just 35 miles wide, Puerto Rico offers a variety of great activities within easy traveling distance, several of which we got to experience.  Hacienda Campo Rico offers ATV and horseback-riding tours, and two bioluminescent bays on the island light up for nighttime kayakers with blue-green microorganisms.  Our tour of the Bacardi distillery included presentations on the spirit company’s history and a lesson on how to make some of Bacardi’s most popular cocktails.

A highlight for many in our group was a “Flavor of San Juan” foodie tour of Old San Juan.  A stunning mix of architecture, history, shopping, and dining, Old San Juan makes you feel like you’ve been transported back to the island’s Spanish colonial period.  The tour, usually appropriate for groups of four to 12, features visits to popular restaurants for local specialties such as mofongo (a savory dish made from mashed plantains) and, of course, piña coladas.  The tour also offers views of historical buildings and a good dose of the island’s colonial and architectural history.

It might seem that Puerto Rico would have a tough time competing for the U.S.  market with meeting destinations like Miami in such close proximity.  But the Puerto Rico experience is something unique – a mix of culture and business, food and attractions that can’t be found anywhere else.

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Katie Kervin

Katie Kervin was formerly assistant editor of Convene.