Pharma Spoken Here
A salsa band starts to play. The music is such it seems everyone in the lobby is suddenly up and moving to the Latin beat—swirling forward and backwards, swiveling and spinning across the rose-colored marble floor. And before you know it, you are, too. The business meeting is long forgotten. And for the first time in years, you are dancing with your heart instead of your feet.
Just when you think you've got the place nailed—OK, it is an exotic island in the Caribbean complete with beautiful beaches; a charming, historic capital; Spanish forts; a rain forest; fantastic music and casinos—there's a kicker: Yes, but it's also an island wired for business. An island where 16 of the 20 top-selling pharmaceuticals are manufactured; where $30 billion worth of pharmaceutical products are shipped globally each year; where in four years more than $4 billion has been invested in biotechnology by such companies as Abbott, Lilly, and Amgen; where a $3 billion Knowledge Corridor, a flagship project that includes the new Puerto Rican Cancer Center, is in development.
PHARMA AND MEETINGS INTERSECT
At the heart of the industry is the three-year-old Puerto Rico Convention Center. Designed by the award-winning firm Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback and Associates—along with local architect Jimenez-Rodriguez Barcelo—the Center is visually dramatic (shaped overall to suggest a wave), accommodating, and the most technologically advanced center in the Caribbean.
For a certain type of pharma meeting, one where destination and hotel property is the focus (say, a product launch motivation meeting for your sales force), it's considered a smart choice to enlist the aid of a city's convention bureau. A bureau can function as the consummate insider, a team that can help coordinate and implement all elements of a meeting program—from dealing with hotels and providing promotional materials to organizing parties and other special events.
To find out more about what the bureau and Puerto Rico have to offer, Pharmaceutical Executive met with Ramón Sánchez, executive vice president and COO of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, on a recent afternoon in Puerto Rico. Sánchez spoke on a range of topics:
ON PUERTO RICO AS A MEETING DESTINATION
Ramón Sánchez: Why Puerto Rico? Well, it's the most accessible island in the Caribbean. We're part of the United States; therefore, it's easy to do business here. No passport is required. There's the same electrical standards, same US currency. We like to say that our currency exchange rate is four quarters to a dollar. No other island has the infrastructure that we do. We tell people that if your phone doesn't work in Puerto Rico, it's probably because you haven't turned it on. My phone is a Miami phone, and I use it here. So conducting business in Puerto Rico is very simple.
ON THE MULTIPLICITY OF VENUES
Between the three LXR properties here in Puerto Rico—the El Conquistador, the El San Juan, and the Condado Plaza—nearly $300 million is being invested in renovations. The InterContinental just underwent a major renovation. The Ritz-Carlton right now is undergoing a renovation. The Marriott just came out of a $35 million renovation.
On top of that, there's new development in the Condado district. La Concha Hotel is a beautiful hotel. Next door to that is the Condado Beach, the oldest hotel in Puerto Rico. It was built in 1919 by the Vanderbilts as their weekend retreat. That will open at the end of next year as a five-star property.
There's also the Pierre Hotel—our first Double Tree. We're very excited about that. And, of course, there's the new 500-room Sheraton Hotel, which will be our anchor hotel at the Convention Center. It is scheduled to open in 2009. It'll be operated by Starwood under the Sheraton brand. It's going to be key to the continued success of our Convention Center.
ON WHAT THE RENOVATIONS MEAN
Take the El Conquistador: It just furthered its $103 million transformation with the opening of its conference center. Combined with the resort's existing space, it offers a total of four ballrooms and over 100,000 square feet of tech-sophisticated meeting space, more than any other resort in the Caribbean.
The Westin, the old Westin Rio Mar, has been reflagged to the Wyndham. They're pumping around $36 million into that hotel. All of the guest rooms have the Be Well beds now. They're very comfortable. They've just opened with an expanded casino. So that hotel is a huge incentive property, very important for us as far as meetings and conventions.
ON OTHER AREAS OF THE ISLAND
Looking toward the West Coast, in Porta del Sol, the Mayagüez Resort just finished a major renovation, which features 12,000 square feet of meeting facilities. And they just opened a new river pool. And in Ponce, the Ponce Hilton also just opened a 6,000-square-foot exhibition center.
ON AIRPORT EXPANSION
In addition to the hotels, we've got a lot of development going on in other areas, such as our airport. Puerto Rico is a hub of American Airlines. We've also got Delta, Continental, Spirit, Northwest, and JetBlue. Around $390 million is being invested in the new renovation of the Luis Muñoz Marin Airport, which includes a brand-new terminal. It resembles the architecture we have at the Convention Center. It looks like a wave as well.
On the West Coast, we have the airport in Aguadilla. The airport there has longest runway in the Caribbean. Since it once belonged to the United States Air Force, whatever they did, they did in grand scale. So that airport is undergoing renovations. Five years ago, it was handling maybe 25 to 30,000 passengers. Now it's handling more than 350,000 passengers.
ON THE ISLAND'S CROWN JEWEL
We call the Puerto Rico Convention Center our shining star. It's the new kid on the block with a total of 580,000 square feet of meeting space, making it the largest in the Caribbean.
The Exhibition Hall is over 152,000 square feet and has a 39,000-square-foot ballroom. It's a spectacular property. Most of the convention centers throughout the world are just boxes. The architecture of this is spectacular. The location is spectacular. You have some views of the ocean from that center that you don't find anywhere else.
In addition to the ballroom and the Exhibition Hall, it features an additional 36,000 square feet of meeting facilities, which is basically 15 breakouts, or 15 meeting rooms that break out into 28 breakout rooms. So it's quite large. It's taken Puerto Rico to another level. It has given us the opportunity to host groups that, otherwise, we would have had to turn away.
In 2007, we hosted three major citywide conventions in addition to a lot of other small ones. This year we have almost one citywide convention every month. Some months have two. It's created a demand for hotel rooms that we don't have. And, unfortunately, sometimes you have to tell the client, "I'm sorry, we cannot host your convention." But we're working on that. We're working to develop additional rooms.
We hosted Interfex in February. It is the Caribbean's premiere event for pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Over 350 solutions providers attend. We had five conference tracks—over 25 sessions. It's huge. We also had Shoppers Drug Mart conference already this year. Shoppers Drug Mart is like the Canadian Wal-Mart or Walgreens—the largest drug store in Canada. They had about 4,000 to 5,000 delegates as well. So that's another huge convention. So, as you can see, the Convention Center has been extremely successful. We're very pleased with all of the results that we've had year-to-date.
And it doesn't stop there. The Convention Center is going to be the centerpiece of the Puerto Rico Convention Center District. It is considered to be the largest waterfront development project in the history of the US and its territories. The project is structured as a public/private partnership. It will be a multiuse urban center, combining business and entertainment in a 113-acre complex. It is slated for completion in 2012. And it will include hotels, retail shops, restaurants, office space, movie theaters, as well as residential units.
So you ask Why Puerto Rico? Well, as you can see, the Convention Center has been a drawing force for a new and very exciting era of economic and tourist development for the entire island. We think it all makes for a very dynamic and inviting meeting destination, particularly for pharma. And remember, you don't need a passport to get here.
Marylyn Donahue is Pharmaceutical Executive's special projects editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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