With U.S. business travel demand expected to finally approach pre-pandemic levels in 2024, Puerto Rico is showcasing its rich history, emerging cultural caché, and cutting-edge technological investments to attract a new generation of meeting and event planners.
This sponsored content was created in collaboration with Discover Puerto Rico.
Engaging a new generation of meeting and event planners is essential for destinations to stay relevant, competitive, and aligned with evolving trends in the events industry, especially as more millennials move into management roles and Gen Z enters the workforce. These younger travelers prioritize authentic experiences that represent local culture, and they’re looking for meaningful activities that extend beyond the event itself.
For Puerto Rico, connecting with this next generation has meant investing in its tourism infrastructure, focusing on innovation, and spotlighting the Island’s emergence as a cultural powerhouse. Led by artists like Bad Bunny and Lin Manuel Miranda and evidenced by the global influence of reggaeton, Puerto Rico’s cultural evolution has already inspired an increase in visitors. The island experienced a 25 percent surge in airline ticket sales in the fourth quarter of 2023 and a 14 percent year-over-year increase in tourism demand in 2023.
SkiftX spoke with Mariela Vallines Fernández, executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention District Authority (PRCDA), and Ed Carey, chief sales officer of Discover Puerto Rico, about what sets meetings in Puerto Rico apart and how the Island is leveraging its cultural appeal — along with its robust infrastructure, accessibility, and technology — to attract the next wave of meeting and event planners.
SkiftX: Puerto Rico is having a cultural moment right now. How would you characterize the destination’s global influence and significance, and how has this brought new visitors to Puerto Rico over the past year?
Ed Carey: Puerto Rico is renowned for its rich cultural mix of Taíno, Spanish, and African influences, contributing to global culture through music, dance, cuisine, and art. Celebrated figures like Tito Puente, Marc Anthony, Bad Bunny, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ricky Martin, and Julia de Burgos highlight its artistic impact.
Beyond culture, Puerto Rico’s geopolitical significance as a U.S. territory and its strategic Caribbean location are notable. The island’s cultural allure, amplified globally, is increasingly drawing tourists eager for authentic experiences showcasing the island’s diverse heritage and traditions.
SkiftX: How are you thinking about the “next-generation meeting attendee,” and how is Puerto Rico satisfying their expectations?
Mariela Vallines Fernández: Today’s meeting attendees want more focused and meaningful interactions that connect them with local people and culture. Puerto Rico offers many exciting opportunities to immerse attendees in the island’s rich culture and history, creating a sense of community and bonding that translates to a natural team-building experience.
Carey: Meetings and events become more meaningful and memorable when individuals are encouraged to engage and unleash their creativity in destinations with deep-rooted history and vibrant cultural energy — that’s why Puerto Rico is such an ideal choice for groups of all sizes.
SkiftX: Puerto Rico just had its strongest year in meetings and events in nearly a decade. Why is the island resonating so strongly for the meetings and events sector right now?
Vallines Fernández: Puerto Rico holds the cultural appeal of an international tropical destination while still being domestic to the U.S. There is no passport requirement for U.S. citizens, and flights are available from a variety of markets.
Carey: Our growth in meetings and events has been driven not only by volume but by the caliber of our venues, properties, and activities — low-key sightseeing tours, luxurious five-star hotels, adrenaline-pumping outdoor adventures, and remarkable meeting venues that offer modern technology, state-of-the-art connectivity, and tailored amenities.
SkiftX: Speaking of venues, what makes the new Distrito T-Mobile complex such a game changer for how people experience Puerto Rico?
Vallines Fernández: Distrito T-Mobile is a five-acre experiential complex that combines the best in global retail, dining, art, entertainment, music, technology, and hospitality. It’s the perfect option for off-site events, conventions, and performances, offering attendees a multisensory audiovisual experience through more than 14,000 square feet of LED displays, including the largest 4K horizontal LED screen in the Americas.
The venue is conveniently located next to the Puerto Rico Convention Center, just six miles from San Juan International Airport. Hotels like the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Caribe Hilton, The Condado Plaza Hotel, and the newly opened Aloft San Juan are also located within and close to the Convention Center district, making it an ideal site for after-hours networking.
In October, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) held their 40th-anniversary conference at Distrito T-Mobile, connecting LGBTQ+ travelers and buyers. It was the most attended convention in the association’s history, with over 700 attendees, and contributed over $725,000 in positive economic impact to the island.
SkiftX: What kinds of culturally authentic experiences can meeting attendees and incentive travelers expect to find in Puerto Rico?
Carey: Opportunities for cultural immersion play a big part in making Puerto Rico so attractive for meeting attendees. For example, the town of Loíza is a cultivated pocket of culture best known for its rich African heritage, including locally produced music, dance, culinary traditions, and art. One popular option for visitors looking for cultural immersion is to take part in a bomba class, where they can learn traditional music and dance techniques.
The Island also boasts a range of visual art experiences that blend the old with the new. For example, San Juan’s Santurce district is a haven for notable street art. It’s located just a few miles from the Museum of the Americas in Old San Juan. Situated inside a historic military barracks, the museum houses art reflecting the diverse cultures of the Americas, honoring traditions, objects, and stories from across the continent and specifically showcasing indigenous and African influences.
Puerto Rico’s distinctive cuisine is another way the island demonstrates its blend of historical influences. Food tours with local guides and rum distillery tours are a great way to introduce groups to the local gastronomy, as are rum distillery tours, farm visits, and farm-to-table concepts like Fructos del Guacabo, which was featured on Netflix’s “Down to Earth With Zac Efron” show.
Coffee haciendas and plantations are also popular, tapping into more than 200 years of Puerto Rican coffee history. Visitors can experience what production was like in the 1800s, watch how beans are roasted today, and finish the day sipping some of the Island’s finest gourmet coffee.
SkiftX: What is Puerto Rico’s brand voice and brand identity? How are you positioning the brand within the meetings and events landscape?
Vallines Fernández: Rooted in the island’s spirit, we’re spotlighting Puerto Rico’s cultural DNA with our “Live Boricua” campaign, which embodies the proud and passionate state of mind of Puerto Rico’s people.
Carey: Our “Make Your Meeting Boricua” initiative, a natural extension for our meetings and events community, we want to immerse attendees in that state of mind. The campaign is an invitation to come to Puerto Rico for business but also to stay for fun and experience the island’s Taino, Spanish, and African influences. We developed the campaign by collaborating with local innovators and artists, engaging local community members, and forging authentic local partnerships with hospitality industry members.
That’s the blueprint other destination marketing organizations (DMOs) should follow to engage a new generation of meeting and event planners. Leverage what’s unique to your destination, what’s local, and what allows you to elevate and differentiate your experiences for attendees. Look for creative ways to gather attendees and unite people.
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