The Puerto Rico Convention Center, located in the Convention District of San Juan, received a record 644,000 visitors in the fiscal year (FY) 2018-2019, which ended last June.
Jorge Pérez, general manager of AEG Facilities—the private company that manages the Convention Center via a public-private partnership (P3)—told THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that this is the highest number of visitors that the center has received since its inception in 2005. Compared to the previous 13 years, FY 2018-2019 saw 26 percent more visitors than the average in that timeframe.
“This has a direct correlation to the higher number of events. We had 417 events, which in comparison to the average in the previous 13 years of the Center, is a 21 percent upsurge,” Pérez informed.
AEG Facilities took the reins of the Convention Center’s operations in 2016. Since then, the company has invested nearly $5.7 million in the public facility, which includes carpet renovations, repainting the interior of the structure and more.
“This offers the visitor a highly attractive option to come here for any event, and we have multiple types of events,” he said.
Noelia García, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Convention District Authority (CDA), stated that the public corporation will invest roughly $10 million within the next five years to continue updating the center. This investment will mostly be on new carpets, lighting equipment and a solid telecommunications infrastructure, which García explained is “the core of what we offer here at the center.”
García explained that the CDA is in charge of all capital improvements in the Convention Center, but that AEG Facilities handles operations and the local marketing of the center. Meanwhile, Discover Puerto Rico, the island’s destination marketing organization (DMO), advertises the Convention Center at a global scale.
García stressed AEG Facilities’ role in boosting the Convention Center.
“The [CDA] has delegated the operation of a public structure to a private company and that alliance between the government and the private company is what helps reach the numbers that we are witnessing. Delegating that operation to private expertise was spot-on, and identifying AEG was highly spot-on,” she stated.
In fact, for the first time in the Convention Center’s 14-year history, the facility ended last fiscal year with a “superávit,” which means a surplus in Spanish. Pérez said that the typical model of a convention center—internationally, not just in Puerto Rico—doesn’t typically allow for surpluses. Specifically, García said that the economic models for this type of venue “are always risky in terms of revenue versus expenses.” Moreover, a portion of this superávit will be reinvested in capital improvements, García stated.
Both Pérez and García stated that the Convention Center’s mission is to impact the tourism industry by means of attracting hotel bookings through events. This, in turn, boosts restaurants, street vendors, tourism guide companies, travel services and more.
García also noted that this also has a positive effect on other areas of Puerto Rico and not just the Convention District in San Juan, given that some of these visitors venture to other municipalities and attractions.
“It is important to highlight the correlation that the groups and conventions sector has with the leisure sector. When you have 3,000 or 4,000 delegates that are here in the Convention Center, that’s 3,000 or 4,000 people who... become ambassadors for Puerto Rico when they leave,” Pérez said.
Large-Scale Events Underway
As executive director of the CDA, García is also a member of Discover Puerto Rico’s Board of Directors. She noted that one of the DMO’s most successful achievements concerning the Convention Center was securing the facility to host the 2020 World Summit of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which will take place from April 21 to 23 of the upcoming year.
Brad Dean, the president of Discover Puerto Rico, previously informed THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that the estimated economic impact of past summits ranges between $4 million and $8 million.
Past summits' economic impact ranges between $4 million and $8 million
In addition to this event, the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) is hosting an event at the Convention Center this October.
“That [event] is very important because [the FCCA] made a commitment with Puerto Rico to be here for four years. This would be the second year out of a four-year commitment and the top executives of every major cruise line will come, so it is a week with a lot of business for Puerto Rico,” Pérez said.
Furthermore, García explained that both the WTTC and the FCCA conventions are substantial accomplishments for the tourism industry because these companies represent “influencers” in the sector. She said that by operating these conventions effectively, Puerto Rico would showcase to the world that the island “is not only open for business, but that it is a spectacular destination.
“Everything on the way is good news and it is very important for Puerto Rico to know this because what this does—for the groups and conventions sector to move the way it is moving and with the expectations that we have—is that it creates expectations for economic development. It is one of the pillars with the most growth potential in Puerto Rico and we are heading in a good direction,” García affirmed.
District Live! Soon to be Inaugurated
In addition to investments in the Convention Center and upcoming events, the CDA is in the process of inaugurating District Live!, which will be an entertainment venue featuring an assortment of establishments.
The grand opening will take place on Dec. 2019, while its second and third phases—including more features—will be completed during the first trimester of 2020.
“One of the most important pieces of entertainment will be a showroom that will have a maximum capacity of 6,000 people. That will be managed by AEG Facilities as well, and that opening is scheduled for February 2020,” Pérez informed.
He added that this feature will generate greater interest for groups and conventions to book the Convention Center. “In the conventions that I have attended with Discover Puerto Rico, there have been many questions and a lot of interest in District Live!,” he said.
Moreover, García noted that District Live! will help promote the area at a global scale.
“The entertainment offering complements the business offer [from the Convention Center], and having a balanced offer allows you to generate more attraction, and the groups and conventions sector in particular really likes that,” she said.
Editor's note: This story was published on the September 11 print edition of The Weekly Journal.