Bringing together 375 delegates from 75 countries to one destination for an annual convention was always going to present challenges for international engineering components manufacturer Rotork. But as the participants were also well-travelled, the destination had to be as stimulating as it was accessible and large enough to accommodate all the delegates.
"Our annual convention is split 50/50 business and leisure, says Bath-based Rotork's marketing manager, Tony Scott. "It's quite a challenge to find the right combination of business and leisure facilities."
Conference Co-ordination won the pitch ahead of several other agencies.
The agency's partner, Mike Lancaster, was well aware this event would need to surpass the company's visit to Dubai's Jumeirah Beach last year, so he and his team looked to EIBTM 2001 for further inspiration.
"We saw how refreshingly different and attractive Puerto Rico was, he explains. "It combines the Caribbean with a South American influence and a strong Spanish culture, along with the added benefits of it being a US protectorate. In addition, for the 45 UK delegates, Puerto Rico has the same 'wow' factor as, say, Hawaii."
A week after EIBTM, both the agency and the client were on their way to Puerto Rico for the first of five site inspections. Selecting a hotel for the event was fairly straightforward due to the group's size. Although the Hyatt was considered, Rotork and Conference Co-ordination felt its facilities could not have accommodated the group comfortably, and opted instead for the purpose-built beachfront, 600-room convention hotel, the Westin Rio Mar.
Scott points to just one downside of the Westin. "While it's lovely because of its beach location and good facilities, it is a long way from anywhere and we knew this would generate high transport costs, he says. "Negotiating prices was pretty difficult on the island but after extensive negotiations with the Westin we decided to use their transport."
Lancaster stresses it was imperative to study all the costings very carefully.
"On the surface Puerto Rico looks expensive, but you need to understand how their system works to achieve good prices, he says.
As the convention was also an opportunity to showcase Rotork's new products to its sales people, a substantial amount of equipment had to be shipped over from the UK, the US, Italy and India. Scott cites this as the single highest cost.
Puerto Rico was relatively accessible for the UK and European delegates as Iberia offers a six-hour flight from Madrid to San Juan, the capital.
However, both client and agency feel the airline could have offered a better service. "Between Heathrow and Madrid, it was excellent, says Lancaster. "While the airline is well versed in hosting groups, the aircraft and the service wasn't as good on the flight to Puerto Rico as it was in Europe."
As the group arrived on Sunday before the conference, the first evening was set aside for relaxation with a barbecue on the hotel's main lawn, featuring strolling musicians.
The conference got under way the next morning, while partner activities took place. The afternoon was spent at leisure before the group was taken to the San Juan old town for a dine-around. While there had been initial logistical obstacles to overcome - buses could not get through to the old town - guides were provided to walk the group through to their restaurants.
Scott was impressed with the range and quality of restaurants in the town. "There were a whole raft of styles, the food was better quality than I expected and good value for money, he says.
Both delegates and partners were able to explore San Juan and its old forts the next day and shop after the morning's conference and networking lunch had taken place. But it was the evening event that Scott feels was the highlight of the trip - dinner at the Revealing Rainforest venue.
"This really is a wonderful setting within the rainforest with a fantastic tented dining area, says Lancaster. "While it has been constructed for groups, it's not at all contrived. After the meal, the group partied the night away to music from a live band; we couldn't get the delegates away."
Nevertheless the delegates were up early and ready for the next day's conference, which was then followed either by golf or tennis tournaments at the hotel. Alternatively, those inspired by the rainforest visit were given the opportunity to learn more with a lunch at El Portal, a rain forest education centre.
A gala dinner at the hotel concluded the programme that evening, so the Puerto Rico Tourism Board added a touch of local flavour to the event by sponsoring the dance troupe and folkloric show, before the group enjoyed a party in the hotel ballroom.
Although the programme lasted four days, around a fifth of the delegates chose to extend their time in Puerto Rico. "It is a really nice place, clean, and a high-class destination, says Scott. "A lot of delegates have said they would consider it for holidays."
Lancaster was impressed with the island, but adds that if he had to be critical about one thing, it would be that responses to requests were occasionally slow. "But once the Puerto Rico Tourism Board in Madrid got involved, things were easily worked out, I can't sing their praises enough, he adds.
Scott agrees, and while he was pleased with the hotel, quoting it as well appointed, he admits it looked a little tired in places, although the rooms were pleasant and the public areas well maintained. "However, the food was excellent and the staff were good at reacting to situations, he says. "In fact, I could not knock the service levels anywhere on the island."
Agency: Conference Co-ordination
Event: annual convention
Groups size: 375 including partners
Date: 12-16 May 2002
Destination: Puerto Rico