WHAT'S NEW

In a climate full of fearful travelers, Latin America and the Latin Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico, Curacao, Dominican Republic, and Aruba, have never seemed closer.

Chile is promoting itself as a safe, noncorrupt country in South America. With its strong dollar value and diverse attractions and activities, not to mention lack of jet lag (there's no time change from Miami to Santiago) there has never been a better time to meet in Chile.

Fear hasn't dampened travel to Mexico City, either. The number of visiting tourists has increased substantially in the past two years. With event and incentive business as the cornerstone of the growth, Mexico City is enjoying the boom and meeting the demand by renovating and building hotels.

The rest of Mexico — particularly its famed beaches — isn't faring too badly either, especially in the face of an ailing economy. Cancun was a barren strip of land in the 1960s; four decades later, the gateway to the ancient Mayan world has blossomed into a world-class meeting destination.

Whether you're planning for achievers to spend time lounging on the sand in the Mayan Riviera, scaling the mountains of Guatemala, or savoring high adventure in Costa Rica (fly fishing, whitewater rafting, ocean kayaking, or rock climbing), meeting planners love Latin America because attendees are enamored with it once they've been there.

Some clamor for an insider's view of the Panama Canal. Others are lured by the neon yellow fish and flame-colored coral reefs that dot the bright blue waters around Aruba. Argentina beckons with breathtaking skiing on the slopes of the Andes and the giant waterfalls that dot the border of Brazil.

Speaking of Brazil, the country is enjoying a tourism boom that has spurred major new construction. Spain-based Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts are growing at tremendous speed in Latin America and will add 29 hotels in Brazil by the end of 2003. Most will be in and around São Paulo.

I WAS THERE

When Table Fashion visited Mexico City for a product launch, the elegantly dressed tables that the American rental company creates had to be the stars of the show. Janina Farinas, president and CEO of New Orleans-based Planit Right, chose Jose Luis Cuevas' historic museum to host the function. Nearly 500 people attended the invitation-only event. Most were Table Fashion clients, including owners of banquet facilities and restaurants, catering firms, travel agents, and meeting planners.

The tables were displayed on two floors and presented against a backdrop of darkness, with a light show, music, and a model dressed to match each table's theme. Farinas says that the museum suited the event perfectly and the evening was a resounding success — but it wasn't executed without hurdles.

“The museum is in the middle of downtown Mexico City, so security was a concern,” she says. She hired private security and parking valets. Because of the location and the street vendors in the surrounding market, loading and unloading took about 18 hours. “It was difficult getting trucks in and out of there, but it was worth the extra time. The museum is gorgeous, and the central location created a lot of buzz.”

MY FAVORITE EVENT

When a dozen Virtuoso board members traveled to Panama City, Steve Hart, vice president of sales for Panama Travel Experts, wanted to really wow them. He flew them by helicopter to a remote area inhabited by the primitive Embara tribe, natives who still live off the land. “We were greeted by tribal drum music and tribe members in their paint, beads, and loin cloths,” Hart says. The board members were treated to regional dances that are traditionally performed to celebrate the birth of a child, the passage into adulthood, or the culmination of a hunt.

The group got to see some of the Embara's hand-crafted wares, as well. A shaman explained the medicinal uses of herbs and plants to the Virtuoso group. Of the Embara tribe, Hart says, “They were very gracious, beautiful people, and it was a really educational trip.”

On another evening, the group set sail on Lake Gatum, the water source for the Panama Canal. A Chilean guitarist provided entertainment, and while the group dined, spotlights illuminated species of exotic animals living in and near the water. “Many of these people, although in the travel business, had never seen some of the varieties of monkeys and crocodiles,” Hart says.

A private tour of the Panama Canal was also on the agenda. “We got to see the control center and all the workings of the canal,” Hart says. Some attendees rose early to see parrots flying into the jungle.

Hart also organizes dinner excursions on the Panama Canal Railway. “Panama is an exciting, diverse place to meet,” he says, citing the fact that the convention district is 25 minutes from virgin jungle areas.

WHERE TO GO

Argentina
Brazil
Chile
Costa Rica
Guatemala
Mexico
Panama
Aruba
Curaçao
Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico

“The central location created a lot of buzz around this event; that's exactly what we wanted.”
Janina Farinas, Planit Right



DON'T FORGET SALSA

If you are planning a Mexican banquet, don't forget the salsa. In Mexico, every meal is served with some sort of salsa, which is used like salt and pepper. Serve a mild or picante (hot) salsa to add spice to any meal.

GOING Up

CHILE — New

  • Hotel Inter-Continental Santiago opened in 2001, increasing Santiago's convention capacity by 295 guest rooms and 12 meeting rooms with combined capacity for 900.



MEXICO — New

  • The Sheraton Centro Historico Hotel & Convention Center in Mexico City is an $80 million, five-star property opening in March with 457 guest rooms and a convention center that accommodates 6,000. The hotel has 55,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space. Two indoor pools, a rooftop garden, spa and fitness center, three restaurants, and a bar will round out amenities.

  • The 500-room Paradisus Riviera Cancun opened December 15 on the Yucatan Peninsula, along Mexico's world-famous Palancar Reef and national marine park system. The resort, which replicates a Mayan village, has a 9,000-square-foot ballroom with capacity for 950.

  • The 488-room Meliá Mexico Reforma Hotel and Convention Center in Mexico City has completed an $8 million renovation, upgrading meeting facilities and amenities, redecorating guest rooms, and building a new restaurant and spa. The hotel augmented its facilities with five new meeting rooms, bringing space to 38,346 square feet.

  • The 450-room JW Marriott Cancun will open early this year. The property, adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton Cancun, will feature 18,000 square feet of meeting space and a 20,000-square-foot European spa.

  • In early 2001, the Elcozumeleno Beach Resort in Cozumel opened a convention center with two ballrooms and accommodations for 600. The resort combines beach relaxation with upscale casual events.



Renovation

  • The Meliá Cabo Real in Los Cabos completed construction of a $3.5 million convention center with 20,785 square feet of space, including nine meeting rooms and a business center. All 302 guest rooms were renovated in 2000 and now have “GuestNet,” an interactive service that allows guests to surf the Web, check and send e-mail, and view a menu of hotel services.

  • The 1,800-room Moon Palace Golf Resort added a convention center in late 2000. The Exhibition Center has a 55,580-square-foot exhibit hall and six breakout rooms. It has a capacity for 1,800 banquet-style. Also under construction is an 18-hole, Jack Nicklaus signature golf course scheduled to open this summer.

  • The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun, received a fresh coat of exterior paint at the end of 2001. It has 365 guest rooms and suites and 27,000 square feet of function space in two ballrooms and seven meeting rooms. Up to 1,100 guests can be accommodated for meetings in the hotel's meeting and function wing.



DOMINICAN REPUBLIC — New

  • The Barcelo Bavaro Convention Center opened in October within the Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort, Convention Center, Golf & Casino in the Bavaro-Punta Cana area of the Dominican Republic. The center boasts 30,000 square feet of exhibition space and 24 meeting rooms. There are 1,956 rooms in five hotels, one of which is five-star; the others four-star.



CENTERS OF THE ACTION

CANCUN, MEXICO

Cancun Convention Center is in the heart of the hotel district, within walking distance of 3,500 hotel rooms. The center has 53,820 square feet of column-free event space with 22 breakout rooms. It accommodates up to 6,000 people. Phone: 52 (9) 881.04.00, ext.159 and 212; Fax: 52 (9) 881.04.02; sales@cancunconventioncenter.com, www.cancunconventioncenter.com

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Rio Centro Convention Center is one of Latin America's largest event facilities. The complex includes five halls connected by catwalks — a total of 1,078,630 square feet of function space. Phone: 55 (21) 442-1300; riocentro@pcrj.rj.gov.br

CHILE

The Espacio Riesco Convention Center opened in 2001 in the metropolis of Santiago; it is the country's largest, most modern convention center. With three levels of adaptable facility space comprising more than 107,640 square feet, Espacio Riesco holds 6,500 guests and has eight meeting rooms. Tel/Fax: 56 2 4449284

CONTACT THE CVB

Argentina

Tourism Secretariat of the Nation
(800) 555-0016
www.sectur.gov.ar/
Buenos Aires Hotel Tax: 21%

Aruba

Aruba Convention Bureau
(954) 767-3395 • Fax: (954) 767-0714
ata.acb@aruba.com, www.aruba.com
Hotel tax: 17.66%

Brazil

Brasília Convention & Visitors Bureau
(55) 61 328.6878 or (55) 61 328.6879
• Fax: (55) 61 328.6880
www.brasiliaconvention.com.br/convbras@brasiliaconvention.com.br
Hotel tax: 15%

Chile

Chile Convention & Incentive Bureau
(562) 263-4711 • Fax: (562) 263-4728
www.visitchile.org
Hotel tax: 18%
(Foreign visitors who pay in dollars or travelers checks do not pay this 18%)

Costa Rica

Costa Rica Tourism Board
(506) 223-3254
www.tourism-costarica.com
Hotel Tax 16.39%

Guatemala

The Guatemalan CVB
(502) 362-4635 • Fax: (502) 331-3056
guatebur@tradepoint.org.gt
Guatemala City Hotel Tax: 22%

Mexico

Cancun CVB
(800) CANCUN8
• Fax: (011) 52-98 87-66-48
www.gocancun.com
Hotel tax: 2%

Mexico

Government Tourism Office
(312) 606-9306 • Fax: (312) 606-9012

Panama

Panama City CVB
(507) 263-2498/263-2499
• Fax: (507) 211-3607
bureaucv@pty.com