Destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America offer U.S. groups the best of both worlds — the chance to experience diverse, historic, and exotic cultures at a price point that makes them highly desirable. While sand and sea are obvious appeals for off-time activities, these destinations also are paying close attention to serious business with an increasing focus on high-tech meeting venues for groups of all sizes.
In Puerto Rico, that's translating into a full-fledged convention district to accompany the three-year-old convention center, with a number of properties about to come on line for a total of 1,358 new guest rooms, including those at the headquarters Sheraton hotel and connecting aloft hotel, and at the Marriott Courtyard.
Aruba, another established destination for groups, is focused on renovations that ensure old favorites remain in tip-top shape. Existing hotels in Mexico's Cancun and Riviera Maya destinations are also sprucing up, while simultaneously introducing new brands and experiences, such as Mexico's first Aqua hotel.
Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the resort recently was honored as one of Radisson's top-performing properties. The 353-room resort offers 24,000 square feet of outdoor function space, 15,000 square feet of indoor function space, and the 13,000-square-foot Larimar Spa.
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
In January, the resort casino completed a $50 million overall renovation, including all 411 guest rooms, the lobby and reception area, and La Vista restaurant. Added were a new Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and the Tradewinds Club, a premium 59-room hotel within a hotel. The resort also has the largest casino in Aruba, a 6,500-square-foot spa, and 11,600 square feet of meeting space.
Westin Resort, Aruba
Last fall, the resort finished a $22 million renovation that began with its rebranding as a Westin in 2006. The 481-room resort added a pool with exotic landscaping and refreshed its 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Mexico
Azul Sensatori Hotel
The hotel opened last fall in Bahia Petempich, midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, with 438 spacious suites in a contemporary Caribbean décor. The all-inclusive resort features six gourmet restaurants, a spa, and 4,300 square feet of meeting space.
Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand Resort
In January, the Hyatt Cancun Caribe became the Cancun Caribe Park Royal Grand Resort. The luxury hotel has 296 guest rooms and suites and 10,000 square feet of indoor meeting space.
Dreams Riviera Cancun Resort and Spa
Slated to open this fall minutes from Playa del Carmen, the all-suite resort will offer 485 octagonal guest suites, a world-class spa, six restaurants, pools, and a white-sand beach. A ballroom will be divisible into three meeting rooms.
Grand Aqua Cancun
Formerly the Fiesta Americana, the Grand Aqua Cancun opened in winter 2008, marking the debut of the Aqua brand, a high-end lifestyle hotel from Grupo Posadas. The resort features 371 guest rooms and 17,500 square feet of meeting space in 17 rooms, along with eight pools, a luxury spa, and three upscale restaurants.
Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancun
The property is building a new spa and renovating all 602 guest suites. The 400,000-square-foot Coral Beach Spa and the 340 rooms in the West Tower will be ready in December. The resort offers 85,000 square feet of meeting space.
Aventura Cove Palace
The all-inclusive family resort opened this year after Palace Resorts split the existing Aventura Spa Palace into a refreshed resort of the same name with 777 adults-only guest rooms and the new Aventura Cove Palace family resort with 489 rooms and amenities for kids and teens. Guests of the Aventura Spa Palace will have access to all other Palace Resorts, including the adjacent Aventura Cove Palace. Children staying at the Aventura Cove Palace will be allowed only on this and other child-friendly Palace Resorts.? The split property is in the heart of the Riviera Maya.
Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort Riviera Maya
The largest luxury meeting facility on the Riviera Maya opened in January with 493 suites. The all-inclusive resort features 91,547 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space in a conference center that includes two ballrooms, 30 breakout rooms, and more than 32,000 square feet of outdoor space for special events. Five minutes from Playa del Carmen, the resort also features the region's largest luxury spa, dedicated butler service for each guest, and seven restaurants.
The Ritz-Carlton, Cap Cana
Set to open in 2010, the 220-room resort will offer 8,000 square feet of meeting space as well as access to Cap Cana's three Jack Nicklaus signature golf courses.
The Roco Ki Resort
When it is completed in 2010, the Roco Ki Resort community in Punta Cana will offer the 337-room Westin Roco Ki Beach & Golf Resort, with an 18,000-square-foot spa and 20,000 square feet of meeting space; and the 255-room Fairmont Roco Ki, with a 15,000-square-foot Willow Stream Spa, and 17,500 square feet of meeting space. An 18-hole golf course also is planned.
Moon Palace Casino, Golf & Spa Resort
The 1,791-room, all-inclusive resort held its soft opening in February and opened its 45,000-square-foot casino in April. Located at the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, the resort offers a 65,500-square-foot convention center with four ballrooms.
Bahia Beach, St. Regis Resort
The $172 million resort opens in fall 2010 with 139 rooms, a 120-seat signature restaurant of chef Jean-Georges, and an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
Condado Vanderbilt Hotel
The first luxury hotel in San Juan, built in 1909, the 305-room Condado Vanderbilt Hotel is being completely reconstructed for a 2011 reopening. The hotel has 15,000 square feet of meeting space.
Sheraton Puerto Rico Convention Center Hotel & Casino
The 503-room hotel opens this year with a 35,000-square-foot conference center that includes two ballrooms and seven meeting rooms. The property is being built according to specifications of the U.S. Green Buildings Council and is working towards LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. A 252-room aloft hotel, an extension of the Sheraton, is slated to open in spring 2012.