In a climate full of fearful travelers, Latin America and the Latin Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico, Curaçao, the 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 they want their incentive qualifiers 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 love it once they've been there.
Brazil 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
Finding creative ways to shave crucial hours from transfer time was paramount to Chris Pentz last October when she took a group of 180 from a major New York-based pharmaceutical firm to Rio de Janeiro. The investigator's meeting was only two days long. “Many employees came in from South America and some had long flights — but my client really wanted Rio,” said Pentz, whose firm, Pentz Group Communications, is based in Levittown, Pa.
The Sheraton Rio Hotel & Towers was large enough to consolidate the group in one hotel, and its function space is ample enough so that herding everyone to a conference center for the classroom-style meeting was not necessary.
The ocean view and exquisite gardens of at the Sheraton's outdoor meeting facility lent a magical air to their gala evening — right on site.
“We held a reception poolside, followed by a carnival show with 40 performers. The costumes, the dances, and the music were all incredible. We saved the time, inconvenience, and cost of ground transfers by having it on site. It was so nice to be able to hold the performance on the property, because then no one felt trapped if they got tired. Plus, we were leaving the next morning, and many people like to pack at night,” says Pentz.
“Rio has a great infrastructure for meetings — qualified translators and good technical support sources — and the rates are reasonable,” says Pentz. “Lots of people added a day or two to their stay, and that's the ultimate compliment.”
MY FAVORITE EVENT
When a dozen board members of Virtuoso, a travel specialist company, 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 saw 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.”
One 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 saw 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
“Rio has a great infrastructure for meetings, and the rates are reasonable”
— Chris Pentz, Pentz Group Communications
Few resort areas anywhere have as many five-star properties as Cancun. Many, like the Ritz-Carlton, face the azure sea in the beach area known as the Hotel Zone. Full-service spas and lavishly appointed, oversized guest rooms with balconies are the norm.
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.
Two new all-inclusive Palace Resorts opened on the Mayan Riviera coast south of Cancun in 2001: the 792-room Spa Palace, and the Xpu-Há Palace with 480 luxury bungalows in an eco-park setting. The Aventura Palace, an adults-only resort, has meeting space for up to 500, and will open a new convention center this year.
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 added 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.
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.
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 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; firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Tourism Secretariat of the Nation
(800) 555-0016; 54 11 4311 4819
Buenos Aires Hotel Tax: 21%
Brasília Convention & Visitors Bureau
(55) 61 328 6878, (55) 61 328 6879
• Fax: (55) 61 328.6880
Hotel tax: 15%
Chile Convention & Incentive Bureau
(562) 263-4711 • Fax: (562) 263-4728
Hotel tax: 18%
(Foreign visitors who pay in dollars or travelers checks do not pay this 18%)
Costa Rica Tourist Board
Phone and fax: (506) 223-3254
Hotel Tax: 16.39%
The Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce
(502) 362-4635 • Fax: (502) 331-3056
Guatemala City Hotel Tax: 22%
Mexico Government Tourism Office
(312) 606-0327 • Fax: (312) 606-9012
• Fax: 52-98 87-6648
Hotel Tax: 12%
Panama City CVB
• Fax: (507) 263-7175