Mexico

Long a favorite destination, Mexico continues to attract American groups with its proximity to the United States, sophisticated business infrastructure, and variety of experiences, from beach to colonial cities to archeological treasures. Numerous destinations are well-equipped to handle groups, including Mexico City, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Acapulco, and Monterrey.

Mexico City features the World Trade Center, as well as the Centro Banamex and what will soon be the largest meeting facility in Latin America, the Centro Bancomer in the northwest part of the city. Cancun, too, has its own convention center, as do Acapulco, Guadalajara, and Monterrey. The hotel infrastructure is excellent, with many options, most with their own meeting facilities. Los Cabos, at the tip of Baja California, is a fast-growing destination for groups. All told, there are 38 convention centers throughout Mexico in 25 cities, 26 destinations for incentive travel, and 3,100 hotels with 245,000 hotel rooms.

Getting There and Around: There are 57 international and 28 national airports throughout Mexico, so air service is frequent both to and within the country.

Entry and Exit Requirements: U.S. citizens can enter Mexico with a passport or other proof of citizenship. Visas are not required for U.S. citizens. However, slated to begin December 31, 2006, all U.S. citizens returning to the United States from Mexico via air or sea will need to show a passport or another secure accepted travel document to re-enter. The new rule goes into effect on December 31, 2007, for those returning across land. Departure tax is $10 paid at the airport when not included in the cost of the airline ticket.

Language: The official language is Spanish, but English is commonly spoken in the larger cities and major resort areas.

Time Zones and Weather: Most of Mexico is in the Central Time zone (GMT minus 6 hours). Exceptions include Northern Baja, which is on Pacific Time, and Cancun/Cozumel, which is on Eastern Time. Mexico uses daylight-saving time in the summer. Because of its large size, Mexico has several distinct weather zones. Of note is the hurricane season in the Caribbean areas in the southeast from September through November.

Money Matters: The Mexican peso today is much more stable than in decades past, hovering at about 11 pesos to US$1. It's customary to tip 10 percent to 15 percent in restaurants, approximately US$2 to bellhops, and to round up the fare for taxi drivers.

Taxes: As of January 2004, conventions, trade shows, and meetings in Mexico are exempt from the local tax (IVA), which is 10 percent on the border and 15 percent elsewhere for such services as venue rental, lodging, and equipment. Food and beverage is not currently exempt. The Mexican Congress is also reviewing the possibility of including incentive travel. In addition, expenses for meetings and conventions in Mexico are tax-deductible to U.S. companies.

Starting July 1, 2006, attendees will be able to receive a full refund of taxes for merchandise over 1,200 Mexican pesos (approximately US$110).

Doing Business: Meetings and conventions are a $1.5 million industry in Mexico, and the “mañana” attitude of old is slowly giving way to more internationally accepted time frames and standards of business. But the attitude still exists and should be a consideration when planning. Business and pleasure are frequently mixed, and it's not uncommon to hold serious negotiations over breakfast or lunch. Formality is still the norm in dress, particularly in the big cities, although dress can be more casual at the resorts.

For More Information: The Mexico Tourist Board has five offices in the United States: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York. (800/44-MEXICO; www.visitmexico.com) Most of the major tourist areas also have their own convention and visitors bureaus; see www.visitmexicopress.com/links.asp for a full list.

Argentina

The second-largest country on the South American continent and the eighth-largest in the world, Argentina has subtropical forest in the north and icy Antarctica in the south. With a strong European heritage, the capital Buenos Aires is a cosmopolitan city and the usual starting point for an American group. Popular combinations with Buenos Aires include the mountains and lakes of San Carlos de Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes in Patagonia, and the roaring Iguazu Falls.

Getting There: Most international visitors enter through the Internacional Ministro Pistarini Airport, 22 miles outside of Buenos Aires. Travel time from Miami is almost nine hours, 11 hours from New York.

Entry and Exit Requirements: Citizens of the United States need a valid passport for entry, but not a visa. Upon exit, a tax of US$18 must be paid.

Language: The official language is Spanish. English is widely used in the business community.

Time Zones and Weather: Argentina's time zone is GMT minus three hours (one or two hours ahead of Eastern Time), and there is no daylight-saving time. The country's large size features a variety of climates, from subtropical to sub-Antarctic.

Money Matters: The official currency is the peso. U.S. dollars and major credit cards are commonly accepted, but outside of Buenos Aires, individuals might encounter problems changing traveler's checks. Most ATMs distribute both pesos and dollars. Tipping is customary for doormen, porters, etc., and 10 percent is the norm in restaurants.

Taxes: Value-added tax is not refundable for group business. Individuals may obtain a VAT refund of 21 percent at the airport for items over $70 purchased at shops operating with the “Global Refund” system.

Doing Business: In Argentina, business tends to be friendly, sophisticated, and punctual, although the “mañana syndrome” does sometimes come into play. Business dress is formal. Hotels tend to give better rates to locals than to foreigners, so working with a local representative is a good idea.

Health and Safety: Bottled water is recommended. Demonstrations are a frequent occurrence, especially in Buenos Aires.

For More Information: Contact the Argentina Tourist Office in New York (212/603-0443) or in Miami (305/442-1366), www.turismo.gov.ar.

Brazil

The largest country in Latin America and the fifth-largest in the world, Brazil is bordered by every South American country except Ecuador and Chile. A sophisticated tropical resort city, Rio de Janeiro features the largest convention center in Latin America — Riocentro, with 1,078,630 square feet of space — and 23,000 hotel rooms. As the fastest-growing city in Brazil, São Paolo has many sites for conventions and meetings. Other spots that are popular for incentive groups include Salvador de Bahia, a treasure trove of colonial architecture; and Iguazu Falls, spectacular waterfalls bordering Argentina and Paraguay.

Getting There and Around: São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the main gateways to Brazil. Flight time is eight hours from Miami to São Paulo or Rio and 13 hours from Los Angeles. It's a 45-minute flight from Rio to São Paulo; flights within the country can be expensive, but more reasonable if purchased in advance in the United States.

Entry and Exit Requirements: Americans are required to have a passport good for at least six months after entry and a business visa ($60). Attendees can get a visa in person from a Brazilian consulate or through a visa agency; there is no mail-in option. The airport departure tax is US$3, payable in U.S. or Brazilian currency.

Language: Portuguese is the official language, but English is widely spoken.

Time Zones and Weather: There are four time zones in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are GMT minus three hours (one or two hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time), and they observe daylight-saving time from the middle of October to the middle of February. There are also several different climate zones in Brazil. São Paulo has a mild climate, while the beach city of Rio de Janeiro on the coast has warmer temperatures. In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite those in the Northern Hemisphere.

Money Matters: The Brazilian currency is the real (pronounced “hay-ahl”); the plural is reais (“hay-ice”). The U.S. dollar has fallen very quickly against the Brazilian real recently (down from R$4 to US$1 in January 2003 to approximately R$2 to US$1 today), presenting difficulties in forecasting prices in U.S. dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted in the larger cities but more problematic in smaller cities. ATMs are widely available; however, not all accept all foreign cards. A 10 percent gratuity is usually included in restaurant bills, sometimes as a “suggestion”; porters and bellhops are usually tipped and while tipping is not expected for taxis, rounding up is common.

Doing Business: Brazilians of Rio (called Cariocas) tend to be informal, both in their way of conducting business and in their attire, although in São Paulo, business is more formal. Brazilians tend to do business somewhat more slowly than is customary in the United States, and bureaucracy in Brazil can be slow and difficult. Work with locals to help expedite matters.

Health and Safety: Bottled water is recommended. Rio, like many large cities, has its share of petty crime, and attendees should take the usual common sense precautions. New safety measures have recently been implemented in Rio, including zero tolerance for crime and the use of surveillance cameras.

For More Information: The Brazilian Tourism Office is located in Washington, D.C.; (800) 7BRAZIL; www.braziltourism.org. Rio de Janeiro has its own CVB with an English Web site: www.rioconventionbureau.com.br.

Costa Rica

A small, politically stable country of just under 20,000 square miles (slightly smaller than West Virginia) in Central America, Costa Rica tends to attract incentives and meetings with soft adventure and eco-tourism options. There are no stand-alone convention centers, although larger hotels have convention facilities. The three main areas in Costa Rica that have suitable properties for American groups are the Central Valley — the location of the capital city of San Jose, as well as the rain forest; the Central Pacific region for beaches and the rain forest; and the beaches and resorts of Guanacaste in the North Pacific region.

Getting There and Around: Most international flights arrive at the Santa Maria International Airport, just outside San Jose. Flight time is 2.5 hours from Miami. Increasingly groups can also fly directly into the Daniel Odouber International Airport in Libera, in the Guanacaste region.

Entry and Exit Requirements: A valid passport is required, but not a visa for U.S. citizens. There is a departure tax of US$26.

Language: The official language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken.

Time Zones and Weather: The time zone is GMT minus 6 hours, and daylight-saving time is not observed. The climate ranges from tropical at the beaches to hot and humid in the rain forests to cool in the mountains.

Money Matters: The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón; however, U.S. dollars are widely accepted, as are major credit cards. At press time, the rate is just over 500 colones to US$1 and is variable. Prices in Costa Rica are similar to those in the United States.

Taxes: U.S. companies can deduct meeting expenses in Costa Rica as they would for a meeting held in the United States. There is no value-added tax or goods and services tax.

Doing Business: Costa Ricans are commonly called “Ticos,” and doing business there can be referred to as the “tico system” — in other words, it can take longer to do business in Costa Rica than in the United States.

Health and Safety: Bottled water is recommended. The country is one of the most politically stable in Latin America. As in other large cities, petty crime is not unusual in San Jose.

Keep in Mind: In this small country, though distances between major areas are not great, the road infrastructure and the many hills and valleys can make travel difficult. For example, Guanacaste is a five-hour drive from San Jose. Small planes that seat about 20 are an option for groups.

For More Information: Costa Rica does not have a U.S.-based tourism office, although planners can call toll-free to the Costa Rica — based office: (866) 267-8274, www.visitcostarica.com.

Assistance for this article provided by the following:

Argentina: David A Spain, president Travel Trade Marketing (USA) Inc., (972) 569-9898, david@ttmusa.com; Merina Begg; president, Argentina Travel Partners, 011-54-11-43159222, mbegg@atpdmc.com. Brazil: Francisco Havas, president, Havas Creative Tours, 011-55-21-2511-1100, fhavas@havasbrazil.com.br. Costa Rica: Silvia Salazar, president and owner, Actua, 011-506-239-6767, silvia@actuacostaricadmc.com. Mexico: Peter Crossley, president, Destination Mexico, 011-52777-316-4622, pcrossley@destination-mexico.com