Selected by tourism officials as the ideal Mexican resort location nearly three decades ago, Cancun has developed into a five-star city with a growing number of convention hotels, group facilities, and a world-class convention center.

"Our ability to handle complex arrangements for a sophisticated event is second to none," says Jose Gonzales Zapata, executive director of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The Centro de Convenciones (Cancun Convention Center) is the most modern facility in Mexico and allows Cancun to compete with even the newest convention operations in the United States."

Most groups stay along Cancun's hotel zone on the strip called Kukulcan Boulevard. The 12-mile drive stretches the entire length of the island, and it's lined with luxurious high-rise resorts that pamper guests with plush rooms, gourmet restaurants, and pulsating discos. Many of these hotels are new, built since the most ravaging of storms in Cancun's history, Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

Meeting executives who haven't visited recently will find many new attractions beyond Cancun's beaches. The Hard Rock Cafe and the Rainforest Cafe are found near the convention center; both can accommodate up to 200 attendees. Wet 'n Wild Cancun opened last year, the first beachside facility in the waterpark chain. Boasting group facilities as well as a wave pool, water slides, a kids' pool, restaurants, and a marina, the waterpark is a popular choice for groups that include families.

To assist with planning of tours in Cancun and outlying areas, many meeting executives turn to local destination management companies (DMCs) such as Tropical Incentive Holiday and the EPIC Group, who have handled hundreds of theme parties, spouse programs, and ground operations. DMCs are often a meeting executive's best friend. They can arrange sightseeing tours, shopping tours, and excursions to sites ranging from Contoy Island, a wildlife reserve, to the pyramids at Chichen Itza, to beach olympics and teambuilding exercises.

Hotel News * Moon Palace is scheduled to open this fall, located 20 minutes from Cancun's hotel zone. The first phase will open with 731 guest rooms, each with a whirlpool tub, hair dryer, wall safe, separate marble shower, satellite TV, coffeemaker, and oceanview balcony with hammock. The resort includes a meeting room with a capacity of 700. Also available are lighted tennis courts, basketball, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a dive tank for scuba lessons, a health club, and a sport shop.

* The 385-room Westin Regina Resort offers meeting space including the Pintores Ballroom, with a capacity of 1,200, as well as several conference and boardrooms. The beachside resort has five outdoor swimming pools, a fitness center, tennis, a watersports center, and a boat dock.

* The 426-room Westin Caesar Park Cancun has opened a $3 million, 16,000-square-foot conference center that can accommodate 1,500 guests. The hotel and convention center are part of a five-year construction project that will include a marina, two shopping malls, the addition of 274 guest rooms, and a residential area. Grupo Posadas, owner and operator of the Fiesta Americana and Fiesta Inn chains, has recently acquired the Caesar Park chain, including this Cancun property.

* Near Cancun, Fiesta Americana is constructing three new properties in the new tourism districts of Riviera Maya and Costa Maya. It is a $50 million project by Mexico's largest five-star hotel chain. The 250-room Fiesta Americana Chemuyil in the Riviera Maya will include a 1.5-mile beachfront; the second phase of development will add an 18-hole championship golf course and 750 more guest rooms. The beachfront Fiesta Americana Costa Maya will offer 80 guest rooms surrounded by mangrove forest in the Costa Maya. The all-inclusive property will offer 200 guest rooms and many soft adventure opportunities. Fiesta Americana Kohunlich, built adjacent to the archaeological zone, will offer all-inclusive facilities with 40 guest rooms and soft adventure activities, including pyramid explorations, kayaking, and mountain biking. All are scheduled to open by winter 1999.

* The 602-room Fiesta Americana Coral Beach has opened a new Fiesta Club Level. These two floors feature a 6,500-square-foot lounge with a view of the Caribbean Sea. The 50 junior suites, seven master suites, one ambassador suite, and two-bedroom presidential suite offer upgraded amenities, separate check-in, and complimentary access to the resort's spa. The property has meeting space of more than 30,000 square feet. The hotel also recently remodeled the Coral Reef Restaurant.

* The Melia Cancun Beach and Spa Resort has added a spa and fitness center. Treatments at the 6,000-square-foot facility include aromatherapy, seaweed and mud therapy, and body scrubs. Outdoor massage/treatment cabanas permit guests to enjoy their spa experience outdoors with an ocean view. The 450-room hotel also includes a 6,789-square-foot grand ballroom that can accommodate 450 banquet-style or 600 theater-style.

* Le Meridien Cancun will open this summer with 216 guest rooms and suites. The property will be the first Le Meridien in Mexico and will feature spa facilities, three swimming pools, tennis, water sports, children's programs, indoor and outdoor meeting facilities, and gourmet dining.

* El Cid Mega Resort is scheduled to open in spring 1999 and will feature 350 guest rooms as well as a marina. The resort will have meeting space for small groups.

* The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun has created a new Catering Showroom to feature theme party setups and options. The 365-room resort offers more than 27,000 square feet of meeting and function space, including two ballrooms, six conference rooms, a permanent boardroom, and an outdoor patio.

* Club Med Cancun is undergoing a renovation of guest rooms and public areas. The resort includes extensive sports and watersports facilities as well as meeting space for 30 people theater-style. Meeting groups that take over the entire village for their event can also use the 700-seat theater for meeting space. Additional meeting rooms are being added in the renovation.

* The 300-room Caribbean Village Cancun will receive $1.4 million for guest room upgrades and additions, such as a new sports bar and Mexican specialty restaurant, plus a kids' program to be opened in the future. The beach club and public areas will also be redone. The Caribbean Village Cancun includes meeting and conference room for up to 480 attendees.

* The 195-room Jack Tar Village Cancun is currently renovating guest rooms and its fitness center as well as opening new food and beverage outlets, including a sports bar. The all-inclusive resort, now for guests 18 years and older, includes meeting facilities for up to 120 people.

Getting There Cancun can be reached through carriers including AeroCaribe, Aeromexico, Aerocalifornia, American Airlines, Continental, Mexicana, Northwest, United, Iberia, and LACSA. Be prepared to pay departure tax of $12 upon departure.

Convention Center The Centro de Convenciones, located in the hotel zone, is a sprawling modern facility that underwent a $90 million rebuild after damage in 1988 from Hurricane Gilbert. The four-level facility offers two ballrooms, the largest of which is 29,000 square feet; a total of 26 meeting rooms, a press room, and simultaneous translation facilities. During free time, meeting attendees can visit dozens of stores and restaurants on the first and second levels of the center. Still under construction, a tower accessible from the second floor will contain a revolving restaurant and bar for up to 300 delegates.

FYI Spanish is the official language of Mexico, although English is spoken at Cancun hotels. Visas are not required of Americans traveling in Mexico. Attendees will need either a current U.S. passport or proof of citizenship, with photo identification, to enter the country.

Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau/Cancun Convention Center Walter Holtsmaster, managing director International Destinations, Inc. (800) 833-5254, (202) 797-1222 Fax: (202) 265-5930 E-mail: idi@globalsites.com

Destination Management Companies Epic Group (011) 52 98 83-09970/831483 Fax: (011) 52 98 83-0238 E-mail:EPIC@cancun.rce.com.mx

Tropical Incentive Holidays (011) 52 98 84-4826 Fax (011) 52 98 84-8497 E-mail:tih@image.net.mx