Emerging Global DestinationsDecember 1, 2014

Keep Your Eye on These Hidden Gems for Meetings By
December 1, 2014

Emerging Global Destinations

Keep Your Eye on These Hidden Gems for Meetings
Panama's Amador Convention Center will open in 2015.

Panama’s Amador Convention Center will open in 2015.

Hope,Phelps-Kellen-110x140Phelps R. Hope, CMP, is senior vice president of meetings and expositions for Kellen Company, an association management company with offices and representation in the United States, Europe, China, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. He can be reached at phope@kellencompany.com or 678-303-2962.

Many of the world’s hidden gems are debuting on the national stage at a time when the meetings industry itself is bustling. It’s worth exploring these emerging global destinations to find the best deals and to ensure that association members and meeting attendees are satisfied.

First, we should qualify “emerging” as it relates to this topic.

  • The destination should have something new and noteworthy to offer, such as an entertainment district for offsite events, memorable hotels or improved accessibility.
  • The infrastructure, while relatively new, should be able to support association meetings.
  • The tourism industry should be strong and have the financial support of the local government.
  • The area should be politically and economically stable.
  • It should offer stronger value-for-money compared with traditional association meeting destinations.

Here are a few exciting emerging global destinations to watch, categorized by global region.


Poland is gaining steam as a key meeting destination, with a strengthening economy and competitive prices. The country is investing in multiple meeting hubs, the largest ones being Warsaw and Krakow where the new International Conferences & Entertainment (ICE) Congress Center opened this year. Both cities expanded their hotel offerings in recent years with all major international hotel chains joining in for a piece of this expanding market. Notably, Poland’s meetings industry currently accounts for two percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with great potential for growth.

Portugal continues to be among the more affordable meeting destinations, despite its increasing popularity. In 2013 alone, Lisbon hosted no fewer than 125 association gatherings and after hosting the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) Global Professionals Conference in the summer of 2014, I expect 2015 to be an especially good year for the country.

Azerbaijan is regarded as an industry innovator, with a meetings and tourism industry that is strongly backed by the government. The country has a rich historical culture that it is eager to showcase, and its favorable location, straddling Eastern Europe and Western Asia, makes it not only an accessible destination, but also a desirable one. In recent years Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital has seen a tremendous amount of infrastructure growth. Since 2011 luxury hotels have been opening all over the city. Hilton, Marriott and Fairmont all have a presence in this market with the latest development coming from The Trump Organization, which in December 2014 announced plans for a new hotel to open in June 2015.

Middle East

Oman is a relatively new addition to the meetings world and is strategically located in the heart of the Middle East. The country’s landscape, climate and rich history are being showcased to the world due to large government initiatives that have taken place in recent years. There has been substantial improvement in the infrastructure, including upgrades to roads and airports, and let’s not forget the development of the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre, which is set to open in 2016. To show its commitment to the development of the convention industry, the Oman Tourism Development Corporation has partnered with PCMA to provide training and education to Omani associations, increase international awareness and assist with the opening of the convention center. With a surge of interest from the international community, Oman is pumping resources into becoming an attractive meeting destination. Already, it has the advantage of location.


Seoul, South Korea is in the midst of a sweeping master plan specifically targeting international meetings. Not only is the South Korean capital safe, easily accessible (12 American cities offer non-stop flights to Seoul) and boasting modern transport infrastructure, but it also is a place where English services are commonplace. With multiple convention developments underway (one of them being Seoul’s largest meeting complex yet), Seoul plans to expand its meetings infrastructure by three times by 2020.

Shenzhen, China is a booming port city and a major financial center where numerous high-tech companies are headquartered. With an impressive, centrally located Convention & Exhibition Center, more than 100 start-level hotels, beautiful coastline and various theme parks, Shenzhen has a lot to offer. This city certainly qualifies for this list as it aggressively courts meetings business to this economically evolving part of the world.

South America

Cartagena, Colombia is rich in natural beauty and culture, and it is quickly emerging as a premium meeting destination. The city has increased efforts to show the world that it is a politically stable region with world-class tourist attractions — both natural and cultural. The industry has ramped up its hotel infrastructure as well as its convention facilities (there are two convention centers in Cartagena). Other features that increase the city’s appeal as an international meeting destination are its favorable climate, and easy access to the United States, Latin American and Europe.

Not many of us know this, but Panama is the world’s second largest Free Trade Zone (which means the country’s official currency is the U.S. dollar). On top of this, Panama offers an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax exemption, which allows U.S. companies to deduct expenses for meetings held there. Panama City, Panama is on the cusp of opening the impressive Amador Convention Center with modern amenities and an international draw. It’s a beautiful region that until recently has been untapped from a meetings perspective.


Melbourne, Australia, the continent’s second-largest city, is no stranger to the international scene. The world’s friendliest and most livable city is making a name for itself on the international meetings scene with its world-class convention facilities (Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Center — the largest in the Southern Hemisphere), and growing hotel infrastructure (in 2011 the city had a total of 26,555 hotel rooms available). Melbourne is a globally connected city. Its time zone overlaps that of most Asia-Pacific nations, and Melbourne also is the midpoint between Europe and the United States.

Brisbane, Australia recently enjoyed attention on the international scale when the city hosted the G20 Summit this year in November. However, there is more to this city than that. Brisbane has no less than 230 hotels with more than 12,700 rooms, an award-winning convention center, beautiful year-round weather, an international airport 20 minutes from downtown and unique natural attractions. AC&F


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