Mexico boasts a rich history, top resort destinations, vibrant cities and a growing stable of convention facilities designed to attract large groups from the United States and other countries.
The number of convention centers in Mexico has more than doubled over the last decade from 27 to 57, according to the Mexico Tourism Board (MTB). Currently, Mexico offers more than 68 major convention and exposition centers, and more than 500,000 hotel rooms in more than 3,000 luxury hotels.
According to Washington, DC-based Eduardo Chaillo, CMP, CMM, executive director of meetings for the Mexico Tourism Board, Mexico had incredible opportunities to showcase their meetings infrastructure and capabilities to the world during 2012, hosting diverse global events such as the T20 Meeting of Tourism Ministers in Merida, the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, the 6th World Council of Civil Engineers and 7th World Chambers Congress in Mexico City, and the 32nd Congress of the International Society of Blood Transfusion in Cancun.
Chaillo expects “to continue this momentum in 2013” and attract an even wider global audience. “Looking to attract more international congresses with testimonials of such successes in Mexico, we decided to open an office in Brussels (city in which more than 800 global organizations are located).”
The MTB recently launched a new website http://visitmexico.com/meetings, which Chaillo says features “useful downloads for meeting planners, making it easier than ever to host an event in Mexico.”
Chaillo says the Mexico Tourism Board is “looking forward to the further development of the meetings and conventions industry in Mexico over the coming years.” He adds, “In fact, we have already secured congresses taking place through 2018. We are proud of the ever-growing capabilities of our meetings industry and look forward to hosting visitors from around the globe.”
Mexican tourism officials also expect that its growing meetings infrastructure will eventually make the destination as popular among U.S.-based associations as it is among other international associations. Enrique Martin Del Campo, CMP, president of the Mexico chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), says, “If you’re talking international associations outside of the U.S., Mexico is doing very well. We still have a challenge with U.S.-based associations partly because of meeting space and the perception of Mexico not being a very secure place.”
As officials of the MTB and Mexican convention and visitors bureaus promote the advantages of meeting in Mexico, they also address concerns about security. During the last few years, Chaillo and his team in the MTB’s Washington, DC, office have met periodically with groups of planners in various U.S. cities. According to Del Campo, the overarching message of the meetings is: “We have some issues in north Mexico close to the U.S. border, but there are many cities with good convention facilities and hotels that are very far away from those areas. Sometimes it’s hard for people to identify where we have challenges. If I drive from Cancun to the Mexican–U.S. border, it takes more than three days — about the same as San Diego to Washington, DC. But nobody decides not to meet in San Diego because something happened in Washington, DC,” says Del Campo.
He cites the advantages of meeting in Mexico. “It’s close to the U.S., there aren’t many visa restrictions, there’s good Internet connectivity, good service and great value. When you compare the prices of meeting in some U.S. cities with those of some Mexican cities, you see a big difference. There is no tax on conventions, which is a big savings,” he says. Del Campo, who is based in Quintana Roo, also is corporate director of sales, RCD Resorts/All-Inclusive Collection, which owns and operates resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico including Hard Rock Hotel Cancun, Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta and Aventura Spa Palace, which will be rebranded as Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in 2013.
Some associations, including PCMA, meet frequently in Mexico. The PCMA partners with the MTB to hold the annual North American Advisory Summit (NAAS), an educational and networking event for Mexican and North American meeting industry professionals. According to Michelle Crowley, manager, global development and programs for Chicago-based PCMA, “The meetings are designed to help Mexican suppliers attract more meetings, including associations, from North America. We want to make sure that their convention centers, hotels and resorts have the meeting facilities that planners need for larger meetings, exhibits and conventions.”
The two-day NAAS alternates every year among Mexican destinations. The meeting was held in Mexico City in 2008, Puerto Vallarta in 2009, Merida in 2010, Guadalajara in 2011 and Mazatlan in November 2012. The 2013 meeting is set for Puebla.
The 140 attendees at the Mazatlan event included meeting planners from the U.S. and Canada, and Mexican suppliers — officials with Mexican CVBs, hotels and convention centers. The planners functioned as advisors for the suppliers during meetings at the Mazatlan International Center, which features 95,400 sf of meeting space, says Crowley.
The meetings included sessions in several formats. During an open forum, a panel of planners answered questions from Mexican suppliers on topics ranging from the impact of the U.S. economy on meeting decisions to the future of meetings in Mexico. Roundtable discussions focused on attendee growth. Three breakout sessions — one each for officials of CVBs, convention centers and hotels — addressed topics specific to each area. Three additional breakouts focused on resort, cultural and major city destinations. During a general session, attendees shared ideas from meetings and breakouts.
Between meetings, attendees held a networking reception overlooking Mazatlan Beach at the all-inclusive Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort & Spa on the Pacific Coast. The group also had a reception in Old Town Mazatlan at the former home of a famous Mazatlan resident that has been converted into an event venue.
Such meetings help Mexican convention centers, CVBs and hotels develop meeting facilities and amenities to attract larger groups. Still, Mexico’s meeting facilities vary widely, says Crowley. “There are a lot of destinations in the last few years that have really advanced and built fabulous convention centers and are taking note of these things to attract more business. And there are some that are newer to the market. So there is a wide variety in Mexico as far as the strategic level in attracting business, but the desire to get more business from the U.S. is there,” Crowley says.
Sparkling Cancun remains the country’s top meeting and incentive destination. The Caribbean gem was built in 1974 specifically as a tourist destination and offers everything groups could want in a resort city — beautiful beaches, luxury resorts, tropical splendor, golf, ocean activities and meeting accommodations.
Cancun’s major hotels offer more than 538,000 sf of meeting space. The destination’s prime convention facility Cancun Center has 151,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space, including 13 flexible meeting rooms. The facility also features translation booths, Internet access and T1 voice and data transmission lines.
Cancun hotels boast more than 29,000 guest rooms, many of which are located along the 18-mile hotel and resort strip. Room supply is expanding. Earlier this year, the 12-story Hard Rock Hotel Cancun opened with 601 guest rooms and a 16,408-sf convention center. There also are five restaurants, five bars and a spa.
Other top meeting options include Palace Resorts’ four Cancun properties: the 287-room Beach Palace Resort with 8,000 sf of meeting space; Sun Palace (252 rooms, 3,300 sf); Cancun Palace (601 room, 16,000 sf); and Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort (2,457 rooms, 170,000 sf).
Starwood Hotels & Resorts offers two oceanfront properties: The Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas & Spa has more than 24,000 sf of meeting space and 580 guest rooms; and The Westin Resort & Spa Cancun offers more than 9,688 sf of meeting space and 379 guest rooms. Also in Cancun, the luxurious, all-inclusive Club Med Cancun Yucatan offers 376 guest rooms and three meeting rooms.
Cancun activities reflect a modern destination with a storied past. Mayan ruins include the walled city of Chichen Itza and Tulum, with its remains of ancient towers and temples. Attractions at Xcaret, a large archaeological park, features rivers, natural pools, beaches, interactive shark exhibits and dolphin swims. Xcaret offers 18 event spaces. At night, Cancun comes alive with dance clubs, bars and lounges.
Located at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, Los Cabos features two popular destinations — Cabo San Lucas, a fishing village, and San Jose del Cabo, a colonial town.
Los Cabos increased its meeting space this year with the opening of the Los Cabos Convention Center (LCCC) — a 56,000-sf meeting venue. The LCCC accommodates up to 5,000 people for meetings and expositions, and as many as 3,000 attendees for banquets. The LCCC is located five minutes from more than 10 hotels.
Los Cabos offers more than a dozen top meeting hotels and more than 6,000 guest rooms at four-star properties. More hotels are coming: The Ritz-Carlton Reserve property is scheduled to open in San Jose del Cabo in 2014. The property will feature 124 rooms, each with views of the Sea of Cortez. In Cabo San Lucas, a 300-room JW Marriott Hotel is scheduled to open in 2015 with more than 13,000 sf of meeting space, including a flexible main ballroom and breakout rooms. The property will feature tennis courts as well as an 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.
Other top properties include Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe, an all-suite resort with 619 suites, 235,000 sf of meeting space, six themed restaurants and banquet space for up to 1,200 people. Another all-suite resort, Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort & Spa, has more than 8,000 sf of meeting and function space, including the 5,156-sf Delphin Ballroom. Luxury awaits groups at the 249-room four-diamond Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort with nine flexible banquet halls. Groups seeking a property with an old Mexico feel can consider the recently refreshed 270-room Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort Los Cabos with more than 18,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and function space, and eight meeting rooms. It is the only resort in Los Cabos to offer two American Academy of Hospitality Sciences Five Star Diamond restaurants — Pitahayas and D Cortez Grill & Restaurant.
Los Cabos was the site of the May 2012 conference of the Tobacconists Association of America (TAA), based in Conyers, GA, for the second consecutive year and third time overall. The four-day meeting at The Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort attracted 200 U.S.-based high-end tobacco product retailers and suppliers.
It was the first time the TAA met at the Sheraton Hacienda. The group chose the resort partly for a unique reason, according to Stephanie Guadagno, TAA executive director. “The hotel exercised its discretion to allow the group to smoke cigars on property. It’s difficult for us to find properties that allow us to do that,” she says.
Due to its unique need, the TAA typically holds its meetings in Mexico and the Caribbean. Hotels in the regions are more likely to grant the group smoking leeway, and the TAA has a lot to offer properties in return for the privilege, says Guadagno. “If you look at the amount of food and beverage we do on property, we bring a lot to the table. We do almost every food function on property plus a lot of high-end entertaining in terms of open bar receptions with high-end drinks, and hotel restaurants and receptions. That’s hard for some hotels to turn down,” Guadagno adds.
The TAA conference included a general session, two speakers and a group auction in which cigar retailers purchased products from manufacturers. In addition, one meeting included an interactive online survey to provide information to help cigar manufacturers produce products that meet cigar retailers’ needs. Attendees completed the survey using their own iPads or those supplied by the firm conducting the survey.
The group’s on-property activities included dinners at the Sheraton Hacienda’s outdoor restaurant, which were followed by a “cigar lounge” in a venue overlooking the ocean. Attendees also played a golf tournament at the Sheraton Hacienda’s golf course, enjoyed water activities such as sailing catamarans and shopped in the center of Los Cabos.
Guadagno was very impressed with the Sheraton Hacienda’s staff, which went out of its way to respond when tragedy struck. One of the attendees passed away during the meeting. “They helped the family plan a memorial Mass off-property the next day. They helped the family figure out how to get him home to the U.S. And they helped us change around a reception to honor him. The hotel was absolutely wonderful,” says Guadagno.
The Pacific beachfront city of Puerto Vallarta, a longtime favorite of international groups, is as popular as ever. The city’s hotel occupancy rate increased to 71.7 percent during the summer of 2012, up from 62.1 percent from the same time period in 2011, according to SECTUR, Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism.
More than 96,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space is available at the Puerto Vallarta International Convention Center (PVICC). The facility includes 17 meeting rooms and the Salon Vallarta, which accommodates up to 5,000 people. The PVICC is located only 10 minutes from the Puerto Vallarta Gustavo Diaz Ordaz International Airport.
Planners can choose from among more than 50 hotels and resorts with at least a four-star rating. These include the recently opened Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort, which offers 259 rooms and 10,410 sf of meeting space. The property is Hilton’s first all-inclusive resort in Mexico. Another new property the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta opened this year with 348 rooms and 6,300 sf of meeting space.
The Alliance of Area Business Publications (AABP), based in El Segundo, CA, held its 2012 meeting at the CasaMagna Marriott Puerta Vallarta Resort & Spa, which is located near the Puerto Vallarta Marina. More than 55 executives attended the three-day meeting, which has convened in Puerto Vallarta two out of every three years since 1994 while meeting in the U.S. every third year, according to James Dowden, executive director.
The AABP has met at the CasaMagna three times, including 2011 and 2012. AABP cites several reasons for returning to the resort. “The hotel’s care and feeding of meeting delegates is way beyond what you might think it would be in a tourist destination. We don’t encounter a situation or request that they don’t take care of immediately. As far as location, we have everything we need very close by — the beach, shopping, restaurants, bars and golf. And it is 10 minutes from the airport. And we don’t have a sense of being part of a hotel row,” says Dowden.
Value is another reason why the AABP meets at the CasaMagna. The AABP receives good value partly because it is a repeat customer and has a good relationship with resort staff, says Dowden. “We find them to be very attractive prices, and what they provide us in our contract makes it very appealing. We know them, and they know us. It’s a good relationship. We don’t get into a lot of dickering. We go straight to the bottom line, and they always treat us fairly,” says Dowden.
AABP attendees also love the variety and familiarity of Puerto Vallarta. This year, the group dined at Daiquiri Dick’s, an iconic Puerto Vallarta restaurant, as it has during every visit since 1994. Some group members played golf at Marina Vallarta Beach Club, a short walk from the CasaMagna hotel. Several attendees shopped at the many stores in the marina district. “The district is just a few blocks from the hotel. The stores are located near Daiquiri Dick’s so people tend to leave early for the restaurant so they will have time to shop. People in our group have over the years accumulated their favorite stores to visit. There are a fair number of repeat shoppers in our group,” says Dowden.
The AABP will continue to return to Mexico and enjoy it amid awareness of security issues. Such issues aren’t apparent to attendees in the heart of Mexican resort destinations, but it’s best to exercise common sense precautions, says Dowden. “When I first started coming here, I was inclined to rent a car and explore. We are careful not to go places where we might encounter the kinds of people with some of the problems we know about. I’ve never had a bad situation nor have any of the delegates in all of the years we have come here,” Dowden says.
The title of Elvis Presley’s 1963 movie “Fun in Acapulco” had it right. Acapulco, one of the Western Hemisphere’s most popular beach resorts, is pure fun. The city also offers modern meeting facilities, spearheaded by the Acapulco International Convention Center with 425,000 sf of meeting and event space spread over four exhibition areas and 11 convention rooms. Additionally, the Acapulco Historical Museum, formerly the San Diego Fort, hosts groups of up to 3,500 guests.
Acapulco’s hotels and resorts offer more than 13,000 guest rooms. Top properties include the famed 1,107-room Fairmont Acapulco Princess, a 15-story Aztec pyramid-shaped resort located on 480 acres along Revolcadero Beach. The Fairmont completed a $30 million renovation three years ago that included the new 30,000-sf Diamante Exhibit Center and remodeled space in the hotel’s 27 meeting rooms. The resort also offers five swimming pools, lush gardens with more than 750 plant species, a golf course and a luxury spa. North of Acapulco, Club Med Ixtapa Pacific offers 298 rooms and 6,500 sf of meeting space.
Acapulco’s famed beaches feature a variety of activities. Visitors can ride in glass-bottom boats, stroll along restaurant-lined shores or watch cliff divers at world-famous La Quebrada dive from 130 feet into a cove. Unique venues include the Juarez Theater, a modern facility that accommodates 366 people and offers private space for group functions.
As Mexico continues to pave the way for groups to feel more secure in the country’s major resort cities, and enhances and expands its meetings infrastructure, more and more association groups will be heading south of the border to take advantage of the sun, the convenient access and the tremendous value. AC&F