Dan Young, CMP, LLIF, CLU, ChFC, director of event planning and recognition for Thrivent Financial in Minneapolis takes a group to Mexico every three to four years, and on his most recent program, he scored a major victory. “We were at Grand Velas at Riviera Maya, and it was our only land program that ever scored a perfect five out of five in terms of attendee satisfaction,” he says. “The only other program (that scored five out of five) was a Silversea Mediterranean cruise where we bought out the ship.” Young booked his 120-room Grand Velas program through Shari Wallack of Buy the Sea, a cruise brokerage firm that also handles land-based all-inclusive programs.
Spanning south of Cancun along the country’s Caribbean coast, Riviera Maya is a popular meeting and incentive destination known for its eco-adventures and more than 80 miles of coastline. The property Young chose, the 491-room, all-inclusive Grand Velas Riviera Maya, offers three categories of luxury accommodations: The adults-only Grand Class features 1,300+ sf oceanview suites with private plunge pools, in-room massage tables and a jacuzzi. The family-friendly Ambassador section also contains spacious, oceanview suites, and the third section, called Zen Grand, also is family-friendly and is located in a lush Mayan jungle setting. In addition, the AAA Five Diamond, all-inclusive resort contains eight restaurants and a 75,000-sf spa.
“In terms of the site, Grand Velas was just amazing,” he continues. “It’s really a five- to six-star kind of resort. And the location, Riviera Maya, offers so much. People love the city, Playa del Carmen, and it has great dine-around opportunities. There’s just a lot to do down there with Xel-Há, and Xcaret and Tulum and Chichen Itza. You can really fill a pure incentive program, which we did.”
Xel-Há, which is set at the mouth of the longest underground river in the world, is known as the world’s largest natural aquarium. Xcaret is an eco park located on 200 acres of lush jungle terrain and beachfront. Chichen Itza is one of the most significant Mayan sites in all of Mexico, and Tulum is the site of an ancient stone fortress that sits on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean.
“(Riviera Maya has) excellent DMC resources,” Young adds. “We used Susann Behrendt from Amstar. She’s a Financial & Insurance Conference Planners member. For one of the cool events they did for us, we literally built a scale model pirate ship on the beach in front of the resort. It literally looked like a pirate ship from one of Johnny Depp’s movies washed up on shore. It was huge. It was so extravagant people thought we had hired Jimmy Buffet to perform that night. He’s a million dollar act, we could never afford him, but it set up huge expectations. That was pretty incredible. The city has a number of other really good DMCs, too, so they have really good DMC support.”
Linda Bahr, CMM, market event manager for Price-waterhouseCoopers LLP in Detroit has visited Riviera Maya on vacation several times, but last year she had an opportunity to experience it from a business perspective. In April, she completed MPI’s six-day Certification in Meetings Management (CMM) course at the destination. The venue for the program was the Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso.
The Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso is an all-inclusive, adults-only resort containing 310 suites, each offering a garden or sea view. The resort also features four restaurants, a buffet, snack bars at the beach and pool, six bars and 24-hour room service. In addition, the beachfront property includes a spa and three pools, one of which is a saltwater pool and has an aqua bar.
Bahr says that she finds Riviera Maya to be a “great value” as a meeting or incentive destination. “The Iberostar was a first-class experience for our group. Everything was grand — the rooms, food, pool, beach, activities and spa. I would definitely recommend the resort for business or pleasure.”
She also appreciated the all-inclusive nature of the property, especially given her group’s packed agenda.
“In this instance, Iberostar had several properties in one location, so it was able to offer us a number of amenities and variety without ever leaving the property.” — Linda M. Bahr, CMM
March marked the opening of the 274-room Nizuc Resort & Spa located at the gateway of the Riviera Maya, less than 20 minutes from Cancun International Airport. The luxury resort, which is set on 29 acres, offers multiple pools, six restaurants, a 30,000-sf spa, two exclusive beaches and easy access to the region’s natural wonders, archaeological sites and attractions. All of the resort’s accommodations are suites or villas.
At the end of January, Karisma Hotels & Resorts opened Generations Riviera Maya, a 144-suite beachfront resort. It offers the Gourmet Inclusive Experience, which includes gourmet services and amenities such as beach butlers, concierge service, 24-hour room service, premium beverages and gourmet cuisine.
Barceló Maya is a 2,751-room family-friendly resort comprised of five all-inclusive hotels and one of the longest stretches of private beach access in the area. Two of the hotels, the Barceló Maya Beach and the Barceló Maya Caribe are currently undergoing a $48 million renovation. Phase one of the project has been completed, and the second phase is scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of 2014. The Barceló Maya complex also features one of the largest convention centers in Riviera Maya.
Security Life Insurance Company of America, headquartered in Min-netonka, MN, chose Playa del Carmen as the site of its upcoming agent sales incentive program with the theme “Sell Away to Fly Away.” The property they chose to host the program’s 30 attendees is the Gran Porto Real.
Located just 30 minutes from Can-cun International Airport, the hacienda-style, beachfront Gran Porto Real is an all-inclusive resort featuring 287 rooms and suites located just steps from Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue shops, restaurants and clubs.
Michelle Petersen, head of sales operations & TPA management for Security Life, describes the factors that made Playa del Carmen a good choice for her program. “(We wanted a) warm weather destination where we would be almost assured of warm weather as well as an easy-to-get-to international location,” she explains. In terms of choosing a resort, she adds, “We worked with our travel agency that really helped guide us in our selection. All-inclusive pricing was key for us as was a beautiful resort that would make our attendees feel special.”
The announcement of Playa del Carmen as the destination for the incentive program proved to be motivating for agents. “We had several people tell us they would be working extra hard over the holiday season to qualify for this trip (as the qualification period ran from October 1–December 15th),” she says.
Petersen also explains that the all-inclusive nature of the resort made her budgeting process easier. “As a meeting planner with a budget to be mindful of, we wanted something that would cover almost all of our expenses in a very manageable way — ‘all inclusive’ covers that for us. Then we were able to know exactly what we had to work with related to add-on activities.”
Cancun also continues to be a popular destination. “We’ve done the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancún Resort & Spa twice, and we’re doing it a third time in 2016,” Young says of his leadership conference program that requires approximately 180 rooms. “I was just there for a site visit. It’s in the hotel zone of Cancun. It also offers a lot of activities, and we like the fact that it probably has the best usable beach in the area.” The resort offers European plan pricing as well as an all-inclusive plan. “We did pick an all-inclusive package for Fiesta Americana,” Young explains. “They only started offering this recently. It actually is pretty economical and a good value.” The award-winning luxury resort features 602 suites and 85,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, including a 15,000-sf ballroom. Outdoor event spaces overlook the beach and sparkling Caribbean. A0menities include the 40,000-sf Gem Spa and five-diamond dining at Le Basilic.
Young also turned to Cancun when a program he had booked on Grand Cayman Island had to be relocated because of severe weather issues. “We had to move, so we moved to the JW Marriott in Cancun,” he says. “It was a miracle that they had an open week during high season. That worked out well, too. That’s a great property. Our group had a wonderful time there.” The AAA Five Diamond JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa offers 448 guest rooms, including 74 suites, all offering ocean views.
In December, the attraction Expe-riencias Xcaret began offering a new tour called Xoximilco Cancun, which takes guests on gondola-like boats called trajineras along 4.6 miles of canals while they enjoy mariachi music.
Starwood Resorts in Los Cabos are predicting continued growth in business for this popular coastal destination. Meetings and incentive travel are among the trends the company says will drive growth at its two properties in Los Cabos, the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort and The Westin Resort & Spa.
Starwood’s two properties in Los Cabos probably couldn’t be more different in terms of architectural style. The sprawling, Spanish Colonial-style Sheraton Hacienda del Mar Golf & Spa Resort, which occupies 28 acres overlooking the Sea of Cortez, evokes the charm and ambience of Old Mexico with its elegant arches, fountains, tiled walkways and wrought iron balconies. The resort has four pools, including an infinity pool that overlooks the sea.
The 243-room Westin Resort & Spa, Los Cabos combines stunning contemporary architecture with vivid splashes of color and breathtaking views of the Sea of Cortez.
The all-inclusive, 619-room Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos, which opened last year, recently received the AAA Four Diamond designation. Located just minutes from San Jose del Cabo, the beachfront property offers all-suite accommodations, eight restaurants, a spa, nightly entertainment and more than 35,000 sf of meeting space.
Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a 71-suite Rosewood luxury resort, recently invested $55 million to build 12 one- to three-bedroom villas. Starting at a spacious 4,500 sf, the villas feature fully equipped kitchens, Bulgari bath amenities, infinity-edge pools and outdoor rain shower gardens. The new villas made their debut in December.
The Sandos Finisterra Los Cabos Resort opened last year. For-merly known as Finisterra, the property has been transformed into a 288-room, all-inclusive luxury resort. Of particular interest to groups staying at the resort during the time frame of January through April is the top-floor suite that has been converted into a whale-watching bar.
Mexico’s capital, Mexico City, has more than 21 million residents, making it the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. As the economic and business center of the country, Mexico City offers multiple world-class convention centers and more than 50,000 hotel rooms along with big-city amenities such as art galleries and museums. It also offers easy air access with direct flights to and from cities around the globe.
The 260-room Hilton Mexico City Santa Fe recently opened in the city’s Samara mixed-use complex in the Santa Fe business district. Featuring a dramatic architectural design, the new hotel offers a rooftop pool, an executive floor and lounge, more than 8,000 sf of meeting space and a business center that includes six boardrooms.
One key advantage Mexico offers is that meetings are exempt from value added taxes (VAT) as part of the country’s commitment to winning international meeting and event business. The VAT exemption eliminates the 10 percent sales tax on lodging and transfers in the country’s border states and the 16 percent tax on these items throughout the rest of the country.
According to the Mexico Tourist Board, the tax-free status also applies to event services such as setup, registration, masters of ceremonies, translators, hosts, audio-visual equipment, decorations, security, and food and beverage provided by the hotel or convention center as part of the event. And, maybe best of all, planners don’t have to complete the required paperwork — hotels and DMCs will usually complete it for them.
The Mexico Tourism Board offers what it calls “The Mexico Promise” — world-class destinations that offer safe and highly authentic meeting experiences, a modern infrastructure, air connections to international cities, a high-quality supply chain and a compelling value proposition that includes a highly diverse culture, warm Mexican hospitality and an exceptional travel value.
“If you don’t go (to Mexico), you can’t imagine how beautiful and how amazing it is, and not just our beaches and sun,” says Cecilia Cruz Urquiza, executive director for meetings for the Mexico Tourism Board in Washington DC. “We also have good venues and good cities and good infrastructure for all of the MICE segment. I invite the meeting planners to go and visit Mexico and live it to believe it. We will welcome them when they want to go and visit on a FAM trip or come to our road shows so they can know Mexico and do business in Mexico.” I&FMM