If hosting a national conference for thousands of people is proof of a destination’s ability to handle large group events, then Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit both showed their worth as hosts of the 37th annual Tianguis Turistico, Mexico’s largest tourism convention.
This year’s confab, which took place March 25-28, was even more noteworthy because it was the first time Tianguis moved away from its original host city, Acapulco. The change in venue is part of a new strategy to make Tianguis itinerant so a different destination hosts the event each year.
“We are experiencing historic moments in the development of tourism in Mexico,” said Gloria Guevara, Mexico’s secretary of tourism, at the opening general session. Guevara noted that more than 7,000 attendees participated in this year’s Tianguis, a significant increase from last year’s approximately 4,000 delegates.
She also praised Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, whose term ends this year, for declaring 2011 the Year of Tourism in Mexico.
“We have demonstrated to the world that we Mexicans can unite [to promote] tourism, and this today is a role model on an international level,” she said.
Calderon, who spoke at the inauguration, noted the positive effects of the new, rotating host approach for Tianguis.
“Today, we have the presence, for example, of exhibitors and buyers from more than 30 nations,” he told attendees. “This represents a 30 percent increase over the previous year in the international segment.”
Tianguis gave delegates a chance to discuss positive growth trends in Mexico for tourism and the meetings and conventions market. Riu Hotels and Resorts, for example, reported “significant” growth in its group market for both Mexico and the Caribbean, according to Cindy Varguez, the company’s sales director for meetings, incentives and social events.
“The strongest markets in the group and event segment are the pharmaceutical industry, doctors and government,” she said.
For InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), the group and convention segment is increasing year after year, according to Gerardo Murray, regional vice president of sales and marketing at IHG Mexico.
“We believe there will be a consistent 7 to 10 percent increase on rooms delivered to our hotels by this segment,” he said.
DMCs in Mexico are also reporting positive numbers.
“Overall, growth of our business compared to last year is about 30 percent, and we are looking for the following year to increase our numbers up to 20 percent more,” said Juan Carlos Villanueva, sales executive at Tropical Incentives, which offers DMC services in Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta and the Riviera Nayarit. “Tourism overall is picking up day by day, and our expectations are higher every year.”
Tianguis is an important time for destinations throughout Mexico to present the latest news and the diversity of offerings for both the leisure travel and the meetings and incentives markets. Following are a few of the top coastal Mexico newsmakers.
Baja California Peninsula
Representatives from the Los Cabos CVB are touting destination’s win as host city for the 2012 G20 Summit, which takes place in June. Some 11,000 of the destination’s 13,000 hotel rooms will be used for the event, and meetings will take place at a new 653,400-square-foot convention center that will debut before the event.
Local DMCs are expecting the event to increase the destination’s popularity with planners.
“Twenty six presidents and their entourages will be here to meet, and we expect a great deal of free international exposure from this one-of-a-kind event, which will translate into more MICE,” said Juan Carlos del Rio, owner of EPIC, a DMC based in Los Cabos. Del Rio also serves as current president and founder of the Los Cabos Receptive & DMC Association and vice president of the Baja California Sur State Tourism Council.
It may no longer serve as the permanent host of Tianguis Turistico, but Mexico’s original jet-set destination of Acapulco has plenty of news to report, with plans for a tourism revitalization campaign centered on the slogan “Remember Acapulco,” which includes a new English-language site, www.rememberacapulco.com, that has a special meetings section. Also new is a boost in investment from the state of Guerrero and the federal government to create a new program called Guerrero Seguro (Safe Guerrero), designed to enhance visitor security and comfort.
“It is important for meeting planners to know that, despite reports in the international press, Acapulco remains a safe destination for all visitors, both international and domestic,” said Pedro Haces Sordo, president of the Acapulco Destination Management Office. “As a result of the Guerrero Seguro program and its efforts, there has been a 52 percent decrease in crime rates throughout the destination. The Acapulco DMO and local officials are committed to the safety and well-being of our visitors and to offering a flawless travel experience.”
Also new is the Advisory Council for the Recovery of the Traditional Zone, the neighborhood in Acapulco that is home to the famous La Quebrada cliff divers, Hotel Los Flamingos and the stylish, recently revamped Hotel Boca Chica.
Additional projects launching this year include ACABUS, a new transportation system that will run from the Traditional Zone to the Diamond Zone.
Meanwhile, Expo at Mundo Imperial, a convention center in the Diamond Zone, is expected to open this year.
The Puerto Vallarta-Riviera Nayarit area is also welcoming new developments, including the all-inclusive, 259-room Hilton Puerto Vallarta, scheduled to open in the third quarter of this year with three meeting rooms and a 600-person ballroom.
Also making news is Palace Resorts, which has converted the 348-room Vallarta Palace in Nuevo Vallarta into the all-inclusive Hard Rock Vallarta, complete with 6,300 square feet of meeting space.
In addition, Occidental Hotels and Resorts reopened the former Allegro Nuevo Vallarta as the 270-room Occidental Grand Nuevo Vallarta following a $14 million renovation.
In Mazatlan, groups and conventions, as well as the Canadian and domestic Mexican markets, are among the fastest-growing segments in terms of visitor arrivals, according to Carlos Berdegue, president and CEO of El Cid Resorts and vice president of the Mazatlan Hotel Association.
“Groups and conventions are up 25 percent since last year,” he said, noting that the domestic meetings market as well as incentive groups have grown especially fast. “We’ve gotten two groups from Iceland this year, and incentive groups from the United States. It’s about 8 percent above last year.”
Tourism officials announced plans to invest a record-breaking $11 million in promoting Mazatlan this year. Development is continuing in the uncrowded stretch of the Marina Mazatlan section that’s home to the Mazatlan International Center, a convention facility that opened in 2009 with a 17,000-square-foot exhibit hall plus 17 meeting rooms totaling 62,000 square feet. Construction is under way on an upscale shopping mall, which will have major department stores as well as a branch of the Tecnologico de Monterrey, a major university. The first phase of the mall is scheduled to open in November.
New group-friendly attractions in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo include the Museo de la Soledad de Maciel, a small museum of artifacts from the Xihuacan archeological zone, about 40 minutes from the main tourist area.
New hotels include AM Resorts’ all-inclusive Sunscape Resort Dorado Pacifico Ixtapa, which opened in November with more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space.
“MICE represents a very large percentage during the low season and 30 percent during high season,” said Ana Luisa Moran Fernandez, public relations manager for the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo CVB.
Among the newest resorts in Huatulco is the 399-room, all-inclusive Secrets Huatulco Resort & Spa, which debuted last year with eight restaurants, six bars and a 7,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom for private events.
A long-time leader in terms of both flights and number of hotel rooms, Cancun continues to expand its offerings for meetings.
Among the destination’s newest hotels is the 562-room Riu Palace Peninsula, which will be Riu’s fourth hotel in Cancun when it opens this month. The 601-room Hard Rock Hotel Cancun will make its debut in time for the peak travel season later this year, as a conversion of the existing Cancun Palace, part of a new agreement between Hard Rock and Palace Resorts to convert four Palace properties to the Hard Rock brand.
The fact that Cancun offers more all-inclusive options is good news for meeting planners, according to Janice Brockmeyer, director of group sales for Oasis Hotels & Resorts, which recently finished renovations at its four Cancun properties.
“We continue to see an increase [in group business] as clients are looking for the best value while offering a memorable experience,” she said. “I hope to continue to see an increase in group business. Because we are an all-inclusive resort, it makes it easier for the meeting planners and corporations to manage their budget.”
Andy Ortiz, president and owner of Global Incentive Management, a Cancun-based DMC, agreed.
“The hottest trends are the all-inclusive properties,” he told Meetings Focus West. “About 15 years ago, the destination was about 90 percent EP hotels, and Palace Resorts started the trend in the destination toward all-inclusive. Today, planners love the all-inclusive concept because they like the product and quality of offerings, it is economical in the long run, and it’s also a one-stop shop for groups.”
Ortiz also noted that Cancun and the Riviera Maya should get a bump from hosting Tianguis in 2014.
“Although [the event] is more wholesale than group specific, having more than 15,000 people in the destination for one of the largest travel industry festivals is a huge deal,” he said. “I believe this will in turn also bring positive results for the region’s group business.”
Known for its variety of upscale resort hotels, the Riviera Maya is seeing an upswing in the group market, according to Carlos Mora, meetings manager for the Riviera Maya Destination Marketing Office.
“Due to the large amount of family-friendly activities the destination has to offer, one of the hottest trends we see in Riviera Maya’s meetings industry is groups that travel with their families,” Mora said. “These groups often extend their stays as a result, mixing business with leisure travel.”
To make it easier for planners, the destination recently launched a new website for meetings and groups, www.rivieramayameetings.com. Planners will also find new options when Hard Rock International opens, the result of a conversion of two existing Palace Resorts properties, the 489-room Aventura Cove Palace and 777-room Aventura Spa Palace.
On the radar for a debut in early 2014 is Kanai, a development that will be home to two championship golf courses as well as the 140-room St. Regis Kanai, Resort & Residence, the 181-room W Retreat Kanai, the 50-room Kanai Auberge and a Park Hyatt hotel.
Mark Chesnut has been covering Latin America for more than 15 years. He is currently the business travel blogger for Orbitz Worldwide and edits his own blog, LatinFlyer.com.