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Mexican connections

As cities and countries around the world compete fiercely for lucrative events and meeting business, Mexico is emerging as a major player in the market. But that wasn’t always the case, says Doug Wheeler, principal of San Diego-based Summit Performance Group LLC, a global events management and incentive travel company.

“Until two or three years ago, Mexico was toxic because of security and safety concerns, with clients preferring to book events in places like the Caribbean, Panama and Hawaii,” he says. “And while it’s not safe everywhere, there are places in Mexico that are great for business events.”

Mexico is the second-largest economy in Latin America and the 14th-largest in the world, with natural attractions, cultural offerings, specialized infrastructure and a range of first class leisure activities, according to the Mexico Tourism Board. This has led to the growth of the country’s meetings industry, which includes 50 convention centers, world-class four- and five-star hotels, magnificent haciendas, exclusive beachfront sites and unique historical and cultural locations.

This is coupled with the country’s commitment to increasing air connectivity to make travel to the country easier. Thanks to strategic airline partnerships, Mexico’s seat capacity on direct international flights has reached more than two million seats in 2017.

According to the International Association of Congresses and Conventions (ICCA), Mexico ranks fourth in the region in terms of the number of events it hosts. Cities touting their locations for business meetings and events, according to the Mexican Tourism Board, include:

• Mexico City: The nation’s capital and largest city has more than 50,000 quality hotel room accomodations, 3,500 restaurants and five convention centers to offer. Mexico City International Airport has a capacity of 32 million passengers annually, handling 12,407 domestic and 5,281 international flights per year;

• Guadalajara: It has the largest convention center in Mexico and Latin America – Expo Guadalajara – with more than 1.2 million square feet and a capacity of 50,000 people. It also has 22,000 hotel rooms and venues such as the Instituto Cultural Cabañas (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Mundo Cuervo, home to the largest tequila producer in Mexico. Guadalajara Airport handles 3,237 domestic and 1,490 international flights;

• Cancun: It has more than 700,000 square feet of convention and exhibition space and its airport is number one in international arrivals in Mexico. It has more than 150 hotels and resorts with more than 70,000 rooms. It’s also the gateway to Mexico’s Mayan heritage;

• Puerto Vallarta: This beach resort town has one convention center and more than 18,000 hotel rooms. Puerto Vallarta International Airport has 556 domestic and 1,279 international flights.

Staying Competitive

Budgets go a long way in Mexico, according to the tourism board. The country offers competitive prices on hotels, food and beverage, production, labor and other services. And a tax incentive for foreign event organizers, at zero percent VAT, also applies to foreign attendees attending international conventions. That represents a 16 percent savings in meeting-related expenses.

The Mexico Tourism Board notes that on top of the great value/price relationship offered by its meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) unit, buyers can rely on the mature supply chain that serves all business events’ needs. In Mexico, more than 300,000 events are held annually, so buyers can count on certified industry professionals in addition to modern venues and hotels that hold health and hygiene certifications validating the level of quality and service they provide.

What also makes Mexico so attractive for businesses is that it’s an interesting place to visit, plus it’s a good value when it comes to airfare, says Wheeler. “For example, fares to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic can be $900 or more, but flights to Mexico can be found that are less than half of that,” he explains.

Mexico is of great interest for meetings and events because it offers easy access, Wheeler adds. “Travelers don’t have problems with visas, and while you need a passport, it’s not restrictive to enter and exit. There’s also a very decent VAT refund program that can add up, depending on how much you spend.”

When working with clients scouting for event venues, Wheeler asks them when, why, who and what. “That includes why they’re having a meeting and what’s important to them in terms of location.”

In making the case for bringing events to Mexico, Wheeler first points out the country’s great climate. “People want that, especially in January and February when their homes are cold and covered in snow. There are plenty of areas with beautiful beaches and warm water,” he says.

Some clients want areas that have historical aspects, indigenous cultures and interesting foods and beverages, says Wheeler. “Other clients want all-inclusive options to get the most bang for the buck.”

Planners tend to compare Mexico with cities in Central America and the Caribbean. “Cost-wise, Mexico is a better value than many locations,” says Wheeler. “On paper, rates at resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico can be similar, but the airfare makes Mexico a better value, at less than 50 percent, and food is also a better deal in Mexico,” he says. “Mexico is fairly easy to get to, while some places in the Caribbean are not.”

Where To Go

Forty-five miles south of Cancun is Playa del Carmen, located in the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s east coast. The beach town is home to Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort, a hotel that has been aggressively marketing for corporate events. In only two years of operation, the resort has hosted more than 120 groups of different sizes, including coordinating two complete buy-outs, for Mazda and Mexican beer brand Cervecería Cuauhtémoc.

Veronica Sarmiento, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, notes that Mexico is a diverse market that affords meeting planners a wide variety of options for their events, from beaches to urban centers to historic colonial cities.

“In Playa del Carmen, the transition from tranquil beach town to thriving cosmopolitan city center has cast a new light on the city as a grand destination for meeting and incentive groups, with a level of connectivity that is desirable and conducive to the organization of meetings, conventions and events of any size,” she says. “Transportation is simple and easy, with Playa del Carmen only being a 45-minute drive from Cancun International Airport, and strong data and Internet service is available region wide.”

The Mexican peso has continued to be weak against the US dollar, meaning the cost of hosting an event in the country should prove to be a good deal, says Sarmiento.

The Grand Hyatt is fully prepared to help with logistical details, from meeting room setup, accommodations, food and beverage offerings, team building activities and more, says Sarmiento. “The resort offers more than 15,000 square feet of flexible, customizable event space across 18 meeting rooms and breakout areas that can accommodate groups of all sizes for productive business meetings. Furthermore, the resort’s ballroom has capacity for up to 500 guests standing and 350 sitting.”

In Los Cabos on Mexico’s west coast near the tip of the Baja peninsula is the all-inclusive, adults-only Marquis Los Cabos Resort and Spa. Located right on the Pacific Ocean, the resort touts meeting spaces with a view. And because it is all-inclusive, the resort is convenient for meetings and groups to host events without worrying about additional expenses. Opened in 2003, the property underwent a $10 million renovation in 2015.

Marquis Los Cabos has 235 ocean-front suites and 13,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 6,350 square feet ballroom, a smaller executive private boardroom, nine breakout spaces and open foyer and terrace spaces for events. The resort also has a 15,000-square foot spa and offers access to six 18-hole golf courses in the area.

Mexico Is Back

According to the Mexican Tourism Bureau, conventions can also find an array of diverse properties with brands that are highly demanded in the marketplace such as Barcelo, Palace Resorts, AM Resorts, Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood and Fiesta Americana. These properties have the experience, the infrastructure and the qualified staff to create memorable programs for business events.

Ever since Mexico’s tourism industry has come back, they have been showing up at all the travel and meeting planning conferences, says Wheeler. “And regions within Mexico are also being aggressive in going after events and business meetings. There is competition among them, but the country is unified in marketing itself. They’ve done a good job.”

Wheeler encourages planners to check out all the options and diversity of Mexico. “Go in with an open mind. There are more advantages than disadvantages, but do your research,” he says. “Although things are better, keep the safety of your group in mind. Have a contingency plan and work with locals to implement it.”

Mexico is a place that is good for groups, with good transportation and quality suppliers, says Wheeler. “The message is clear: Mexico is safe, clean and they’re open for business,” he states.  

By Benét Wilson