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MEXICO EAST COAST

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MEETING PLANNER PARADISE Mexico’s east coast seduces with natural beauty—and superb business infrastructure By Christine Loomis

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A shore lined with sweeping arcs of alabaster sand set against soul-soothing blue-green waters—this is Mexico’s east coast, a photographer and sun worshiper’s paradise. Yet as mesmerizing as the beaches and sea are, they are only part of what the country offers, both in its remarkable physical elements and in its business environment. The best-known east coast destinations are Cancún and Riviera Maya, which share an airport but not a simpatico vibe: While Cancún is glitzy and full of late-night options, Riviera Maya is more serene with glimpses of authentic culture around its tourist attractions. They do, however, share a welcoming attitude toward meetings business, and both offer an infrastructure that makes bringing a meeting to Mexico easier than many planners believe. Beyond the crown jewels of Cancún and Riviera Maya, Mexico’s east coast has a handful of other worthy destinations that support meetings, including incentives and options for corporate retreats. Cozumel, beloved by cruise ship passengers, is worth consideration for smaller groups. MÊrida, capital


of the state of YucatĂĄn, melds historic and contemporary cultures and offers a surprising number of options for groups. Up the coast, Veracruz is poised to be noticed by North American organizations.

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Lively CancĂşn embraces its hot-spot status with a string of high-rise hotels, nightclubs, trendy restaurants and spendy boutiques guaranteed to appeal to jet-setters and others who seek “the sceneâ€? wherever they go. Not that its beaches disappoint. Far from it. The appeal of CancĂşn is that its high-energy action is complemented by compelling natural attributes, including a gorgeous stretch of sun-saturated sand and lapping waters that beg to be floated on. The compact hotel zone is a narrow spit between the Caribbean Sea and NichuptĂŠ Lagoon, an island connected to the mainland on each end by bridges. Public transportation is readily available for those who want to explore less touristy parts of the city. CancĂşn does not disappoint when it comes to meetings, either. Fernando Cervantes, groups and conventions director for the CancĂşn Convention & Visitors Bureau, says there are five main reasons CancĂşn is ideal for U.S. and Canadian groups: • Connectivity: Having Mexico’s No. 1 airport for international arrivals means that all the major airlines fly into CancĂşn with great frequency. • Infrastructure: With over 1 million sq. ft. of meeting space and more than 34,000 hotel rooms, CancĂşn can easily accommodate any size meeting and exhibition. • Added value: International meetings that take place in CancĂşn do not pay the value added tax, so up front, planners and attendees save 11%. • Activities: CancĂşn has 13 golf courses, archaeology sites, water sports, eco parks, CSR options— and that’s just part of what the area has to offer. • Safety: CancĂşn is a very safe destination. Cervantes adds that CancĂşn’s attention to detail

and service are comparable to anywhere, proven in the CVB’s strategy of partnership with planners. “The way we do it is that the CancĂşn CVB becomes your partner in the destination to help you plan your meeting or conference,â€? he says. “We will take care of your RFP, set up your site inspection and provide you with teasers, promotional material and discount cards. It is important to us to provide support at every step of the event or conference.â€?

MAJOR MEETING VENUES

In total, CancĂşn offers more than 700,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and more than 200,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space between the CancĂşn Center and 25 properties in close proximity. The CancĂşn Center itself has 75,500 sq. ft. of meeting space and 78,500 sq. ft. of exhibition space; more than 3,500 hotel rooms are within walking distance. CancĂşnmesse, located between CancĂşn and Playa del Carmen, has the largest trade fair grounds in Latin America and offers 271,412 sq. ft. of indoor

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exhibition space, plus an outdoor area of 107,639 sq. ft. Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, outside the main hotel area but just four miles from the airport, has 2,457 rooms and more than 120,000 sq. ft. of space across 123 acres. Its Universal Ballroom can accommodate up to 5,000 attendees, while the elegant Galactic Ballroom has room for up to 3,600 guests. There are 40 breakout room options, and when meetings are over, attendees can take advantage of seven pools, 13 restaurants, a lavish spa and the Nicklaus-designed golf course. Moon Palace is a good option for conferences with a family component as it has a kidsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; club for ages four to 12. Iberostar CancĂşn Hotel, formerly the Hilton, is a Four-Diamond property with a spa and golf course. Its Peninsula Convention Center, the only one in the area on the beach, has 49,000 sq. ft. indoors, 60,000 sq. ft. outdoors and 22 function rooms. It can accommodate up to 2,500 and offers in-house A/V services. Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach CancĂşn Resort & Spa showcases a Latin chic ambience in its 602 rooms and more than 85,000 sq. ft. of space, including the 15,000-square-foot Grand Coral Ballroom. The resortâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s conference experts make life easy for planners with ready-to-go theme nights. The Royal CancĂşn, a Real resort, is an all-suite hotel with 288 spacious suites, the most compelling being the swim-up master suites (if they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t help attendees relax and get a new perspective on business, nothing will). The Royal has 6,888 sq. ft. of space for up to 700 attendees, including a VIP boardroom for up to 25. It is adults-only, but the Gran Caribe Real Resort is next door for attendees who bring family along. The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun has 365 guest  6 0 $ 5 7  0 ( ( 7 , 1 * 6


MEXICO EAST COAST

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rooms plus 27,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the 11,175-square-foot Ritz-Carlton Ballroom. A conference concierge and The Ritz-Carltonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s famed Technology Butler Services ensure that meetings run smoothly. The onsite Viking Culinary Center offers options for creative team building with its Extreme Chef program, during which teams of attendees face off in a timed cooking battle in the oceanfront Viking Kitchen. The Five-Star Omni Cancun Hotel & Villas has 343 rooms and 12,500 sq. ft. of flexible space. One option planners should consider: three-bedroom villas of 2,000 sq. ft. that can serve as executive quarters as well as meeting space for VIPs and event space for small functions.

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South of CancĂşn, Riviera Mayaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s exact starting point is as fuzzy as the horizon after a couple of margaritas. Most agree it begins near Puerto Morelos and stretches 80 miles down the coast, encompassing sweet beaches as well as one of Mexicoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most photo-worthy Mayan ruins, Tulum, perched on cliffs above the turquoise sea. It also includes Coba, an archaeological site deep in the jungle, where attendees can bond climbing the 120 stunningly steep steps to the top of Nohoch Mul, Cobaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s impressive pyramid. Riviera Mayaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s best-known city is Playa del Carmen, infused with a touch of CancĂşnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s glam yet visibly rooted in authentic heritage. Fun central is Playaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Fifth Avenue, lined with

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shops, restaurants, bars and a few boutique hotels; coffee and cocoa lovers should grab a table at Ah Cacao for stellar lattes or hot chocolate and the best people-watching in Playa. A couple of blocks off Fifth, you can catch the ferry to Cozumel. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no love lost between CancĂşn and Riviera Maya in terms of vying for visitors, but in some respects they appeal to a different travelers. Still, Carlos Mora Vera, meetings manager for Riviera Maya, is clear in his goals. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We are working hard to position the Riviera Maya as the main meeting destination in Mexicoâ&#x20AC;Śand one of the top 20 players in the world.â&#x20AC;? Mora Vera says the time is now right. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We have over 600,000 sq. ft., a capacity of more than 40,000 people and over 50 hotels with meeting space to accommodate large groups, incentive tours and pre- and post-convention activities.â&#x20AC;? Mora Vera believes the Riviera Maya is perfectly positioned to reach its goal of becoming a top meeting destination. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The wide range of available

tion. In 2010, 100,000 attendees arrived from the United States for corporate and association meetings, while another 75,000 came for incentive programs. And the Riviera Maya Destination Marketing Office is doing more to attract greater numbers. An innovative and useful online tool for planners is slated to launch in January during the 2012 PCMA annual meeting in San Diego, so stay tuned.

MAJOR MEETING VENUES

The Five-Diamond Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort Riviera Maya has its own 1,000-foot beach five minutes from downtown Playa del Carmen, along with 491 guest rooms and 91,547 sq. ft. of meeting space. The largest spaces accommodate up to 3,000 attendees. Riviera Maya Aventura Spa Palace Resort is adults-only with 777 rooms and 55,000 sq. ft. of flexible space. Its meeting rooms celebrate the YucatĂĄnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s spiritual side, with names like Soul, Spirit and Mind (25,000, 9,000

â&#x20AC;&#x153;We are working hard to position the Riviera Maya as the main meeting destination in Mexicoâ&#x20AC;Śand one of the top 20 players in the world.â&#x20AC;? Carlos Mora Vera, Riviera Maya Destination Marketing Office meeting space and attractions combined with a rich cultural heritage in a spacious, exotic setting sets the Riviera Maya apart from other destinations,â&#x20AC;? he says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The world-class infrastructure provides meeting planners with multiple venues, resorts, golf courses and activity options, and with easy access to a multitude of direct flights to and from many international gateways.â&#x20AC;? The statistics bear out the appeal of the destina-

and 6,000 sq. ft., respectively) and its spa offers a Mayan Temazcal experience. Last May, Aventura hosted 48 attendees for the MPI Certification in Meetings Management event, and it was a great success. â&#x20AC;&#x153;The staff could not have been more professional or attentive while we were there. Our convention service manager was there every day from the start of the program to the end,â&#x20AC;? says MPI Meeting Manager Meaghan Ferrazza.


MEXICO EAST COAST

Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe has 756 rooms and an onsite convention center accommodating groups of up to 2,000. Set between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, it has a Mayan-influenced spa that makes leaving difficult. North of Playa, exclusive Mayakoba is home to the Fairmont Mayakoba, Banyan Tree Mayakoba and Rosewood Mayakoba. The Fairmont, with 26,495 sq. ft. of meeting space plus 8,000 sq. ft. outdoors, has 401 guest rooms on 45 lushly landscaped acres to accommodate groups. Decidedly more low key is Puerto Morelos, a small village where locals and tourists mingle. For incentive and corporate groups wanting a boutique property thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the 88-room Ceiba del Mar Beach & Spa Resort, where luxury and Mayan culture blend seamlessly. Event space includes ballrooms of 1,049 and 1,722 sq. ft. and the ultimate sunset spot, the 2,098-square-foot Palapa Pier. Nearby, Now Jade Riviera Cancun has 550 suites and a 10,710-square-foot ballroom in a sublime setting where service and serenity are perfectly paired. In July, the RiĂş Playacar Convention Center

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opened to support RiĂşâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s six hotels with a combined 2,700 rooms in Playa del Carmen, adding 8,070 sq. ft. of meeting space to the area. Riviera Maya also entices groups to meet, play, team build, embrace local culture and even relax at three of its top attractions, eco-parks Xel-ha, Xcaret and Xplor. Xcaretâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s facilities, for example, include dining areas for up to 600 and a theater accommodating up to 1,600.

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A short ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, Cozumel is a destination for groups as well as a daytrip option for those based on the mainland. Groups can explore by four-wheel-drive Jeep, visit small Mayan ruins, sun on exquisite beaches and shop in San Miguel, the islandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s only town. Chankanaab National Park is the star attraction, a place where groups can snorkel, see a variety of cultural and

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wildlife shows, eat beachside, explore a recreated Mayan village and see enough iguanas in every color to fill a photo album. Presidente InterContinental Cozumel Resort Spa is one of the only hotels on the island where you can snorkel right from shore. In addition to 220 guest rooms, the hotel has three meeting rooms totaling 4,341 sq. ft.

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MĂŠrida is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. It is the capital of the state of YucatĂĄn and is its cultural epicenter, rich in history yet with contemporary flair. The historic center, lined with centuriesold buildings, is Mexicoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s second largest, and two of the countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most important archaeological ruins, ChichĂŠn-ItzĂĄ and Uxmal, are an easy drive away.

MAJOR MEETING VENUES

The YucatĂĄn Siglo XXI Convention and Exhibition Center hosts international events in its 904,000-plus sq. ft. In the city center, Hyatt Regency MĂŠrida has 289 guest rooms and 10 meeting rooms, including a ballroom accommodating up to 650. The 127-room InterContinental Presidente MĂŠrida, once a stately mansion, has 5,204 sq. ft. of meeting space. Few boutique properties can compare with Hacienda Xcanatun, 20 minutes from the airport yet in many respects centuries away. Once one of the largest of YucatĂĄn haciendas, Xcanatun was restored to its 18th-century splendor by owners Jorge Ruz and Cristina Baker. Baker serves as the onsite destination management counselor and has worked closely with the groups who have met there. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We have hosted corporate or incentive meetings for Ikea, Ford, Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and Bimbo, the largest bread-making company in the world,â&#x20AC;? she says. â&#x20AC;&#x153;President Calderonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dinner with George

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Bush was at Hacienda Xcanatun, and this year President Calderon hosted a dinner for the president of Colombia here.â&#x20AC;? Baker takes a highly personal approach to meetings, with one group scheduled at a time. The haciendaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 18 rooms accommodate up to 36, the same number the table in the renovated chapel-turnedmeeting-center can seat. â&#x20AC;&#x153;We provide customization and personalization in a tranquil garden setting 10 minutes from downtown MĂŠrida,â&#x20AC;? Baker says. Attendees often share a group â&#x20AC;&#x153;Maya Cleansingâ&#x20AC;? to â&#x20AC;&#x153;put everyone in the best frame of mind for working together,â&#x20AC;? Baker adds. DoĂąa Carolina, the hotelâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s head Mayan therapist, was trained by her shaman grandfather and uses rituals passed down through the centuries from her ancestors to create pampering treatments for guestsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;always a highlight for groups. Sometimes Baker partners with a hotel to host larger groups. Attendees sleep at the partner hotel but come to Xcanatun for evening activities and dinner in the garden, and spouses often spend the day at the hacienda for activities, excursions and lunch. With such personal attention, planners can customize their groupâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s experience with Bakerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s expert help.

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Veracruz celebrates a rich blend of culturesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;indigenous Mexican, Spanish, African and Caribbeanâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; apparent in its people, music and food. The heart of the city on the Gulf of Mexico is the tree-filled zocalo, where residents and tourists gather late into the night in a festive spirit, and there is almost always dancing in the evenings. Although Veracruz lacks the tourism cachet of better-known destinations, the city is actively promoting tourism.

MAJOR MEETING VENUES

A member of the Preferred Hotels group, Emporio Veracruz has 223 rooms outfitted with flat-screen TVs and iPod docking stations. Five function rooms and three conference rooms host groups of up to 550. Crowne Plaza Veracruz Torremar, along the beach, has 229 rooms and more than 1,000 sq. ft. of flexible event space for groups of up to 600. Mexico is clearly an enticing meetings destination. It offers state-of-the-art facilities in many of its venues as well as a rich cultural experience for attendees. Luxury boutique hotels host high-end corporate retreats and incentive groups, while expansive multinational resorts accommodate groups of any size and provide a wealth of recreational opportunities. The friendliness of the Mexican people and the intense beauty of the countryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s natural landscapes, plus the fact that so many locals speak )RUPRUHLQIRUPDWLRQabout properties, venues and English, are among the reasons to consider Mexico attractions on Mexicoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s East Coast, visit smartmeetings.com/business-destinations. for your next meeting.  6 0 $ 5 7  0 ( ( 7 , 1 * 6


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