Latin America is Booming with New Infrastructure, Tours & Hotels

Latin America is Booming

Machu Picchu, Peru


Latin America is gaining ground in attracting more U.S. groups every year as suppliers continue to evolve, both in terms of varied product and sophistication. For example, Carlson Wagonlit Travel is combining its former North America and Latin America regions into one “Americas” region. The combined operation enables CWT to better leverage resources and expertise while preserving the necessary autonomy to meet the unique needs of its clients in each continent.

According to Håkan Ericsson, president, CWT Americas, “Many of CWT’s clients operate across the countries that are now included in our united Americas region and organize themselves in the same way. This new structure helps us deliver integrated travel management to these organizations, while respecting the local nuances important to doing business in each of these countries.”

CWT is forecasting increases in domestic/international event spending in Latin America that will be the highest in the world, averaging 11 percent.
“Latin America has been historically what we would call very ‘aspirational’ for many people,” says Tony Wagner, vp of meetings/events. But now I think they’re more focused on getting an actual handle on that.”

Wagner says the most overwhelmingly popular destination in Latin America for corporate meetings is Brazil. He explains that Brazil tends to be home to a high percentage of Latin American headquarters, particularly because it’s the strongest economy with the highest GDP in South America.

“As a result it’s the market with the biggest growth and the most popularity,” he says.

Looking at Colombia, Wagner says it’s a destination where he sees increased growth due to good hotel and airport infrastructure already in place. Second, there’s some great values right now in the group/business market.

“When you look at the transport costs getting into the country, there’s a very affordable business class ticket and very affordable hotel rates,” he says. “So, we’re seeing Colombia coming up as a very good value destination. We’re seeing it as a very good country to invest in.”

In terms of incentive destinations, Wagner says Peru, Chile and Colombia are the fastest growing destinations on a percentage basis.


Capitalizing on the surging group demand in Latin America, many of the global hotel brands are investing heavily in new developments throughout the continent. Presently, the Starwood Latin America portfolio encompasses over 70 business-friendly hotels with more on the way, including Westin, Sheraton and W Hotels.

“We’re laying the groundwork for future hotel development in Brazil especially, which is poised for a surge in tourism in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics,” says Aletia Salas Fernández, spokesperson for Starwood Latin. The Sheraton brand was established in Brazil in the 1970s, and currently operates six hotels under the Sheraton and Four Points by Sheraton brands in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre.

“Brazil is one of the most enticing global markets and one of the world’s great untapped hospitality markets… it’s under-hoteled and under-flagged,” adds Fernández. “With the influx of new travelers and the infrastructure development activity that comes with that, there is tremendous potential to develop all of our high-caliber brands across Brazil.”

It’s much the same situation in Panama, which is undergoing a tremendous boom in hotel development in both Panama City and the outlying beach destinations.

Newly opened Starwood beach resorts include The Westin Playa Bonita and Sheraton Bijao Beach. In December, The Westin Panama opens in the upscale Costa del Este area just three miles from the historic old city. It is owned and managed by Bern Hotels & Resorts, who also own The Westin Playa Bonita and Le Meridien Panama.”

“Starwood recognizes Panama as one of the world’s key emerging markets,” says Fernández.

The new big news is the debut of the W Hotels brand in Central America. Slated to launch in early 2016, W Panama will open in the 50-story Evolution Tower in the heart of the city’s financial district. Just minutes away, Uruguay Street is bustling with stylish restaurants and nightclubs.

Hilton Worldwide is also jumping into the fray. The hotel group opened six new hotels in Latin America and signed agreements for 10 more within the last year. Hilton presently operates more than 10,000 rooms among 51 hotels, with seven more opening their doors in 2013.

The 248-room Waldorf Astoria Panama is scheduled to open March 2013, also near Uruguay Street, with 3,500 sf of meeting space designed like a Manhattan penthouse. There will also be four distinct restaurants including one of the brand’s iconic Peacock Alley outlets.

Latin America is Booming 2


In Peru’s capital, the 207-room Hilton Lima Miraflores will open its doors in December in the upscale Miraflores area, surrounded by shopping, parks and plenty of fine dining, located 13 miles from the airport. There will be 45 executive rooms and ballroom space for 350 pax.

“Hilton Worldwide is experiencing a period of remarkable global growth… with the largest Latin America expansion in our history,” says Christopher Nassetta, president/CEO. “Peru, with its stable economy and continued growth, is a prime market for international travel.”

In October, the new 153-room JW Marriott Hotel Cusco joined the quickly growing collection of upscale boutique hotels in the colonial city at the doorstep to the mythical citadel of Machu Picchu. This seems like a bit of a departure for the brand but all the power to them. It’s a great opportunity to create split programs with any of the other Marriott-family properties in South America.

“In the last few years, Cusco has become known for its luxurious accommodations and spas, making it a natural decision for Marriott International to introduce the JW brand,” says Rob Steigerwald, COO of Marriott Southern Americas.

During the construction process the hotel worked closely with national and international archaeological institutions to protect ancient artifacts unearthed dating back to pre-Hispanic times. Some of those artifacts will be on public view at the new JW hotel.

Stay tuned for details about the 12th Annual Leadership Summit in December at the recently opened Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center. The product education and networking event highlights developments in global incentive travel programs. Prevue is the official media sponsor.


Santiago-based Sportstour DMC has been in operation for over 50 years, according to Claudia Aguayo, marketing manager, MICE. She says her company has been very active in promoting Chile to North American meeting and incentive planners at industry conventions and tradeshows. And within the last few years, she’s fielding a significant rise in RFPs based on growing demand for wine-themed, eco-luxury and adventure group travel. There is still however an all-around general lack of knowledge among the mainstream industry.

“We don’t feel that people know enough about Chile as a group destination, and we are trying to educate people about what we are able to offer to incentive and corporate groups,” says Aguayo. “Those efforts appear to be working because there is more interest lately from incentive groups in the USA.”

In terms of the biggest selling points for incentive and corporate groups, she cites what many first time visitors to Chile invariably point out. The country features an incredibly unique geographical diversity, including the beautiful forests, fjords and glaciers in Patagonia; the mystical deserts of Atacama; the cultural anomaly of Easter Island in the Pacific; and the colonial cities and towns.

While planners are more and more discovering these emerging destinations in terms of incentive travel, the lack of accommodations in the more remote areas generally restrict group size to about 100 rooms.

For larger groups, Aguayo says that planners have a variety of hotels in Santiago above 300 rooms with mid-week group discounts.”
The main draw here of course is the excellent variety of Chilean wine, attracting more groups due to the increased general knowledge of New World wine among North Americans. Aguayo says they can set up any number of wine programs—including how to blend wine and design their own labels—combined with cultural tours into both the old city and rural towns.

For small groups seeking something really new and different, the dramatic Atacama desert is garnering a lot of attention as the new “it destination” for well-traveled, eco-conscious executives.

“As a DMC, we can create a dinner out near the lagoons in the Atacama desert,” Aguayo says, explaining it’s something most people can’t do on their own without getting special authorization.

Latin America is Booming


Among all of the Latin American countries, Colombia is the biggest turnaround story of them all. Within the last five years, for example, Bogota has developed into a powerhouse financial center and convention destination.

“The number of international arrivals visiting Colombia to attend some type of event increased by 3% from 2010 to 2011 year on year,” says Enrique Stellabatti, vp of tourism for the country’s DMO, Proexport Colombia. In 2011, meeting and incentive travel was number three among international visitation, representing 8% of all inbound traffic.

Stellabatti says that ICCA puts Colombia as number 32 in international rankings, rising five positions from 2009. He attributes that to the variety of new and upgraded convention centers, a well-rounded collection of internationally-branded hotels, and the wide range of experienced PCOs.

Colombia’s colonial history guarantees an enormous array of attractions and historical sites for meeting/incentive venues. Cartagena, for example, is a great destination for history and culture. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, Cartagena encapsulates all of the charm of Spanish colonial architecture, intense nightlife, cultural festivals, superb beaches, wonderful food and stylish group hotels.

Stellabatti points to the more than six miles of walls that enclose the historic center of the town—making it among the top five largest Spanish colonial towns. The romanticism and liveliness of the nightlife is legendary for salsa group lessons and traditional music in bars and restaurants across the city.

“Hotels in Cartagena offer a variety of hotel atmospheres to meet the profile of any incentive trip,” says Stellabatti. “That includes luxury hotels in exquisitely decorated convents inside the walls, and modern hotels and resorts just a few minutes from the historic center.”

Medellin, the City of Eternal Spring, lies in the Aburra Valley in the midst of parks, plazas, and lush vegetation, and the 74 degree temperature that gives it its nickname, is still another Colombian destination that makes for a value-laden, culturally rich hub for meetings and incentive groups.

“Medellin has an incredible art scene and boasts the world’s largest exhibition of works by Fernando Botero,” says Stellabatti. “Architecturally, Plaza Mayor stands out as the most modern exhibit and convention center in Latin America. Medellin is also known for its thriving fashion industry due to its history as a textile manufacturer.”

The City of Eternal Spring is known for more than sculptures and runways. Medellin is famous for its annual Flower Fair, with a colorful parade dating back to 1957. The city’s Jardin Botanico is also a beautiful setting for corporate events and theme parties.


“Brazil is like the United States, there are a lot of countries in one country,” says Marco Antônio de Britto Lomanto, director of products/tourist destinations for EMBRATUR, the national DMO for Brazil. “Salvador, for example, is like the New Orleans of Brazil.”

Brazil is booming, with more than a 15% increase in business travel in 2011, according to the Global Business Travel Association. While Rio de Janeiro, San Paulo, Manaus in the Amazon, and the capital of Brasilia will always grab the lion’s share of attention from U.S.-based groups, the area north between Salvador and Fortaleza is gaining steam. Both coastal cities have modern airports with quick access to the major cities, and both will be hosting World Cup games in 2014. With that, there’s a concerted push to upgrade infrastructure and beautify the cities.

This winter, the new modernist Fortaleza Convention Center opens, followed by the wickedly cool waterfront Ceará Aquarium. The new aquarium’s architecture looks like something out of Alien with a giant eco-skeleton shell stretching along the harbor.

“Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador, and the rest of that area are so beautiful, so full of color and culture,” says Lomanto. “It’s become very, very successful for tourists from the United States, but I think maybe meeting and congress planners don’t know about it so well yet.”

The largest city on the northeast coast, Salvador is known as Brazil’s “Capital of Happiness” because of its laid back people and wealth of outdoor festivals, including a street carnival similar but smaller to Rio’s famous spectacle. Salvador, sometimes called “Bahia,” is the first colonial capital of Brazil, and one of the oldest in the Americas.

In Rio de Janeiro, Anna Nagy is director of Walpax DMC. She says the two things that every group wants is a samba-themed gala event and some kind of exposure to a capoeira performance. Capoeira is a choreographed dance combining Brazilian martial arts and music, which can be performed among two or more people. With professionals, it’s a beautiful display of athleticism and grace performed in both urban or beach locations.

Nagy likes to host samba-themed events for groups up to 4,000 attendees in the Samba City complex, where many of the samba schools prepare for the annual carnival. She also receives a lot of requests for samba dinners atop Sugarloaf Mountain during sunset, with a capacity for 450 pax.

“People like to dress up in the carnival costumes and we can create a mini samba parade,” says Nagy.

For a break from the city, Nagy organizes trips out to Regente Feijó Island in Sepetiba Bay. Everyone heads out in a big wooden schooner to a private beach where chefs are waiting to prepare a feast, complemented with samba and capoeira performances.


“In the late afternoon when the sun starts to set, it’s really a Robinson Crusoe type of experience,” says Nagy.

For smaller, more upscale events, ask Nagy about renting the private Villa Philippe for cocktails and dinner. The pretty French colonial home built in 1885 is located in Rio’s most artsy, bohemian district, where she says, “You can really feel the soul of Brazil.”

Latin America is Booming