When Ricky Martin exploded on the national scene during the 1999 Grammys with Livin’ La Vida Loca, it catalyzed a Latin American invasion of pop culture that to this day permeates the American consciousness. Often called “The Latin Boom,” it has been very good for business for everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Bacardi (mojitos, anyone?) to Latin American CVBs.
With the impending 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, the entire continent of South America is now booming with global buzz and attracting the attention of U.S. planners.
For example, the brawny Brazilian city of Sao Paulo will host the first ever Latin American Meeting & Event Conference (LAMEC) on December 12. Mauricio de Almeida Prado, executive director for LAMEC, worked extensively with MPI Brazil to organize, promote and host the conference.
“The idea is to mix education, content and international companies who are interested in building brands through events,” he says. “Today Sao Paulo is a huge market for really everything, not just events…. We have companies like Formula 1 and Indy, and that’s mostly because there are 15 million people here and it is the engine of the Brazilian market.”
The event’s host hotel is the striking 95-room Hotel Unique, architecturally designed to resemble a cross between an ocean liner and a wok. The hotel’s modernist chutzpah, beautiful greenish-copper façade and central location are what makes this the ideal high-profile property to attract worldwide interest.
“Hotel Unique is a very modernly designed hotel and it’s trendy,” says de Almeida Prado. “So we’re hosting the event there so our attendees can create a link between today’s trends and LAMEC.”
Located near the financial center, the hotel is a 15-minute drive from Sao Paulo’s airport, located in the exclusive Jardins residential area next to the city’s largest park, Ibirapuera.
Spurring on the Latin Boom 2.0, LAN Airlines unveiled a new Meetings & Incentive Department at IMEX 2011 in Las Vegas this fall. The initiative is designed to leverage LAN’s connectivity and knowledge of the continent, while showcasing the many popular destinations, such as Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and the Galapagos. Planners should look for a bevy of new industry programs including site visits, VIP lounge access, priority travel arrangements, etc.
Throughout Brazil and beyond, AmTours DMC builds custom group experiences in partnership with Sao Paulo CVB and Sao Paulo Tourism Authority, with a multilingual staff required in the Portuguese-speaking country.
“About 75-80% of our operation is centered around custom-built experiences, based on the group’s specific requests,” says Aloisio Mendes, managing director. “Just to give you an idea of a specific tour we are conducting at the moment, we have a group coming to the Amazon and then we’re heading over to Pantanal, which are the marshlands of Brazil. It’s whatever the group asks for.”
AmTours also puts together pre/post tours for groups up to 800 attendees in town for conferences and conventions.
“If they stay a few extra nights in Sao Paulo, we can take them to Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, the former Brazilian capitals,” Mendes says. “To me, Salvador is one of the most beautiful cities in Brazil—it’s very colonial.”
Cruising down the dark waters of the Amazon is another popular request. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the jungle, from toucans perched in the rainforest canopy to crocodiles lurking in the shallows. The company works with Ibero Cruises and several others embarking from Manaus, the largest urban area on the world’s most extensive river basin. Nestled between rivers and massive amounts of rainforest, the bustling city is a hidden treasure—a mix of residential areas, food markets, commercial buildings and humming streets beginning at the river’s edge.
Ships range up to 80 cabins, but Mendes says that smaller ones can often make the trip more intimate and approachable for buyouts.
Although the company focuses on Brazil for most of their experiences, trips to Argentina, Chile and Peru can also be created. Machu Picchu, the Andes, Mendoza and Chile’s wine lands are a few of the more popular requests.
ARGENTINA TRAVEL PARTNERS
In Argentina, a group can spend a sunny afternoon harvesting grapes in wine country one day and raft through the frigid waters of the Patagonian Steppe the next. From its people to its geography, Argentina’s abundance of cool cultural experiences is a clear indicator of the country’s dynamism.
Argentina Travel Partners DMC (ATPdmc) gives us a glimpse of Argentina’s newest and wildest group experiences.
Known for its deep history of polo, Argentina is the ideal spot for groups to test their skills at the “sport of kings.” The town of Pilar is home to Club Polo One, a venue open to both professionals and amateurs, located one hour north of Buenos Aires. The afternoon begins with a brief introduction to the rules of the game while attendees sip champagne and munch on gourmet meats and cheeses.
The polo fields can host two long tables for up to 100 guests to enjoy a country-style Argentinian steak barbecue, paired with vino from the country’s vaunted vineyards. After lunch, groups then watch a professional polo match.
“All the while, we continue to serve champagne and sweets,” says Ines Gowland, director of ATP. “Overall, it’s quite fancy as an event.”
Another popular option is a 90-minute plane ride into the heart of Argentina’s wineries in Mendoza. Here, teams can blend their own wine under the watchful eye of experienced sommeliers. Local chefs will also teach the secret to mastering Argentina’s barbecuing technique, asado, via group cooking demonstrations and classes.
“It combines all the wine events we offer,” Gowland says. “Some people cook while others blend wine, and at the end of the day everyone eats together.”
In Buenos Aires, ATP is more and more customizing a day of shopping and great food for smaller groups within a larger group. For shopping, Gowland recommends Palermo Soho. This newly hip area features great shopping malls and fun nightlife. Check out San Telmo’s flea market on Sundays for antiques and Florida Street for leather goods.
“We’ve seen a trend from U.S. groups where they do activities together but also want a chance to customize their trip to their personal interests,” says Gowland. “A lot of shops in town are tailoring clothes in 24 hours for guests who shop and must return back home the next day.”
For fashion-inclined groups, ATP puts together runway shows during breakfast in the event spaces of many area hotels including: Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, Hilton Buenos Aires and Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel & Convention Center.
For multinational programs, ATP books Chile’s wine country and a 1-day cruise to Uruguay. The cruise port is a 1-hour drive from Buenos Aires and travels out to Colonia del Sacramento, the oldest town in Uruguay. Gowland says, “Groups love it because it’s another stamp on their passport.”
THE WESTIN LIMA HOTEL
Ideally located in the financial district near downtown Lima, the new 301-room Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center is 30 minutes from the airport. Nearby, famous landmarks include the Modern Art Museum of Lima, the Colonial Art Museum and a series of beautiful plazas.
The Westin is the largest branded meeting and convention hotel in Peru, with the largest convention space in South America. Over 28,000 sf of space can accommodate groups up to 2,000 pax.
“This is the tallest building in all of Peru, so you can’t miss it—it’s a landmark,” says Trip Barrett, vp of marketing for Latin America. “It’s also in a really great location. San Isidro has some excellent shopping and restaurants.”
The hotel’s Heavenly Spa is the largest urban spa in Lima, and at the signature Maras restaurant, chef Rafael Piqueras prepares traditional cuisine including a “grand variety of ceviche,” says Barrett.
For offsite programs, the hotel works with Tikariy DMC to set up tours to the Nazca Lines and Machu Picchu.
“They’ve got tours that go for a day trip where you fly and come back on the same day for the Nazca lines, or you can go up and spend the weekend in Machu Picchu, which is a great opportunity,” Barrett says. “We have a Luxury Collection property that opened last year, the 60-room Tambo del Inka, which is in the Sacred Valley and can host people flying into Cusco…. There’s a train that actually goes from the hotel itself—it’s the only hotel that has its own train—that takes groups to Machu Picchu, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and shouldn’t be missed.”