The newly renovated 294-room Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort reopened in Panama in November after joining Starwood Hotels–making this Sheraton’s first all-inclusive hotel in Central America.
Sheraton Bijao Beach is ideally situated in Panama’s spectacular Santa Clara region, known as the ‘Dry Arc’ for its year-round dry, tropical climate. An hour north of Panama City, the resort is close enough for you to take your group into the bustling capital for shopping and sightseeing, or to enjoy lunch at the Panama Canal, but distant enough to offer a sense of privacy and seclusion.
The 3,600 sf of meeting space is complemented by a long stretch of beautiful beach and lush surroundings for extraordinary outdoor events. Host a cocktail party right by the water or organize a scavenger hunt leading up to the nearby dormant volcano.
Trip Barrett, DOSM for Starwood Hotels Latin America, tells us more about the resort.
Prevue: Why should meeting planners consider the Sheraton Bijao Beach Resort for their groups in Central America?
TB: Especially today, meeting planners have so much on their plates to come up with, all within the budgets companies offer them. When you have a property that is all-inclusive, it certainly makes it easier to start setting up their plans. The beauty of this property is that the onsite staff works with meeting planners before they arrive so that they can set up all the activities.
Not having to worry about extra costs is great. The coffee breaks and meals–it’s all there. They’ve got buffet-style restaurants and two a la carte restaurants. It really allows for the planner to say ‘Hey, I don’t have to worry about adding extra costs and I can get a great selection of activities and food during the course of the stay.’
We just converted to a Sheraton and did a multimillion dollar investment to bring it up to Sheraton standards. Some examples are adding the Link@Sheraton and putting the 5-diamond beds in. It’s a great experience for those meeting planners who know and trust the Sheraton brand, in giving them that confidence to book an all-inclusive stay with us.
What are some other unique selling points?
I think the first one is the location. You are close enough to Panama City where you can fly into there. You are also still close enough to take a group to see the Old City or the Panama Canal. It is also away from the city though, so you are in a remote destination. This is good for people who want to enjoy the full offerings at the resort, the great beach and the ability to see some things off site as well.
It has a great location and the weather throughout the year is spectacular. It’s truly one of those destinations that we’re very proud to have as part of the Sheraton brand. This is the second all-inclusive property that Starwood has opened this year. We also opened the Westin Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal in Costa Rica. This has been an exciting year for us, opening four great properties that are all excellent for groups.
Because of the design of the hotel you have a great variety of different room options. Out of our 294 rooms, just over 100 are mountainview and the rest of the rooms have oceanfront views. All the oceanfront rooms have balconies or terraces that allow guests to walk out to the beach.
What is the meeting space like at Sheraton Bijao Beach?
You’ve got a full-on capability for meeting space that accommodates anywhere from 30 to 300 people. Groups can use the meeting space during the day and then take advantage of the great facilities that they can use after the meetings are over.
One of the programs that we’ve installed in all of our Sheraton properties is the Sheraton Fit Meetings. In addition to the traditional meetings, planners can incorporate our fit menus. The menu is available to both groups and regular hotel guests. The meeting planner can schedule this if they want to have healthier options for the breaks or for meals. It’s an alternate that’s already built into the price but it gives them a little more flexibility for their planning.
The Amador room, which is one of the meetings spaces, overlooks the pool. This allows for natural light. It doesn’t inhibit though, which is good. You have a view of the pools and the grounds but you won’t have children running up to you or anything distracting. When groups book something by the pool then it does give them that incentive to say ‘Hey, let’s get through our meeting so we can go on to the activities that we’ve planned for you.’
What is the outdoor space like? Can groups plan parties on the beach?
Outdoor events can range from cocktail parties to full dinners and events. You are not limited to the types of events you can do outside. They can be on the beach or a teambuilding activity, or even a musical event. You’ve got great spaces within the property that don’t interfere with other guests. Groups really utilize these to come up with alternates for different kinds of programming.
What can you tell us about the food?
There are four different restaurants. One is an international buffet that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner called Taboga. We have a mixed seafood and meat grill called Coco Solo Grill. The other two restaurants are specialty restaurants. One is Los Olivos, which has Mediterranean food and that’s one of the a la carte, reservations-required restaurants. The other is Sakura, which serves Japanese food. You also need reservations for that one. You have options between four different kinds of food and for those who want to do something quick, they can go to the buffet.
What kind of event can you put together for a group, taking advantage of the hotel’s all-inclusive packages?
That’s one of the great things about all-inclusive hotels. We do nightly activities so there’s a vast array of great ideas that the hotel can incorporate into the nightly shows that are already there. With the help of meeting planners, the staff can plan a variety of themed parties, whether it’s a tropical party that revolves around fitness or teambuilding on the beach, or activities on the relaxation side, incorporating the spa. Pretty much, the sky is the limit in terms of activities because we’ve got the space in the convention facilities as well as the outdoor facilities, like the tennis courts, the beach and the spa. Activities can be designed to say, ‘Let’s make this special for you. What is your interest?’
We can also take the group offsite. There’s a dormant volcano nearby and there’s a lot of ecotourism. You can even start on the property with a themed event like a scavenger hunt that ends up taking you offsite to the volcano, for example, or doing zip lining.
A lot of people take advantage of going hiking, rafting and zip lining. There are a lot of big hills in the jungle in Panama and the activities are good for exploring, if you like nature. The volcano is pretty spectacular. For people who have never been to one, you get to hike up and see it. It’s like the one in Hawaii except you don’t get to see the lava.