It’s low tide on Banderas Bay in Riviera Nayarit, just north of Puerto Vallarta, and your group is stoked. Playing the Jack Nicklaus-designed Pacifico Golf Course, they’re salivating at tackling one of the world’s most distinctive and illusive holes: the par-3 island known as “Tail of the Whale.”
In order to nail this small offshore green, you need to launch your tee shot across the water with confidence and precision. True, the whimsy of the Pac Mex wind gods are an unknown. But this is not the place to second guess yourself or you’ll be spending a small fortune in new Titleists at the pro shop.
You will not, however, spend a fortune to book this course at the 5-diamond, 120-room St. Regis Punta Mita, which delivers every anticipated aspect of “awesomeness” associated with the brand. That’s because the Pacific Mexico offers the best incentive program deals on the globe right now in terms of hotel, lift, accessibility, food and high drama.
“If you’re looking for a warm destination at an exceptional value these days, the St. Regis Punta Mita should top the list,” says Melani Schneider, director of sales/marketing. “For added value, we’ve introduced culinary teambuilding events, plus meal plans that weren’t offered in the past.”
Other new palatable programs include blind tasting dinners where eye-masked participants savor specialties of the resort’s 5-diamond Carolina restaurant. Meanwhile, Altamira Bar hooks you up with tequila samplings, full moon cocktail hours and St. Regis’ signature Bloody Mary tastings.
Mexico’s new kid on the block, Riviera Nayarit is choked with prestigious brands 10 miles from Puerto Vallarta International Airport. Sprawling along 192 miles of pristine Pacific coastline, the vast region encompasses upscale Punta Mita and Nuevo Vallarta, colonial San Blas, the bohemian artist and surfing hamlet of Sayulita, and a slew of unspoiled fishing villages. Sharing The St. Regis’ posh dig spotlight are The Four Seasons Punta Mita, the upscale Grand Velas complex of resorts, plus Vallarta Palace and the Marival Residences.
“With the quality and diversity that we offer, the business travel market in our destination is seeing accelerated growth,” says Richard Zarkin, director of Riviera Nayarit CVB. He notes that 75% of the area’s 12,000 rooms are 4- and 5-star.
Pam Adams, Manager of Incentive/Meeting Travel for TravelCorp International in New Orleans, took 250 to the 348-room Vallarta Palace in December.
“This incentive group had visited Nayarit in 2005, and was eager to return here and particularly to Vallarta Palace,” says Adams. From a planner’s perspective, she was hyped about how the destination enabled her to extend the budget further.
“Choosing Riviera Nayarit gave us the flexibility of upgrading to Vallarta Palace,” she says. “And we were able to purchase upgraded rooms for special guests. The value is really there.”
She adds that the resort tossed in complimentary WiFi, long distance phone calls to the US, various tours, an open-bar cocktail reception and an exclusive banquet.
Endless beaches, some of the world’s top deep sea fishing, blood-red sunsets and 11 glam golf courses (with three more in the works) have propelled Los Cabos to premier CMI status. Toss in 12,000 rooms and a slew of non-stops from US gateways into Los Cabos International Airport, and you have to ask yourself “What’s not awesome?”
“One of the biggest changes we’ve seen with our destination over the past few years is the number of added-value packages available to meeting planners,” says Gonzalo Franyutti De La Parra, president of Los Cabos CVB.
Jose Carlos Del Rio, managing director of EPIC DMC, says planners can scoop up discounts on room rates, upgrades and group activities.
“We can charter a 144-ft catamaran and have a 45-minute show tossed in for free,” says Del Rio. He explains that golfers are especially pumped up about the new Puerto Los Cabos Golf Club, a unique championship course that marries “The Bear” and “The Shark” with nine holes designed by Jack Nicklaus and nine by Greg Norman.
Par Avion’s Chelini praises Los Cabos as a favorite among her CMI clients. Beyond receiving what she describes as the “royal treatment” at the Relais & Chateaux Esperanza Resort, her group of 50 dabbled in the resort’s cooking classes, spa and golf. A few of her off-road warriors ripped through the desert in Green Zebra Tours’ 4-wheel drive Tomcars.
“It’s really exhilarating, although you return a little dusty,” laughs Chelini. So sold on Cabos’ value at the high-end, Chelini is taking the group back to One&Only Palmilla in May.
But perhaps nothing oozes with appeal quite like the wine-themed Barefoot Elegance Experience at Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa.
The resort’s SOMMA WineSpa capitalizes on its location in the heart of Baja’s emerging wine country with an avant-garde take on the common grape. Beyond infusing the natural healing power of wine by-products into virtually every spa experience, SOMMA created a new fine dining/spa experience.
After crushing grapes on the beach and using your toes to extract the rich phenols from the grape skin and seeds, attendees are rewarded with a reflexology massage using those newly created detox ingredients. That’s followed with a sampling of regional wines paired with hand-selected canapés and a 3-course feast. Then as the moon rises, you can stargaze through a high-powered telescope while sipping champagne.
“Meeting planners love the idea of unique activities,” says Eva López, group sales manager. “It’s one of the reasons our property is seeing repetitive group programs every year.”
Wasn’t expecting this, but we happened upon Sidi-Amar Taou from Nomade Sahara Expeditions in Niger, who moved to Baja with a herd of camels to join Cabo Adventures. He now shares with groups his passion for dromedaries and stories about nomadic culture from his homeland.
Groups can hook up with the camel “Slim” and his seven single hump buddies to caravan along a virgin Pacific beach where whales frolic offshore in the winter. We saddle up in pairs, and then like a tribe of Bedouin desert dwellers, we head out into the shifting sands with a guide gently leading each of us.
The camel encounter is just half of Cabo Adventure’s new 4.5-hour Outback & Camel Safari Tour. We also jumped into a couple 4×4 Mercedes Benz off-road “Unimogs” to explore the flora, fauna and wildlife that give Baja its distinctive character.