Making the Most of Meetings in Latin America: A Strengthening and Maturing Region

Sao Paulo Brazil city

Already one of the meetings industry’s fastest-growing destinations, Latin America doesn’t show signs of slowing down. Not only are some of the biggest names in international hospitality laying down roots all across the region, new and renovated convention centers are emerging as landmarks along the beautiful city skylines. However, even as more and more companies are expanding their operations throughout its blossoming economic sectors, the road to get to this point has had its bumps along the way.

Hotel companies have considered Latin America a growth priority and have made sizable investments in infrastructure, despite economic uncertainty and political turmoil occurring in some primary markets.

Hilton Worldwide has tripled its presence in Latin America over the past seven years and continues to open new properties in such locations as Medellin, Colombia scheduled to open in 2019. At last count, Hilton had a pipeline of some 70 projects and 11,300 guestrooms across Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

Marriott International’s presence in the region more than doubled recently, as the company acquired Starwood. Suddenly the Marriott footprint in Latin America, alone, went from 29 hotels to 74. Both InterContinental and Wyndham have been watching some 6,000 hotel rooms come online in the region over the past two years.

“South America has huge potential in many countries. You just have to adapt to the local culture and the local economy. It’s really global thinking but local acting,” said Sebastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor Hotels, speaking at SAHIC (the South American Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference) in Costa Rica last year.

And with the hotels and gleaming new exhibition venues, meetings in Latin America would appear to be on course for a bright future.

Top Spots for Meetings in Latin America

Beach in BrazilAccording to recent surveys of booking data, the top five destinations for meetings and events in Latin America are Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Mexico City in Mexico, Bogota in Colombia, and Buenos Aires in Argentina. But while tourism and hospitality development has been robust some concerns about flat to negative growth in certain countries is giving planners in the meetings industry some concern.

“One of the most relevant trends we are seeing is the immense amount of investment from global chains in the region,” says Eduardo Chaillo, our general manager for Latin America. “This generates trust for travelers and confidence for business events strategists. New Hyatts Hiltons and Marriotts as well as other high-end brands both from Europe and North America are strongly connecting our region to the corporate and association international markets.”

Latin America’s Resilience

Within South America, research through the ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association) points out that while Colombia and Chile continue to be exciting markets to watch, the lack of growth from Brazil is seen as a possible destabilizing element affecting the region as a whole. One report noted Brazil’s meeting and event spend last year as down 17 percent. Although buoyed by the recent World Cup and Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, other factors have lent a dampening effect starting, perhaps, with the Zika virus scare in 2016 (and more recently, Yellow Fever) and adding such considerations as security concerns, a severe recession in 2015 and 2016 and corruption scandals.

Meanwhile, six countries in the region have critical elections on the calendar and, as we know, anything can happen.

In March, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczunski resigned in the wake of a corruption scandal, and concern continues for the deteriorating humanitarian and refugee crisis in Venezuela.

“We are in a world that is crazy – everywhere,” says Chaillo. “So Latin America is not that different, except for some political happenings producing some negative publicity in the region. So, one of the most important pathways we need to develop is the building of trust between all sectors through efficient responses, use of technology, professional behavior, and global standards.

Meetings Meet Might in Latin America

“Still, most of the institutions are strong,” adds Chaillo “Most of these countries understand the interrelationships with the United States and the infrastructure these relationships generate, along with the growing number of meetings taking place in their countries — and these are the places where the meetings industry is most mature. Mexico, for example, has proved to be a model for this. Mexico has 11 meeting organizations working together and separately and each has a specialty they can address. Many large convention centers have recently been built and the private sector is driving this.”

“The problem is not with honesty but efficiency. And there really is no playbook for this.”

The maturity of the meetings industry in the region, and with it Strategic Meetings Management (SMM), might best be described as inconsistent, according to meetings watchers in this area. Argentina, Chile and Peru have essentially not launched those solutions and mostly it is pharmaceutical companies that are using SMM programs in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. With pharma regulations expanding globally, meeting options are limited for appropriate meeting venues, business standard hotels, applicable F&B menus, and destination options as focus on compliance and required reporting grows.

At bottom line, you make sure whatever you are doing is shared and everyone knows. You can do honest business with dialogue. It all goes back to SMM,” says Chaillo. “Security will always play a big role in planning these events — not only physical safety concerns, but of course current data security regulations. Moving forward such companies as Cvent will be perfect for this market and certifications are that much more important. But informally Latin America needs to work more on the time concept. It is those efficiencies that will really build the trust with the clients. The problem is not with honesty but efficiency. And there really is no playbook for this.”

This growing 565 million-people market means the region will be an accelerating opportunity for global business—which means more meetings and events. Get a glimpse of the five countries in South America where we are seeing areas of development and what is working for the industry in these locations in the whitepaper. Click below.

Continue to the Whitepaper

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