Meet Me in Mexico

Meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions flourish

By: By Deanna Ting


Mundo Imperial Acapulco Forum // (c) Mundo Imperial
Mundo Imperial Acapulco Forum

Although Mexico is usually thought of as a prime vacation spot, a place where clients bask in the sun and sip margaritas, it’s also home to a vibrant meetings, incentives, conventions and events (MICE) market, where business and leisure converge.

According to the Mexico Tourism Board (MTB), Mexico ranks ninth in the world in the number of hosted events, and its meetings and conventions sector represents a $1.5 billion industry. From January to August of this year, the number of total international visitors to Mexico increased 5 percent compared to the same period last year.

And when international visitors come to Mexico, they are likely to spend up to four times as much as the regular tourist, which represents almost $3,250 spent on average per stay, according to Gaston Ramos, executive director of the Mexico Convention Bureau.

"[This year] has been a great year for MICE tourism in Mexico," said Ramos.

Ramos estimated that, in 2004, at least 2.4 percent of the total number of visitors to Mexico was comprised of MICE attendees and, for 2008, that number will have grown significantly.

Jose M. Barquin, deputy director, Los Angeles, with the MTB, believes those attendees head to Mexico for four major reasons — its proximity, its range of diversity, its idyllic weather and its plentiful incentives.

Location, Location
"You can’t beat [Mexico’s] close proximity to the U.S. market," said Barquin. "We’re just around the corner, and we have direct flights from 43 major U.S. cities to Mexico every week. That’s approximately 10,000 flights a month."

Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) International Airport recently opened, and a new, unnamed airport in the Riviera Maya is also in the works.

Such easy accessibility is a major draw for American travelers, especially those from the Western U.S., said Barquin. Travelers from the West Coast account for approximately 55 percent of all U.S. visitors to Mexico alone, he said. And when they go to Mexico for MICE, Barquin noted, they’re usually heading to Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, Acapulco and Cancun.

Mexico’s prime location isn’t the only draw, either. To accommodate MICE of all sizes, the country is well-equipped with a number of different state-of-the-art facilities and meeting spaces as well. Mexico offers more than 245,000 rooms in more than 3,100 hotels available for meetings alone, and there are 38 fair halls, 57 international airports and 28 domestic airports to serve MICE attendees from around the world.

While Barquin emphasized that "there are 25 fine and well-prepared locations for conventions and meetings [throughout Mexico]," he also noted that the cities of Merida, Leon, Guadalajara and Veracruz, in particular, were poised to become major MICE markets in the next few years. This year, Expo Guadalajara will expand from 377,000 square feet to nearly 530,000 square feet.

A Plentitude of Options
Barquin was also quick to point out the variety of activities and locales offered throughout Mexico.

"Mexico is very well known for sun and beaches, but we also have a lot of diversity," Barquin said.

Much of that diversity derives from Mexico’s rich culture and history.

"We are the third largest country with the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites — 29 total," said Barquin. "Twenty-five of these are culturally related and four are natural resources."

The sites are as diverse as the colonial town of Puebla, the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza and the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino.

Jorge Gamboa-Patron, MTB director for the Los Angeles office, added, "Mexico also has remarkable natural beauty and almost 3,000 years of history and 6,000 miles of coastlines."

So, whether clients want a beach retreat, a cultural experience or an excursion into nature, Mexico offers a different destination for each and the activities to go with them, from sunset cruises and fishing to ATV rides and tequila tours.

Incentives Abound
Even with the current economic situation, Barquin believes Mexico is still a good value for the MICE market thanks to a strong dollar to peso rate and value-added tax (VAT) exemptions for meetings, conventions and exhibitions organized in Mexico by foreign companies.

To qualify for VAT exemption, a meeting must be coordinated by a Mexican organizer, venue or hotel certified by the Mexican government and all attendees must reside outside of Mexico. The exemption eliminates 10 percent sales tax in border states and the 15 percent sales tax in other states for meeting planners. International meeting attendees can receive a refund of the 15 percent VAT on purchases of at least $110 as long as they present receipts to customs at the time of departure, too.

Barquin, who works closely with meeting planners based in the Western U.S., said that the financial crisis is not deterring planners from holding MICE events in Mexico next year.

"We have not detected any major impact so far," Barquin said. "Only one of 40 [planners] I met with recently had one cancellation."

Moving Forward
The MTB and the Mexico Convention Bureau, a national convention bureau dedicated to meetings and incentives, are working together to provide resources for meeting planners and agents, including a brand-new educational program specifically for meeting planers that will operate similarly to the MTB’s travel agent program, Magic of Mexico.

And, although the worldwide economy is struggling right now, Ramos believes the MICE market in Mexico will remain strong.

"We are confident that trade associations of all specialties, corporations included, will not abandon their meetings, conventions and incentive trips," said Ramos. "They might relocate them, but they will not cancel."