After a last-minute venue change due to Hurricane Katrina, the La
Cumbre trade show went off without a hitch and proved that travel
to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean is enjoying
ever-increasing popularity with U.S. travelers.
Held last month in Houston, the conference for the sales and
marketing of travel to the Americas had one main message: Now is
particularly lucrative time for travel sellers to start including
Latin America among their offerings.
Originally created for the purpose of selling Latin America to
Latin Americans, this year, the La Cumbre declared itself
bilateral. The number of U.S. attendees has grown so significantly
that this year the American delegation comprised the show’s second
largest group only Mexico had a larger representation.
But because of Katrina, this year’s show almost didn’t happen. La
Cumbre was originally planned for the George R. Brown Convention
Center, but Houston officials were sent scrambling to find a new
location when the convention center opened its doors to Hurricane
Katrina victims. At the last minute, the show was moved to
Houston’s Minute Maid Ballpark, home of the Astros who happened to
have an away game that week.
What must have been heart-stopping moments for tourism officials
appeared seamless to delegates. Minute Maid Park executives joked
about being able to “step up to the plate” and no one in attendance
at the welcome luncheon, served on the ballpark’s outfield, would
have guessed the kitchen staff had less than five days notice to
prepare for a 1,200-person meal.
Below is a list of what’s new in for those traveling to Mexico,
Central America and the Caribbean.The CaribbeanAruba
Hotels: Holiday Inn Sunspree Aruba will undergo a $5 million
renovation. A new 200-room tower should be complete by the end of
2005. Plans have been announced to develop a Ritz Carlton Marriott
hotel, with 220 suites and a casino. Riu Hotels & Resorts has
purchased the Aruba Grand Beach Resort & Casino. The Occidental
Hotel is under major renovation.Bahamas
Renovations: The largest casino outside the U.S., the Atlantis
Casino, is in the midst of a $1 billion renovation. In 2006, the
casino will open Nobu restaurant, run by Nobu Matsuhisa and Robert
DeNiro. A new 600-room luxury suite property will be added upon
completion of the renovation. The resort will also increase its
water-themed attractions, including a new underground river, and a
dolphin experience. Belize
Renovations: Carnival Cruises and the Belize Government will
construct its first cruise pier within the next four years. Curacao
Hotels: New hotel chains for 2007 include the Hyatt Regency at
Santa Barbara Plantation, Four Points Sheraton and a Renaissance
Hotels: The Half Moon Resort began a multi-million dollar face
lift last summer. The renovation, part of a five-year plan, will
upgrade the full-service spa and will give the children’s activity
center a Jamaican-themed makeover.Puerto Rico
Hotels: Marriott Hotels will open the Renaissance La Concha in
2006, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.St. Maarten
Renovations: An investment of $87 million is being poured into
expansion of the Princess Juliana International Airport, which
served more than 1.6 million passengers in 2004. The plan includes
construction of a new terminal and infrastructure improvements and
is scheduled for completion in late 2006. Central and South AmericaCosta Rica
Hotels: Radisson Hotels has announced a major expansion of its San
Jose property. Paradisus Playa Conchal is planning a $15 million
renovation, with an anticipated completion in 2007. Guayaquil, Ecuador
Attractions: The island sanctuary of Isla Santoy is being
developed as a “Bamboo Theme Park.” Meditation areas are available
for day visitors, and bungalows are being built for overnight
visitors. The island will rely strictly upon solar energy for
Guatemala is gearing up for an influx of visitors, as Survivor
makes Guatemala its home for the 2005-2006 season.
Renovations: The Peten Airport, which is the closest airport to
the Tikal Mayan Temple, is being redesigned to accommodate the
increasing demand. Honduras
Renovations: Recent developments in Honduras include a new
National Park system located high in Honduras cloud forest.Panama
Tours: Aventura 2000 is now offering FIT Panama Canal Crossings.
Passengers can take a four- to five-hour, half-crossing cruise for
$99 or a full eight- to 10-hour crossing for $150.
Hotels: In December, InterContinental Hotels will open a 300-room
resort and spa, with more than a mile of private beach, a
10,000-square-foot spa and wellness center and five free-form
swimming pools. MexicoCancun
Expansion: Hotel owners and the local government have committed
$20 million to expanding and improving Cancun’s beaches.
Golf Courses: Central to Cancun’s expansion plans, the city now
boasts nine world-class courses and expects that number to reach 17
courses by 2007.
Hotels: Recently opened or renovated properties include the Fiesta
Americana Grand Aqua, Riu Palace Las Americas, Riu Cancun,
AMResorts’ Dream Cancun (formerly Camino Real), and Palace Resorts’
Le Blanc Resort (formerly Hotel Sierra Cancun).
Travel Agent Training: Cancun has created a travel agent
specialist program, known as the Cancun Tourism Institute.
Golf Courses: The Yucatan Country Club, designed by Jack Nicklaus
Design Group will feature an 18-hole course. The $80 million
investment will open May 2007.
Hotels: Increased visitor arrivals have caused a 27 percent growth
in hotel properties in the area from 2004 (88 properties) to 2005
Hotels: Traditional haciendas are the new hot item in the Yucatan.
The Starwood Luxury Collection operates several high-end haciendas,
assuring visitors an intimate experience, in a setting never larger
than 28 rooms. www.luxurycollection.com
Tours: Campeche, located on the Gulf of Mexico promotes 23
underwater archaeological sites. Excursions to these sunken ships
are available for experienced and novice divers.Chiapas
Once a victim of bad press and a rebel uprising, Chiapas is now
attracting travelers with a vengeance, featuring generally lower
rates than the rest of Mexico.
Expansion: The Mexican government will invest $7 million in
developing the Port of Chiapas, which is expected to become a
catalyst for tourism into Mexico’s southern state. A cruise
terminal is slated for 2006 and officials hope to welcome Holland
America as early as 2007.Coahuila
Golf: The Laguna Open Golf Tournament includes a three-day golf
festival played on four courses in Coahuila’s Laguna region. Event
attendance has increased 40 percent since the festival’s
inauguration in 2004. www.lagunaopen.com
Hotels: Torreon will welcome a Marriott Hotel in December.
Recently opened properties include a Crowne Plaza, Best Western,
Hampton Inn and Howard Johnson.Guanajuato
Hotels: Haciendas dating back to the Colonial Period have become a
popular attraction in Guanajuato. Oaxaca
Tours: Bay tours from Puerto Escondido are popular because of the
nearly guaranteed sightings of dolphins and sea turtles that swim
up to meet the boats. Queretaro
Queretaro is growing its natural tourism infrastructure, and
high-end activities such as golfing, spas and equestrian sports are
Hotels: New hotels properties will include Fiesta Americana, the
Holiday Inn, and La Mision.Vallarta Nayarit
Located just 10 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, Vallarta Nayarit
offers multi-terrain activities, including pristine beaches,
stunning landscapes and ecological wonders.
Hotels: New hotels include the Vallarta Palace, Playa del Sol
Grand, Villa de Palmar, Grand Velas Resort & Spa, and the Riu
Jalisco. Recent major renovations include the Marival Grand &
Club Suites, Palladium Vallarta Resort & Spa and Samba
Vallarta. The region also anticipates several new properties in
2006, including such brands as Starwood and Pueblo Bonito.