Trading Spaces

After a venue change due to Katrina, La Cumbre focuses on the best of Latin America

By: Monica Poling

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 Caribbean

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.

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.

Renovations: Carnival Cruises and the Belize Government will construct its first cruise pier within the next four years.

Hotels: New hotel chains for 2007 include the Hyatt Regency at Santa Barbara Plantation, Four Points Sheraton and a Renaissance Hotel.

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 America

Costa 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 power.

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.

Renovations: Recent developments in Honduras include a new National Park system located high in Honduras cloud forest.

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.


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 (112 properties).

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.
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.

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.

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.
Hotels: Torreon will welcome a Marriott Hotel in December. Recently opened properties include a Crowne Plaza, Best Western, Hampton Inn and Howard Johnson.

Hotels: Haciendas dating back to the Colonial Period have become a popular attraction in Guanajuato.

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 is growing its natural tourism infrastructure, and high-end activities such as golfing, spas and equestrian sports are gaining popularity.
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.