Cancun Rolls Out the Red Carpet to Welcome the Trade Show Industry

September 9, 2011

Just a mere 30 years ago, Cancun – on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico -  was an area of virgin forests with few inhabitants, but now, it’s not only been transformed into one of the biggest resort cities in the country, it’s also on the cusp of becoming a go-to place for trade shows.

In order to highlight what Cancun - primarily known for its corporate, meeting and incentive business - has to offer the exhibition market, MTO Signature Tours, a division of Tarsus Advon, recently arranged for a group of show organizers to visit the thriving city.

Show organizers representing events such as Nielsen Exposition’s Outdoor Retailer, Premiere Show Group’s Premiere Orlando and Fast Forward Event Production’s San Diego Food & Wine Festival, to name a few, were joined by stateside suppliers, including representatives from Wyndham Jade and MarketArt, for four days of touring properties, taking part in MTO’s “Doing Business in Mexico” educational program and attending the Latin American Food Show.

The entire four-day program was put together by MTO, with the cooperation of Andy Ortiz, president and CEO of Global Incentive, a DMC in Mexico, which handled all of the onsite logistics and local contacts.

First stop in the tour was the Gran Melia Resort Cancun, a 5-star property with 678 rooms and 26,000 square feet of meeting space, including 22 breakout rooms, the largest of which is 16,000 sq. ft.

Also part of the Melia hotel group, ME Cancun has an additional 400-plus rooms, as well as more than 6,750 sq. ft of meeting facilities. Opening in November in nearby Playa Del Carmen, is another hotel in the Melia chain, Paradisus, which will have more than 900 rooms, a 25,000 sq. ft. convention center and 14 meeting rooms.

The next day, MTO Signature Tour attendees headed to CancunMesse, a new convention center that opened in 2010, to attend the Latin American Food Show.

The food show kicked off in typical Latin American style with a special presentation attended by several government dignitaries who gave speeches about the importance of the event. Once the speeches were completed, the 400-booth showfloor that featured Latin American food, as well as food from India and wines from as far away as Romania opened to attendees.

During the show, MTO Signature Tour attendees took part in a presentation led by Patricia Farias-Barlow, CancunMesse’s COO, to hear more about what the venue had to offer.

CancunMesse, with 260,000 sq. ft. of covered space, 80,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space, 98 loading docks and doors and no meeting space, is built in the European tradition with one goal in mind – to draw more trade shows to the region.

“This is an exhibition hall,” Farias-Barlow said. “We do not want to compete with the meeting space in nearby hotels.”

The venue had its first big test last year when it was the site, along with the Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort, of the 16 Conference of the Parties (COP16) – the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

“It’s considered the event most complex in logistics after the Olympics,” Farias-Barlow said. There were 18,000 official participants represented by 194 countries, many of whom were ministers or heads of state.

“It permitted us to test our building to its maximum capacity … and to demonstrate to the world that it’s a world-class facility,” said Farias-Barlow.

"December’s 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference is another history of success for Moon Palace and Cancun," said Sergio Rivera Campos, Moon Palace's director of group sales.

He added, "Our resort was fully committed to this important event for over two weeks with an unprecedented operation that involved the highest standards in technology and operational capabilities with zero incidents."

Alma Lopez, CancunMesse's chief marketing officer, said attracting trade shows to the region was slow going so far, but efforts were being focused on associations within Mexico, as well as in the U.S. and overseas.

For events that have come to CancunMesse, she added, there’s been a “very good response”, and with one more building coming up soon that will be added to the two existing halls, there will be even more space for bringing in bigger shows.

The next day, the MTO Signature Tour held its educational program – “Doing Business in Mexico” – which featured a panel discussion led by Tarsus Advon President Stephen Nold who talked with show managers about their challenges and experiences in the country.

“We want to talk about what it takes to put on a show in Mexico in an honest dialogue,” Nold said.

Before the panel discussion started, the group heard more about their host hotel – the Moon Palace – and what it could offer a trade show coming to Cancun.

Moon Palace is just 10 minutes from the airport and boasts more than 2,500 rooms with 150,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space, including 40 breakout rooms.

The resort was first built in 1997 and expanded from one building to three, which was finished in 2008. Moon Palace is very popular with corporate and incentive groups, but Elide Marin, sales manager for groups and incentives, said they were keen to draw in more shows with exhibits.

Campos said Moon Palace hosts more than 240 groups annually, with about 15 percent involving exhibitions.

He added the venue was a perfect fit for exhibitions because of its proximity to the airport and the all-inclusive package when groups book at the venue, where practically everything is included, such as F&B, private functions, conference facilities, wireless internet, set ups and long distance phone calls.

"... We have alliances with the most reputable AV companies in the destination, as well as the support of custom brokers. Also, due to the size of the complex, we have the capabilities to host and service large exhibitions," Campos said.

Manuel Rubio, also a sales manager for groups and incentives, added, “We’re starting to capture more of the association market. We often work in tandem with CancunMesse, which is just 10 minutes away. We tested those waters (with COP16), and it worked.”

After hearing about Moon Palace, Fernando Cervantes, group and conventions director for the Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau, gave show organizers a broader look of what the city has to offer.

Here are just a few of the highlights he mentioned:

145 hotel properties, 80 percent of which are 5-star or better

39,000 total hotel rooms

all major hotel chains are represented

700,000 sq. ft. of meeting space is in the city

With CancunMesse open and the Cancun Center in the downtown area also offering enough space to hold trade shows, Cervantes said, “Cancun is now ready for the exhibition market.”

He also tackled head on two wide misconceptions about Cancun. “Our destination is a very safe destination,” he added. “All the things that take place are in the northern part of the country, which is 6,000 miles from here.”

The second misconception that Cancun is mobbed with Spring Breakers also is inaccurate, Cervantes said. “Only about 1 percent of the visitors who come here are Spring Breakers, so you don’t have to worry about that,” he added.

The “Doing Business in Mexico” program shed even further light on what it’s like to hold an event in Mexico, including adopting to the local way of doing business, the need for better lists and data mining, the absence of general service contractors, working with a local bureau and other contacts in the city where the show will be and freight-forwarding issues, among many other topics.

After the panel, Kenji Haroutunian, who oversees the biannual Outdoor Retailer shows, said, “I’ve really gotten a lot out of this.”

He and other show organizers also had the opportunity to talk with local suppliers gathered in the room from companies specializing in audiovisual, hotels, freight forwarding, airlines, event production and DMCs, including Maritur - one of the other tour sponsors.

The last night in Cancun was spent taking a tour and having dinner at the Cancun Center, a 30-year-old venue located in the bustling downtown area.

Cancun Center hosts between 10 and 15 large congresses each year, 70 percent of which are international, with an average of 3,000 square meters of exhibition space.

"Thanks to this number of congresses and conventions, Cancun Center has  won the World Travel Awards for three consecutive years as the best convention center in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and we are proud to announce our fourth consecutive nomination this year," said Javier Gamez, who oversees the venue.

There are 1,700 hotel rooms within walking distance of the Cancun Center, which has more than 150,000 sq. ft. of space to host a wide variety of trade shows.

Some of the biggest shows held at the center include the annual Expohotel, with 81,000 square feet of exhibit space, and in 2008, it hosted the Congreso Mexicano del Petróleo (Mexican Oil Congress), with a 86,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 5,000 participants who came from all over the country.

Other aspects of the center that are suited for exhibitions, according to Gamez, includes proximity to the 30,000-room hotel zone, the Cancun Alliance with 44 other firms to support the exhibition industry and the venue's own in-house contractor, which includes an alliance with three other contractors.

In all, show organizers were treated to four days of seeing what Cancun has to offer the trade show industry, which was an invaluable experience, according to MTO Signature Tours’ organizer Nold.

“Cancun is a best-kept secret that we don’t want to be a secret anymore,” he added. “(We) have just created a group of ambassadors who will go back to the U.S. and share the great news what a wonderful market that exists in Cancun.”

For more information on the MTO Signature Tours, including the upcoming tour to the Gartner Symposium ITXpo in Orlando Oct. 18-20, please visit www.mtosummit.com. Show organizers interested in taking part in the Gartner Tour please contact TSNN Marketing/Event Coordinator Taylor Poss, tposs@tsnn.com (512) 310 -0628.

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