Take meetings south of the border for variety
When Ben Gritzewsky visits cherished archeological sites in his native country—everything from great pyramids to Colonial churches—he marvels at all the tourists enjoying themselves.
He sees plenty of folks from Germany, Japan, Russia and other far–off countries taking in Mexico’s ancient pyramids and buildings that date back to the 16th century. But he doesn’t see many people from a country next door, the United States.
For many Americans, Mexico “is an exotic and very unique destination that’s often overlooked,” says Gritzewsky, an independent senior travel adviser. “Some Americans probably know India better. They have no idea all the cultural stuff that Mexico has—plus great beaches and resorts, of course.”
The U.S. dollar is strong, so it’s easy to get good deals. If you’re thinking of a great place to hold a meeting, think about Mexico in general and Central Mexico specifically. You’ll find big business, high-tech companies, state-of-the-art meeting facilities and world-class hotels sitting in the shadows of ancient ruins, beach resorts and top-ranked restaurants. And yes, you’ll also find tequila.
The majority of Mexico—almost three times the size of Texas—is not only safe, but “peaceful and quite beautiful,” Gritzewsky says.
Mexico has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites (33) than any other country in the Americas. And it has the sixth most in the world. Many of those are near the Central Mexico cities of Mexico City, Puebla and Guadalajara.
Originally founded by the Aztecs in 1325, Mexico City is not just the largest city in Mexico, it’s the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. Steeped in history and thriving industry, Mexico City has 21.2 million inhabitants (New York City, by comparison, has 20.1 million) and is spread out over some 573 sq. mi. (compared to NYC’s 305 sq. mi.). It’s also the capital city and center of the country’s government center.
However you count it, Mexico City is big. But size is just the beginning. The city has 16 boroughs and more than 300 distinct neighborhoods. So if there’s something you want to experience in Mexico, be it museums, top-ranked restaurants or a vision of ancient Aztecs, you’ll find it in Mexico City.
For instance, Plaza de la Constitucion, known as the Zocalo, is one of the world’s largest city squares and can hold thousands of people. Metropolitan Cathedral, which dates to the 16th century, is the largest cathedral in the Americas.
Mexico City also is ready for your event, whether you’re running a small meeting or large convention. The city has more than 50,000 hotel rooms, 3,500 restaurants and 17 convention centers, according to Mexico Tourism Board. Centro Banamex, one of the city’s largest convention centers, can accommodate up to 10,000 people and features 25 meeting rooms.
“We are in an emerging and thriving new economy that, in the next 10 to 20 years, is going to be growing and getting bigger,” says Rodrigo Esponda, Mexico Tourism Board regional director for North America. “It’s the [world’s] 12th-largest economy today.” Within two decades, Mexico is expected to be one of the top eight economies in the world, he says.
Even if food, culture and business aren’t your top priorities, meet in Mexico City for the hospitality. “The service that we offer in the convention centers—it could be a small board meeting or a huge congress in Mexico City—is outstanding,” Esponda says.
Mexico City also is an easily accessible world center thanks to Mexico City International Airport (MEX). It’s the perfect city to host a meeting when people are flying in from all over the world. Last year alone, some 29 million people visited Mexico, according to Esponda.
Mexico is a place where you can see the old right next to the new. There are places in the city where ancient Aztec temples are next to Colonial-era churches that are next skyscrapers.
“Mexico has so much to offer for events and meetings,” Gritzewsky says. “The service and hospitality is renowned and the facilities are state-of-the-art. The dollar goes a long long way.”
But the best part is that, while there are plenty of up-to-date convention rooms, planners can think outside of the box—or at least outside of the convention center, advises Eduardo Chaillo, global general manager for Latin America for Maritz Travel Company.
“We have great buildings and great palaces,” Chaillo says. “If you are organizing a meeting and you want to take your corporate attendees or association attendees out of the cold environment of an office, you can have another setting—and you can do the offsite events even as sessions in a 16th-century convent in Mexico.
“Or you can have one of the receptions in the park in the downtown area of the city and feel the history that still lives in Mexico.”
Gritzewsky specifically recommends Museo Franz Mayer for events. The building dates to the 17th century and features a 220-seat auditorium and outdoor space for up to 2,000.
“There’s so much history there and there are so many fantastic venues that have been rehabilitated where you can have amazing unique events,” Gritzewsky says. “There are so many museums, churches and palaces. Nothing anywhere in the world can compare. So if you want to have a memorable event that’s enriching, interesting and well organized, you can’t really go wrong.”
Less than two hours from Mexico City is the city of Puebla, which not only boasts a rich history, but a heroic one as well. Founded by the Spanish in 1531, it served as a trade route between Mexico City and the port of Veracruz. All who came to Mexico from the east traveled through Puebla.
The influence is so strong that to this day you can taste it, quite literally. Mole, the complex chocolaty sauce that can turn a common chicken dish into something exotic and delicious, came from Puebla.
“Puebla gastronomy is the merging of Hispanic ingredients with the strong, strong influence of the European techniques,” Esponda says. The influence extends beyond food. “You have a long tradition in terms of commerce, culture—everything,” he says.
In addition, Puebla is one of the few places in Mexico where May 5 is an important holiday. While people in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo with tequila shots and revelry, in Mexico the holiday marks the day in 1862 when the Mexican army, against all odds, won the Battle of Puebla. Many people mistake this for Mexican Independence Day, which is celebrated on Sept. 16.
History is practically alive in this town. Many buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries have survived, including the university founded in 1587 as Colegio del Espiritu Santo, important religious structures such as Puebla Cathedral (dating from 1575) and buildings like the former archbishop’s palace—the location of the Palafox Library, established in 1646 and credited as being the first library in the Americas.
Houses are clad in colored tiles known as azulejos. The use of these tiles illustrates a new aesthetic concept and the fusion of European and American styles particular to the Baroque district of Puebla. But it isn’t just history here. Puebla is alive and thriving with new industry.
Puebla also is a home to a thriving automotive industry, including Audi. It boasts some of the best convention spaces in Mexico, including Centro de Convenciones Puebla in the heart of historic downtown. The event hall holds some 3,500 people. Centro Expositor Puebla, host to Tianguis Turistico in 2013, represents the new in the meeting mix, offering 430,400 sq. ft. of exhibition space.
University Cultural Complex has an auditorium with space for up to 3,494 people, flexible meeting halls and an outdoor esplanade that can accommodate up to 15,000 people.
And when the meetings are finished, people can enjoy fine dining and take a day trip to visit the Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl.
Guadalajara, the second-largest city in the country, is known as the Silicon Valley of Mexico. It should come as no surprise that it features a state-of-the-art convention center. The capital of Jalisco is centrally located and very accessible, with Guadalajara International Airport (GDL) ranking as the third busiest in the country.
Companies that have set up shop in Guadalajara include Solectron, Flextronics and SCI Systems, as well as IBM, ON Semiconductor and Hewlett Packard, according to Guadalajara Chamber of Commerce.
Tech companies are not only attracted by the location and the mild climate, but also by the ready supply of knowledgeable workers. Guadalajara is known for its top-rated universities. The average age in Mexico is 26, but dips to 24 in Jalisco, so it is considered a city with great potential for growth.
Companies that locate there have found it a great place to do business, according to Esponda. In addition to the highly skilled labor, “It has a very stable climate. It’s close to the United States,” he says.
Because it is so central, there are many direct flights from several U.S. cities to Guadalajara, making it ideal for large companies that need to fly in people from throughout the world to attend meetings.
The convention center is also top notch. Expo Guadalajara is Mexico’s largest convention center with 984,400 sq. ft. of exhibition and event space. Facilities are located on two levels and have the capacity to hold 50,000 people.
Just a half-hour from the airport, the convention center has hosted events such as The International Book Fair, International Furniture Market, Intermoda (Fashion Expo), ANTAD, Transportation Expo, Jewelry Expo, Expo Nacional Ferretera (Hardware National Expo) and other specialized sectors. There are 4,490 guest rooms within less than 2 miles of the venue.
But it won’t be all business for those who go to Guadalajara. Like most of Mexico, Guadalajara boasts a strong history, including Guadalajara Cathedral that was first built in 1541. The birthplace of mariachis, Guadalajara has many restaurants where attendees can enjoy being serenaded by the roving musicians.
No trip to Guadalajara will be complete without a side trip to Tequila, which, as its name suggests, is where tequila is made. By the way, this is the type of tequila that is sipped—not gulped down.
You can also take side trips to the countryside where you can see what Mexico is now calling “Magical Towns.” These destinations are part of the campaign by the tourism office to recognize small towns throughout Mexico that have important social and cultural meaning. Tequila, San Sebastian del Oeste and Mazamitla are all designated as Magical Towns. Guadalajara is “full of meaning and of history, but also very vibrant,” Chaillo says.
Meetings in Central Mexico are indeed magical for planners and attendees. For many meeting professionals, Mexico City, Puebla and Guadalajara represent uncharted territory capable of pushing attendance numbers to new heights.
For attendees, the chance to explore Aztec ruins, Spanish Colonial architecture and colorful plazas where authentic souvenirs are readily available offers unique experiences and cultural immersion often lost amid popular U.S. meeting destinations. Tequila tasting is another bonus, adding to the magical flavors of Central Mexico.
Mexico’s 7 Largest Convention Centers
Expo Guadalajara – 984,400 sq. ft. of event space
Poliforum Leon (Leon) – 480,323 sq. ft.
Centro Expositor Puebla – 428,000 sq. ft.
Centro Banamex (Mexico City) – 363,800 sq. ft.
Bancomer Santa Fe (Mexico City) – 346,680 sq. ft.
Cintermex (Monterrey) – 283,550 sq. ft.
WTC Mexico (Mexico City)- 230,050 sq. ft.
Major Meeting Venues
Mexico’s largest convention center, with 1,285,426 sq. ft. of exhibit space; first convention center in Latin America; can accommodate up to 50,000.
Situated in financial heart of the city; near Zapopan and Tlaquepaque museums; La Fronda restaurant; lobby bar offers local tequilas; 390 guest rooms; more than 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Luxury hotel in financial district; contemporary Mexican cuisine; spa; fitness club; 207 guest rooms; 9,000 sq. ft. of venue space, including ballroom, rooftop lounge and balcony.
AAA Four Diamond property within World Trade Center business complex; next to Expo Guadalajara Exhibition Center; 450 guest rooms; more than 36,000 sq. ft. of conference space; outdoor terrace can host up to 2,500 guests.
AAA Four Diamond hotel in city center; close to Gran Plaza Fashion mall; 557 guest rooms; nearly 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Upscale property in commercial center of the city; close to Guadalajara Cathedral and Degollado Theater; Frutas y Flores restaurant; Tequila Collection bar with 150 tequila brands; 423 guest rooms; 12 meeting rooms; 33,661 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Located in upscale Residencias del Bosque district; adjacent to Expo Guadalajara Exhibition Center; spa offers in-room treatments; business center; fitness studio; 221 guest rooms; more than 4,500 sq. ft. of conference space.
Convention center part of Las Americas complex; offers 369,018 sq. ft. of exhibit space; largest hall has more than 142,000 sq. ft. of space; only convention center in the world with hippodrome, game halls and theme park; Earthcheck Gold Certification from International Sustainable Tourism.
One of two major convention centers in city; 346,680 sq. ft. of exhibition space; 20 breakout rooms; total of 2,600 guest rooms within 3 miles.
Luxury property housed in Colonial-style building; located in western tip of Paseo la Reforma; close to Rufino Tamayo Museum and Chapultepec Castle; mixologist at El Bar; full-service spa; 200 guest rooms; 12,084 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Located in the heart of historic center; 9 miles from Mexico City International Airport (MEX); named best hotel for business travelers by TripAdvisor; 82-foot rooftop pool; private heliport; fitness center; 456 guest rooms; hotel convention center offers 45,000 sq. ft. of space; ballroom has 18,449 sq. ft.
Situated in Polanco district, close to financial center; near Chapultepec Park; 755 guest rooms; 21 meeting rooms across 37,000 sq. ft. of space; renovated fitness center; three restaurants offer Japanese, Mexican, Argentinian and Peruvian cuisine.
Forty-two-story tower in Polanco district; near Anthropology Museum, National Auditorium and Xochimilco floating gardens; Hela spa; health and fitness center; six international restaurants; 661 guest rooms; 18,679 sq. ft. of venue space; 11 meeting rooms.
Close to Expo Bancomer Santa Fe convention center and Centro Comercial Santa Fe, one of the largest shopping malls in Latin America; 136 guest rooms and suites; event space for up to 400 people.
AAA Four Diamond hotel overlooks the famous Angel of Independence Monument; near museums and historic downtown; 755 guest rooms; 29 meeting rooms including 13,649-square-foot ballroom; business center; fitness center.
Upscale hotel in 31-story Torre Libertad building overlooks Paseo de la Reforma; Remede spa; indoor swimming pool; 189 guest rooms; more than 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 8,337-square-foot Astor Ballroom.
Close to Parque Industrial FINSA, Parque Industrial 2000 and Angelopolis complex; fitness facilities; 154 guest rooms; 20,699 sq. ft. of meeting space, including 7,233-square-foot Gran Salon.
AAA Four Diamond property close to historical sites; near to 17th century Capilla del Rosario chapel and Great Pyramid of Cholula; La Cocina de los Angeles and Alfredo di Roma restaurants; health and fitness center; 200 guest rooms; 189,264 sq. ft. of event space; 11 meeting rooms.
Located in historic downtown with more than 660,000 sq. ft. of venue space; 430,400 sq. ft. of exhibition space; 55,952 sq. ft. of convention area; 69,657 sq. ft. of indoor space; 17,678 sq. ft. of outdoor space; University Cultural Complex has additional meeting space.