As meeting planners consider staging events in Latin America, they are being courted by an increasing number of suitors. Investments have poured into key business hubs, making them more attractive for conferences, trade shows and expos. Expanded infrastructure and aggressive marketing have placed new cities on planners' maps. Depending on whom you ask, the increased competition for the lucrative market known as MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) may push prices down or it may burnish the sales pitch for the entire region.
The growth spurt in real estate, primarily in South America, has been a boon for the meetings markets, resulting in new rooms, meeting spaces and event venues, industry experts say.
"Brazil has just been huge in terms of both their growth and average room rate as well as their overall revPar [revenue per available room]," according m Bob Gilbert, CEO and president of the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, an organization of sales and marketing professionals.
Average room rates soared 42 percent in Brazil and 23.6 percent in Santiago de Chile from 2009 to 2010, even as the number of total hotel rooms continued to increase, Gilbert said. "From a meetings perspective, there's going to be a direct correlation between how much capacity the industry has for corporate and leisure business compared m what they can accommodate on the meetings side."
A potentially telling indicator of growth in the meetings sector is the ICCA ranking, a number determined by the International Congress and Convention Association, based how many international meetings a given destination hosts during a one-year period. Brazil, for example, had risen from the 19th position in 2003 to No. 7 in 2009.
Marcelo Pedroso, director of products and destinations at Embratur, the Brazilian government tourism organization, attributes Brazil's jump in that ranking in part to private- and public-sector investment in new convention centers. "In 2003, we had 22 cities in the [ICCA] ranking that received at least one international event per year," he said. "Last year  we had 48 cities."
Convention centers have been springing up in cities large and small, from the Mexican resort city of Acapulco, to Santos, Brazil, home to the most important port in Latin America.
And more are on the way.
"Bogota, Cartagena and Panama City are going to be fighting to be in the first five...