Cancun, Sleek hotels, sugar-sand beaches, and luxury shopping define Cancun, Mexico’s number one tourist destination and big draw for a meetings and incentives. Take it from Adam Lawhorne, president of Meeting Incentive Experts of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., who has booked over 100 groups here. He just opened a DMC office in Cancun to take advantage of the new Cancun, he says, which is looking better than ever: “Cancun hotels are spending millions of dollars on upgrading spas, the new Aqua hotel is fantastic, there are new lounge bars and clubs on the lagoon like Harrys and La Destileria for private events, and five-star restaurants for groups.”
All this besides wind surfing, water skiing, kayaking, speedboat tours of the mangroves, and such land-based pursuits as golf, horseback riding, or bking on numerous cycling paths. Pirate ship cruises with unlimited food, drink, and dancing break the ice, and island hopping on private yachts to Isla Mujeres for snorkeling, to Contoy for bird watching, and to Cozumel for diving can more than deliver the incentive goods. Stretching the pso is also a plus. “The U.S. has gotten so expensive,” Lawhorne says. “Mexico has put a hold on food and gas prices until January, is refunding the VAT (see below), and a lot of Cancun hotels are offering specials from May to October with a savings of 20 to 30 percent.”
What’s new in Cancun
- Cancun is among five Mexican cities (including Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Los Cabos, and Mexico City) reimbursing the 10 to 15 percent value-added-tax (VAT) on purchases made by foreign visitors arriving by air or cruise ship. Valid for items totaling at least $115 (1,200 pesos), refunds are made at the ariport with passports and bills of sale plus refund forms from approved merchants. The refund is good only for shopping puchases, not dining or lodging. Visitors will obtain half the VAT in Mexican pesos, and the rest will be electronically credited to bank accounts or credit cards within a time frame of 40 days, officials say.
- Among the new resorts carrying the luxury tag is the 450-room Excellence Playa Mujeres for adults, which debuted with eight resturants, martini and cigar bars, seven pools, a spa, marina, the frist of two 18-hole Greg Norman golf greens, and a 17,000-square-foot convention center. Located norht of downtown Cancun, Playa Mujeres is also being pegged for 2009 openings of an Excellence boutique hotel called Capriccio, a 70-room Playa del sol, and tow Villa Group properties.
- The Aqua Cancun, an inovative 371-room resort and the first for Grupo Posadas’ high-end lifestyle brand, relaunched following hurricane repairs, with dining outlets headed by celebrity chefs, eight pools, and ultraposh bar. Planners will find 16,500 square feet of conference area.
- Oasis Hotels & Resorts opened the 385-room Grand Oasis Viva Beach.
- The recently remodeled full-service spa at the Gran Melia Cancun has been named a “leading spa of the world” by The Leading Hotels of the World, one of 104 with this designation.
- Cooking lasses at the Ritz-Carlton’s new culinary center can be used for a spouse program, group activity, or leadership training session. The hotel’s new private beach club is laid out on a secluded part of the property and accommodates up to 700 attendees for a reception.
- The deluxe 602-suite Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach won the coveted AAA Five Diamond award for outstanding servicee and facilities for the fourthteenth year running, joining the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriot.
- They Hyatt Cancun Caribe added the 7,062-square-foot Laguna Conference Salon, and the Hyatt Regency opened its Beach House Spa.
This 81-mile-long strip of stunning beaches running south of Cancun has such diverse possibilities for groups as fishing villages, archaelogical parks, Maya ruins, a jungle biosphere, eco-excursions, underground rivers, and the funky beach town of Playa del CArmen, social and shopping center of the coast. The area has seen exceptional development on the luxury end, a boon for a top-tier incentives of the sun-and-sand variety.
The Riviera Maya has also become the home of an annual PGA Tour event at the Farimont Mayakoba’s El Camaleon golf course.
“There are so many new things to do and so many five-star hotels,” confirms Adam Lawhorne of Meeting Incentive Experts. For a recent software company group, he used Playa del Carmen for a pub crawl after a day at the Tulum ruins, and sometimes he adds a scavenger hunt. Another itinerary could include nerby Puerto Aventuras for snorkeling and sunset cruising, or “the nature park of Xel-ha for its all-inclusive package, including food, beverage, and snorkeling at a reasonable price.”
Of course, you cant beat swimming in the turquoise waters.
Planners can add annual festivals along this coast for attendees to enjoy such as Tequila Expo in August, Underground Film Festival in October, a Jazz Festival in November, and the Life and Death Traditions Festival honoring Mexico’s Day of the Dead customs at the Xcaret park October 30-November 2.
What’s new on the Riviera Maya
- AT the 1,600-acre resort village of Mayakoba:the 128-suites Rosewookd, with a restaurant, spa, tequila bar, and meeting facilities for small groups, and the all-inclusive Mandarin Oriental, with 128 villas, seven restaurants and bars, three pools, a Kid’s Club, and 25,000=square-foot wellness facility. A 132-room Babyan Three with a Thai restaurant, spa, meditation pavilions, and outdoor jet-pools opens this fall, with q 2,000-square foot divisible ballroom and several conference rooms. The Farimont and viceroy hotels anchor the upscale develpment, designed around canals, cenotes, and lagoons.
- The all inclusive, all-suites Maroma Beach riviera Cancun, designed with a half-dozen a la carte dining outlets, six bars, and more than 8,000 square feet of function space.
- Azul Hotels by Karisma is set to open Azul Fives by the end of 2008. Teh resort’s 360 one-to three-bed-room suites -with rain forest showers and extra spacious balconies- tempt groups, alongside four restaurants, bars, lounges, and a Kid’s Club.
- A 400-room Sandos Playacar Riviera joined the exclusive Playacar neighborhood adjacent to Playa del Carmen, with three resturants, a spa, and 800 seat theater.
- South of Playa del Carmen, the all inclusive Barcelo Maya Palace debuted as teh Spanish company’s fifth hotel on teh coast, featuring Moorish architecture, 756 suites, and a convention center for 850 attendees.
- Hotel Marina El Cid added 150 more suites, a full-service spa, and 7,500-square foot convention center with private check-in area.
- Three more golf courses will dot the landscape, bringing the total to 10: the Riviera Cancun at the Moon Palace, designed by Jack Nicklaus; Puerto Cancun under the direction of Tom Weiskopf; and La Roca Country Club by Tom Fazio and NIck Price.