by Kinley Welly | June 01, 2012
panama westin lobby
The Westin Playa Bonita is new on the scene in Panama

Both Panama and Southern Bahia in Brazil, were named by Travel + Leisure to the list of hottest travel destinations of 2012. Budget Travel called Eastern Antioquia, Colombia, one of the “12 best places you’ve never heard of.”  Rio de Janeiro is one of the Top 10 Beach Cities in the world, according to National Geographic

And it’s not just leisure travelers going to Latin America. Colombia, for example, jumped to 32nd place on the International Congress and Convention Association’s ranking of international meetings destinations in 2011, as compared with a ranking of 34 in 2010 and 50 in 2006. 

Latin America is increasingly a tempting — and realistic — option for groups, especially as hotels targeting meetings and events open around the region. 

In March, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) announced three new Holiday Inn Express hotels in Colombia — in Bogota, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. All are scheduled to open in 2014. IHG has a total of eight hotels and 1,910 rooms in Colombia today; Express brand properties in other countries generally have more amenities than their U.S counterparts.  

The 100-room Holiday Inn Express Bogota OXO 67th will be part of a mixed-use complex that will also house an office tower and retail. The property will be located in the financial district and near embassies and corporate complexes, as well as a variety of bars and restaurants.

The Holiday Inn Express Cartagena is set to be built in the popular Bocagrande district. The 15-story, 200-room hotel will have a business center, a swimming pool, and a fitness facility.

The 150-room Holiday Inn Express Barranquilla, set in an exclusive neighborhood and adjacent to the Buenavista Shopping Mall & Entertainment Center, will also have a swimming pool, a business center, and a fitness facility.

The new Hilton Bogota, which opened in November 2011, is situated in the heart of the city’s financial district and features a business center, a fitness center, and wireless Internet access throughout the hotel. Each of the contemporary property’s 245 guest rooms has a workspace, a flat-screen television, and a neutral color scheme, and the hotel has nearly 10,000 square feet of meeting space, including eight meeting rooms and a ballroom. The La Ventura restaurant onsite combines local and Mediterranean flavors and has an extensive wine cellar from which to choose; the dining outlet opens to the street, lending to the feel of being in the center of Bogota’s action. 

The 341-room Hilton Cartagena boasts its own convention center with 26,398 square feet of meeting space, including the Grand Salon Bolivar with a maximum capacity of 1,500 attendees; 14 meeting rooms; a business center; and outdoor function spaces. The convention center also has a dedicated Kosher kitchen. The hotel is situated on the beach, offering Caribbean Sea and city views, four pools, a solarium, tennis courts, a well-being center, and a variety of dining outlets. 

Marriott International is expanding its South American presence with Brazil’s Hotel & Spa do Vinho, a 128-room retreat in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which joins the Autograph Collection this year. The independent luxury property opened in 2007, and is set on more than 40 acres in Brazil’s wine capital. In addition to the spa, on-site facilities include two restaurants and five meeting rooms, for a total of 5,400 square feet of meeting space. 

Sheraton has announced plans to open the Sheraton Reserva do Paiva Hotel and Convention Center in northeast Brazil. The 289-room property will open in March 2014 as part of the Reserva do Paiva planned community in Pernambuco state, near Recife. The hotel will be one block from the beach and include a spa, a 4,000-square-foot fitness center, a top-floor club lounge with views of the ocean, and a beach club with an infinity pool. The convention center will consist of two ballrooms, four function rooms, and other flexible meeting areas, for a total of 9,186 square feet of event space. 

The Hilton Sao Paulo Morumbi is ideally situated as part of the United Nations Business Center CENU complex and near major businesses (IBM, Cisco, HP, GE, and Nokia all have offices in the complex). The property, which has views of the city, Pinheiros River, and Estaiada Bridge, sits near shopping, museums, and Ibirapuera Park, the largest in the city. A health club and fitness center, a 49-foot rooftop pool with city views, a spa, and the Canvas Bar and Restaurant will entertain guests, while extensive meeting facilities and a business center ensure a productive stay. The hotel has 13,000 square feet of meeting space including two ballrooms, as well as underground access to Golden Hall at the World Trade Center, the newest convention center in the area, which can accommodate 2,500 people. 

The newest player in Panama is the Westin Playa Bonita, which in January opened 20 minutes outside of Panama City. The 611-room beachfront property has 65,000 square feet of meeting and event space and is set to open the Aquabella Sensory Spa by Clarins this month. The spa will feature a “thermal circuit experience” which is designed to relax guests and detoxify through heat, hydro, and cooling experiences. The Westin has six fine-dining outlets, including the pan-Asian Asiana and Cafe Pacifica serving Pacific rim cuisine, four bars, and a 19th-floor VIP lounge with rainforest and ocean views from both the interior and terrace. 

The hotel is owned by Bern Hotels and Resorts, which is also behind the InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort & Spa, Crowne Plaza Panama, InterContinental Miramar, Le Meridien Panama, Villa Bonita Panama, Solarium Coronado Beach, Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Holiday Inn at the Panama Canal, and the tour operator Gamboa Tours. 

Panama City is also home to the architectural masterpiece that houses the 369-room Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower that opened last year. Rising 70 stories, the building, which resembles a sail in the wind, is the largest in Latin America. Among other amenities, the hotel offers 46,000 square feet of meeting space, four food and beverage outlets, and a 10,000-square-foot spa that is still under construction.