A Fresh Look at the Caribbean

The perception that Nassau and Punta Cana are better known for their beaches than their boardrooms is changing. With major developments in the pipeline for both destinations, these Caribbean islands are eager to welcome and embrace more meetings and groups. 

Nassau, the Bahamas
In the capital city of Nassau, the future of meetings is definitely a major focus, says Kara Manouzi, group sales manager for the Bahamas Tourist Office. "We have a new government now, and they are very much interested in growing the MICE market for the Bahamas," Manouzi says.

The Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) represents a $409.5 million investment. In March 2011, the first phase of construction - a brand-new 247,000-square-foot U.S. departures terminal - was completed. Phase two, which is currently underway, will yield a 226,000-square-foot international arrival terminal and an inter-national cruise ship pier when it opens this fall.

Nassau's biggest tourism development, however, is Baha Mar Resort, which is expected to open in late 2014. The $3.5-billion resort, gaming, and entertainment complex will have approximately 200,000 square feet of convention space shared among three luxury hotels - Rosewood Hotels & Resorts; Mondrian; and Hyatt Hotels and Resorts - as well as the all-new 1,000-room Baha Mar Casino & Hotel. It will also feature a 97,000-square-foot casino, upscale shops, arts-and-crafts galleries, chef-branded restaurants, a water park, two spas, and a nightclub.

Next door to Baha Mar, the Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino's General Manager, Joe Eustice, is eagerly anticipating Baha Mar's arrival. "We are very excited that Baha Mar will have the largest convention space in the Caribbean," Eustice says. "The four new hotels will bring more excitement to our area," he says. The Wyndham Nassau's owners are also developing Baha Mar, he notes.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Like the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic government is making an effort to court meetings and groups. Patricia Perez, director, Midwest U.S. for the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism, says, "We are one of the top five emerging destinations on the Site Global Index."

She adds that the Dominican Republic may surprise some planners with its variety of offerings. "A lot of planners don't even know that we have the infrastructure for meetings and incentives, and that it's been developing for the past 10 years. We keep adding more product, and improving product, especially in Punta Cana."

A brand-new and improved highway system, El Coral, connecting the all-inclusive resorts of Punta Cana to the charming and historic town of La Romana to the south, debuts this fall. "Today, it takes hours to drive from Punta Cana to La Romana," Perez explains. "By the end of September, you can do that in 40 minutes with the new double-lane highway."

Perez hopes that with El Coral, it will be easier for meeting attendees in Punta Cana to venture outside the all-inclusive resorts and beaches.

"It's not just about the highway but what can you do with it," she explains. "If a planner were to go to Punta Cana before, they were a little limited by what they could do outside of the all-inclusive resorts. Punta Cana is a great tourism development with lots of activities but there's no such thing as downtown Punta Cana. El Coral is connecting destinations to make the experience more memorable and unique and giving you more of a feel for what the real Dominican Republic has to offer to clients."

While Punta Cana's three major convention hotels - Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana; Barcelo Bavaro Beach and Convention Center; and Paradisus Punta Cana - continue to drive the meetings market, Perez says that the variety of hotels with meetings spaces is expanding. She notes that AMResorts' properties, the luxurious Sanctuary at Cap Cana, and the newly opened Eden Roc at Cap Cana, are ideal venues for smaller-scale meetings. Another option is the newly opened 610-room Riu Palace Bavaro, Riu's fifth hotel in Punta Cana, which opened last December. Its convention center can accommodate up to 1,000 people and offers 12,916 square feet of meeting space.