Medellin (pictured) remains one of Colombia's top MICE destinations
Since 2013, Frances Hartogh has helped organize the International Mining and Oil and Gas Law, Development, and Investment Program for the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation in Cartagena, Colombia, and each time she's brought her conference to the country, she's been thoroughly impressed.
The first program took place in April 2013 and this year, from April 20-22, it returned to the Hilton Cartagena Hotel for the second time. Both programs welcomed lawyers specializing in international mining and oil and gas law from all over the globe. The 2013 meeting welcomed approximately 350 attendees; the 2015 meeting had approximately 280, an attendance number Hartogh attributes to current lower oil prices.
"I think Cartagena is a wonderful place to hold a conference," says Hartogh, associate director and director of outreach for Westminster, CO-based Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation. "It feels like a nice combination of a professional environment [that] also has all these wonderful attractions like the Old City and these beautiful offshore islands." She adds that the Hilton, in particular, was a great meeting facility for a professional group of that size.
While Hartogh says that both conferences ran very smoothly and "received high reviews," she says that meeting organizers may find it more helpful to have some bilingual capabilities when meeting in Colombia. "I know enough Spanish that it helps -- and there's always someone who speaks English on staff -- but not everyone necessarily speaks English so it helps to brush up on your Spanish if you can," she notes.
Overall, however, Hartogh says she "would not hesitate to recommend that people bring a conference to Cartagena." She adds, "It was very welcoming and very safe. The cultural and touristic attractions are quite deep. I don't think anyone would be disappointed to meet there."
Hartogh's meeting experiences aren't uncommon, says Claudia Davila, tourism director for Procolombia USA. "It's incredible how the growth of our tourism and meetings business is going," she says. "We're growing so much. Planners are starting to understand that Colombia is ready for any kind of meeting or incentive. It's exciting to see how things are changing."
MEET - Hilton Cartagena Hotel
This 341-room resort is ideal for hosting meetings thanks to its prime location on the tip of the El Laguito Peninsula, as well as its extensive meeting facilities. The hotel can also work with groups and local authorities to secure a spot on the nearby public beach for your own private event.
EAT - La Cevicheria
This tiny place is a bit hidden, but once you find it, you won't want to leave. A stone's throw away from the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena, it serves some of the best ceviche in all of Cartagena.
STAY - Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena
If your meeting attendees want to stay within the walls of the Old City, consider staying in this historic property. A former convent and hospital, it inspired the setting for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Of Love and Other Demons. When he was alive, the author could often be found at the hotel's famed El Coro bar.
ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Corferias International Business And Exhibition Centre (478,000 sf); Cartagena de Indias Convention Center (215,000 sf); Plaza Mayor Convention Center in Medellin (129,000 sf); Bogotá Marriott Hotel (90,000 sf)
In April, Bogotá hosted the first-ever 2015 Colombia Advisory Summit for the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). The summit brought seven veteran meeting planners to Colombia's capital city to share their insights with MICE industry peers in Colombia, all in an effort to better understand what North American and European meeting professionals are looking for in meeting destinations. "They were very impressed with the destination," says Davila.
The most popular meeting destinations for groups from North America continue to be Bogotá, Cartagena, and Medellin. An area of growing interest for smaller incentive groups that are more focused on adventure than luxury is the coffee region, Davila notes.
She also says that increased airline connectivity and new hotel investment, coupled with the country's strong and stable economy, are helping bring even more meeting and incentive groups to Colombia.
Avianca plans to resume air service from Los Angeles to Bogotá in July, and American Airlines is launching a new route from Miami to Barranquilla in June as well. Delta Air Lines is also launching two new routes to Colombia from Atlanta in December. One flight will head to Medellin while the other will fly to Cartagena.
Increased hotel investment is also on the rise throughout Colombia. Later this year, Bogotá will welcome two new Four Seasons properties. The first, Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogotá, is the reinvention of the historic Casa Medina boutique hotel, which was first built in 1945 in the city's Zona G area. The historic mansion was constructed with solid stone columns and a brick façade and has been designated a monument of cultural interest by the Colombian Ministry of Culture. The hotel will have two restaurants and a bar, a full-service spa, and a total of 62 guest rooms. The second Four Seasons property coming to Bogotá will open in Zona T with 64 guest rooms. The Four Seasons Hotel Bogotá will specialize in smaller meetings and events and is expected to open in late 2015. InterContinental Hotels & Resorts is also opening two new properties in Cartagena and Barranquilla this year, as is Hyatt, which is constructing the Grand Hyatt Bogotá and Hyatt Regency Cartagena.
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This article appears in the June 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.