South America is experiencing record economic growth, and with it an increase in both tourism and meetings business. Colombia and Brazil, in particular, are experiencing hotel booms, making these countries ideally suited for international meetings.
Colombia is enjoying a moment in the spotlight. Last year’s Summit of the Americas brought 34 heads of state — including President Barack Obama — to Cartagena de Indias, a city on the northern coast. According to Proexport Colombia, the country’s official tourism marketing organization, tourism grew approximately 10.6 percent over the last 10 years, compared to the global average of 3.3 percent. It’s no wonder, since Colombia is easily accessible from the United States. Bogota, the country’s capital, is just a three-and-a-half-hour flight from Miami and a five-and-a-half-hour flight from New York City.
The 341-room Hilton Cartagena completed a multimillion-dollar renovation last November. Guest rooms were outfitted with new bedding and furniture as well as state-of-the-art electronics. In 2010 Chivas, the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, was completely reimagined. Hilton’s investment in its Cartagena property comes on the heels of the 2011 opening of the Hilton Bogota in the capital.
Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport, one of South America’s busiest hubs, has been transformed by a $1.2 million renovation and expansion. Most of the construction work is now complete.
“The investment in Colombia has grown exponentially as the most prestigious hotel chains have arrived,” said Maria Claudia Lacouture, president of Proexport Colombia, in a statement. “The construction of both a new international convention center and a new international airport have begun, which will allow Colombia to compete with the best countries in the world to organize events.”
Colombia has seen a boom in new construction as well as a flurry of renovations to existing hotels. The players at this table are also high rollers: Since 2009, six new hotels from the InterContinental, Hilton, Sofitel, Sonesta, Accor, and Wyndham brands have opened in Colombia.
Hyatt will open two hotels in Colombia: the 250-room Hyatt Regency Cartagena, which is expected to open in late 2015; and the Grand Hyatt Bogota, which will have 297 guest rooms and more than 24,000 square feet of meetings and event space, and is currently under construction.
JW Marriott will open three hotels in Colombia next year: the 278-room Cartagena Marriott, the 170-room Cali Marriott, and the 146-room Courtyard by Marriott Bogota. Starwood is also getting a piece of the action: The 168-room W Bogota will open next year with more than 12,000 square feet of meeting and event space.
Olympic fever is already beginning three years ahead of Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Games, and with the World Cup just 12 months away, Brazil is heating up.
With 360 association meetings in 2012, Brazil took the number-seven spot on the International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) list of the world’s most popular international destinations. Happily for Brazil, this rising profile accompanies a wave of new construction. Smith Travel Research’s “Global Construction Pipeline Report,” released in March, revealed that 6,131 hotel rooms are currently under construction in the country.
Walter Vasconcelos, director of marketing for Embratur, the Brazilian tourism board, announced at a press briefing last month that 147 new hotels will open by June 2014, when World Cup matches will be played throughout the country. Sofitel, Hilton and Marriott are among the global brands — 16 in all — investing in Brazil.
A 162-room Courtyard by Marriott with approximately 3,000 square feet of meeting space will open later this year in Recife, a bustling metropolis in the northeastern part of the country. Four other Courtyard and Fairfield Inn properties are forthcoming.
In March, Sheraton opened a 284-room hotel with more than 27,000 square feet of meeting space in the eastern part of the country. The Sheraton da Bahia Hotel, Salvador, isn’t Starwood’s only investment in buzzing Brazil: Next year will see the opening of the Sheraton Reserva do Paiva Hotel and Convention Center, Recife, in the beach resort of Cabo de Santo Agostinho.
This April Radisson wrapped up work on the Radisson Sao Paulo Faria Lima, updating its lobby, reception desk, and restaurant, Badebec. Both Hyatt and InterContinental also renovated their properties in Sao Paulo last year.
Hilton will open the 298-room Hilton Barra, Rio de Janeiro, its first property in Brazil’s capital city. Currently under construction, the hotel is expected to open in June 2014.
Of course, infrastructure investments aren’t just an international affair: Brazil has spent $16.5 billion to improve and expand its airports and enhance its transportation and telecommunications infrastructure. New World Cup stadiums have been built in the cities of Cuiaba, Curitiba, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, and Sao Paulo.