Guadalajara Convention Center Expansion Spurs Nearby Hotel Openings, Renovations

The latest expansion to the Expo-Guadalajara convention center has increased capacity by 40 percent, ranking it one of the largest convention/exhibition complexes in Latin America, and spurring a wave of hotel development and expansion.

"This is consolidating our position in the meetings market," Expo-Guadalajara convention manager Thelma Susana Garcia said. "Since our expansion, we have booked 15 large congresses because our offer is more complete."

A mainstay for 22 years, Expo has nearly a million square feet of space. New additions include a 150,600-sq.-ft., column-free Salon Guadalajara, divisible into 10 soundproof conference rooms with 30-foot ceilings, plus Foro Expo, which debuted 550,800 square feet and doubled the Business Center to 20 rooms. The new spaces blend in with exhibit halls measuring 279,864 square feet, 141,161 square feet and 23,681 square feet, respectively. The mega International Book Festival, which last year drew over 18,000 publishers and literary professionals from 40 countries, will be among the groups to absorb the extra space.

Hotel companies, meanwhile, riding the wave of expansion at Expo Guadalajara and prepping for the Pan American Games in 2011, will build 2,000 more rooms in the country's second largest city. They will add to the 10,000 hotel rooms currently within walking distance or a short drive from the convention center.

Camino Real Expo Guadalajara opened with 163 rooms and suites in a low-slung building that has executive rooms with Jacuzzis and a Mexican restaurant and bar in dark wood, leather and brass. A banquet hall designed for 900 is divisible by five, five conference rooms each are configured for 20 persons, and the 54,000-sq.-ft. tropical gardens, with mini golf and four pools, can fit 1,500 for a reception.

The 208-room Fiesta Americana Grand Guadalajara Country Club, a Grupo Posadas property, offers planners a banquet salon for 410 attendees and a trio of conference rooms for 40 to 70 persons. Located in the heart of the financial district, the hotel just inaugurated a Sky Bar Lounge on the 17th floor, is upgrading its spa and serves contemporary Mexican cuisine in its specialty restaurant.

Minimalism comes to Guadalajara at the NH Collection's five-star NH, which debuted this month with 137 rooms and a conference center with four rooms, the largest for 200 and three others for 55 to 110. All have wireless connectivity. Attendees can use the Nhube by Ferran Adria, a combination restaurant, bar, living room and reading room.

Another newcomer is the 152-room Holiday Inn Express Guadalajara Expo, a $12 million new build soaring above the famous Plaza del Sol mall with a glass structure, panoramic elevators, gym and heated outdoor pool. Taking shape across the avenue from Expo Guadalajara is a 240 room, 17-story Westin and, as Garcia described, "a direct beneficiary of Expo."

The 450-room Hilton Guadalajara has renovated to make meetings run more smoothly. Located a few hundred feet from Expo Guadalajara in the World Trade Center compound, Hilton next year plans to unveil a new concept that director of sales Mayela Navarro, called "tailored for productive, successful and hassle-free meetings." Geared for groups of up to 50 attendees, the program has set aside a formal board room and flexible multipurpose room with an automatic ceiling screen, safety deposit box, electronic key entry, mini refrigerator, stationary kit and meeting specialist.

Guadalajara just finished renovating one of the city's real showpieces, the Historic Center, which can host a 4,000-person reception in one of its grand plazas. The facades of 16th century palaces, mansions, churches and museums have been cleaned while new illumination and sidewalks line the main esplanade, and telephone cables have been hidden underground.

Future reception venues include a museum commemorating the 200th anniversary of Mexico's War of Independence as well as the centennial of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, which spawned such figures as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Opening next year, the 18th century building is a former monastery converted into army barracks.

In addition, the University of Guadalajara has plans for a mega Performing Arts Center with a theater, library, cultural district and museum dedicated to environmental science. The 10,000 seat Telmex Auditorium, which opened a few years ago, anchors the complex.

Airport arrivals are also more efficient with a bigger international terminal, part of a $12 million expansion that also includes more food outlets and shops, a multilevel parking garage and improvements in traffic lanes.

Originally published Oct. 19, 2009