The 10 to Watch

It's easy to tell when a destination is hot, but how you can tell if it's about to be hot? Increased direct flights to and from the destination, hotel inventory on the rise, convention centers being built or planned (with meetings on the books or slated for the future), and meeting-supportive organizations like convention and visitors bureaus and meeting planner association chapters in the offing are some indicators; after that, the "buzz" factor takes over.

Adding up the clues, here are 10 destinations that Successful Meetings thinks are on the rise.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

1. This historic, Caribbean city is doing all the right things: building a 600,000-square-foot convention center (scheduled for completion in 2005) and adding 4,000 hotel rooms toward that event; as well as forming what will probably be the next new MPI chapter, confirms Patricia Dameron, vice president of member growth and care for the Dallas-based Meeting Professionals Inter-national. The Puerto Rico Convention Center, says Jorge Pesquera, president of the Puerto Rico Convention Bureau, "is equally distant to Condado, where the hotels are, and to the beautiful colonial city of Old San Juan, a walled city built from the fifteenth century onwards -- a jewel of Spanish colonial architecture, with fabulous facilities for special events. As far as direct air access, Pesquera says that American Airlines has added flights from Caracas, Venezuela and from Los Angeles; USAir started flying to and from Boston and LaGuardia. In addition, new, low-cost carriers, which are an emerging trend in transportation, have started flying to Puerto Rico, which causes Pesquera to add, "I think the fact that these firms are betting on Puerto Rico is indicative of confidence."

Thomas Hazinski, managing director of the convention, sports, and entertainment facilities consulting division of Chicago-based HVS International, agrees. "If you're looking for an experience that can't be found on the mainland, San Juan can't be beat." And, if development goes as planned, "it will be like San Antonio-plus, because it has a unique culture and a sense of place, and the ocean as well."

Boston, Massachusetts

2. One of the nation's oldest cities -- an emerging destination? If nothing else, bold infrastructural projects like the Big Dig (otherwise known as the Central Artery/Tunnel Project), which has transformed the waterfront, and a new 516,000-square-foot convention center in a 1.6-million-square-foot complex, are creating a whole new way of looking at Beantown. "All of us are looking forward to the opening of our new convention center in June 2004," says Patrick B. Moscaritolo, president and CEO, Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "With it, and the billions of dollars in improvements in transportation and tourism infrastructure, we are ready to take a position as a premier destination." Beth Stehley, vice president of convention sales at the CVB, feels many planners may not be aware of how much Boston and Cambridge has achieved in the last two years. Hazinski agrees: "They have gone through difficulties with all the development, but that is part of being an emerging area," adding, "Boston has tourism amenities and attractiveness to command a lot of attention. Once it gets going, it will give New York City and Washington D.C. a lot to worry about."


3. Since the country is practically the size of a continent and already has a thriving international meetings market in Cancun, one may say Mexico has already arrived. But last June, the Mexico Tourism Board created the Mexico Convention Bureau, which is its first national initiative to market Mexico for meetings and conventions. According to its executive director, Eduardo Chaillo, the bureau is expected to increase the number of Mexico's CVBs to 39 in the coming year. Starting in 2004, any foreign group traveling to Mexico for meetings, conventions, expositions, or trade fairs will be exempt from paying value added tax for accommodations, pre-contracted services provided in hotels such as F&B, transfers, and event venues. Major new-build convention developments include Banamex (Mexico City), and Hemisferia (Cancun), with Tijuana and Durango also building centers. Other major exposition markets, Monterrey and Guadajalara, expanded their centers, while Mexico City's World Trade Center plans to add two hotels to its complex.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

4. According to Ian Quartermaine, vice president, business development, of Scottsdale, AZ-based HelmsBriscoe International, "I do an enormous amount of traveling, and I've never seen such a collection of modern hotels with unique architecture. The amount of four- and five-star hotels is incredible. They even have what they call a six-star property -- the Burj Al Arab." And for even more incentive appeal, Dubai is developing Palm Island, a just-offshore area where plans call for 30 to 40 hotels. "So much of the investment comes from the Dubai Government," says Quartermaine, "which is committed to making it happen." While he admits that "the number of Americans is small outside the petro-chemical industry," Quartermaine notes that "more Americans are becoming acquainted with Dubai because it's being used as an 'R and R' post for U.S. armed forces." Surprisingly, for a Muslim country, "It's also quite the place for clubbing. Alcohol can be sold through the hotel venues or a licensed operation." Currently, Malaysia Airlines has direct flights from the U.S. to Dubai; also, the award-winning Emirates Airlines has recently entered a codeshare agreement with Continental Airlines.


5. The second-fastest growing economy after China, the subcontinent is looking at the meetings market in a substantive way, with discussions of convention center development in Mumbai, Chennai, and Goa. According to Delhi-based SM correspondent Neelam Mathews, weekly direct flights to and from the U.S. were increased from 15 to 20 (Air Canada's being the most recent addition). Hotel inventory, which has tripled nationwide within the last 10 years, is particularly aggressive in Bangalore and Mumbai. However, according to Hazinski, "This is a very immature convention and trade show market. India lacks the physical infrastructure as well as institutions that organize events. But it is a huge market, and it is only a matter of time before the convention and trade show industry takes hold."

Vail, Colorado

6. Vail, the number-one ski destination in North America, "is a fantastic buy for meeting planners if you're not in the ski season," says Hazinski. "It's becoming well regarded in the off-season for its recreational opportunities." The destination has been actively developing events and programs for its off season, which can be found on www.vail "The town is contemplating building a new conference facility," adds Hazinski, "that would allow it to attract larger-sized meeting and convention events that must be supported by multiple hotel properties." To augment leisure demand, the hospitality community in Vail focuses on corporate incentives and continuing education, and has been extremely successful in attracting small-scale events to single hotel properties.

Copenhagen, Denmark

7Hazinski says, "Copenhagen delivers a very high level of service. It can't compete with southern European cities on climate, but with its service, it really has become a wonderful destination, consistently hosting more conventions and congresses than many European cities." Although he pegs it as a seasonal destination ("people tend not to go during the winter"), according to Erin Tierney, Wonderful Copenhagen's director of sales, meeting, and incentives, groups are encouraged to come in December for the Christmas season, and in March for the excellent rates. In 2003, the city's room inventory grew by 6 percent (Tierney: "We now have five, five-star hotels"), and expanded convention facilities that will be close to the old city are under consideration.


8. The last colony to revert back to mainland China, Macao is a former Portuguese colony and "sleepy little enclave" 37 miles southwest of Hong Kong that, according to Mark Keith, managing director for HVS Executive Search in Hong Kong, "is set to be transformed by the developments by Wynn Resorts and the Venetian." Quartermaine agrees: "Macau is great little place that's becoming more interesting." According to Sheldon G. Adelson, owner, chairman, and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Inc., "We will create a Las Vegas-style strip in the heart of the territory in Cotai, anchored by the Venetian Macau, which will deliver the ultimate resort, entertainment, and convention product." Wynn Resorts is currently waiting on clarification of some gaming laws, but is also expected to build.

With its proximity to mainland China, Macau will command a strong regional presence; but the opulence of its properties will eventually interest the incentive market.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

9. "Santa Fe," says Hazinski, "is an example of a city with great tourism appeal. But the city currently uses a converted gymnasium as a convention center and currently places very little emphasis on attracting citywide conventions that have national or international scope. The city is contemplating replacing the existing building with a small, high-end convention center. If it does that, Santa Fe would add a whole new dimension to its business tourism environment."

Santa Fe is a high-end destination, "but it's also a pretty good buy," he adds. Santa Fe features the world-famous Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, a thriving arts community, and Spanish and Native American heritage. In terms of hotel inventory, its level of luxury might have Sante Fe described as "Scottsdale, only boutique-sized." Downsides include a very small town, and with air access approximately an hour's drive away. Still, maintains Hazinski, "If they decide to proceed, I can see them being highly successful."

Raleigh, North Carolina

10. Raleigh is perhaps the only destination on the list that speaks to the popularity growth of drive-to markets. Hazinski says, "This 'sleeper' is not so much a national destination as a regional one. If the current downtown planning continues, they'll create a new destination in North Carolina, once again becoming the center of association meetings. If they continue redevelopment of the area, they're set for a turnaround. The overall demographics show a lot of growth, and it's a real cultural center that is the best in the state."