Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2013
Are International Destinations Still A Viable Option For Meeting Planners
By: Patricia Ann Jordan

Yes! According to David Whitaker, president and CEO, Tourism Toronto, who stresses, “When it comes to the primary interest, need or opportunity in considering an “international meeting,” meeting planners and the organizations they represent, are responding to many of the social and economic dynamics that we all are responding to, regardless of industry or market segment – our businesses need to react to a global market place with an increasingly diverse customer and constituent base.”

If an international agenda matters, if global content matters, if diversity among our rank and file matters – then meeting in Toronto presents a significant advantage to a planner seeking to capitalize on that objective in hosting and designing their meetings.

In the most recent census – an amazing 50% of all Torontonians were not born in Canada – making Toronto one of if not the world’s most international, cosmopolitan destination among major meeting locations. Beyond demographics – that also allows meeting planners and their delegates a chance to experience this uniqueness not only in the branding of the meeting but in the very tangible opportunity to experience the amazing mosaic of cuisine, nightlife, art and culture and diverse neighbourhoods. This is not unlike Toronto is marketed to consumers and other clients. It’s part and parcel to why the world has started to notice Toronto in ways such as Conde Nast Traveler magazine selecting Toronto as one of the 5 “must see” destinations in the world in 2013.

Toronto’s features the Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto Pride Week – one of the largest in the world, an annual and world famous Caribbean Carnival and dozens of multi-cultural arts, heritage and music festivals throughout the spring, summer and fall. Plus, home teams in just about every major professional sports league in North America. This presents planners with value added events to excite and fulfill their delegates’ expectations of not only a great meeting but a great time at a meeting.

In a period of increased pressures to contain costs and maximize time, the simple logistics of traveling to and from a meeting, time out of the office and ease of accessibility for colleagues, clients, members and partners is of greater importance. Toronto is a destination that is well positioned to provide this as an advantage to planners. It is centrally located to both the American Northeast and Mid-West.

Over 70% of the US population is within a 90-minute drive or flight to Toronto with one of the largest international airports and supporting direct flights to and from major cities in North America. Planners want their delegates in sessions, at events – not flying all day, an extra day or connecting in airports.

The perceived and or real issues of guest comfort and safety undoubtedly play a greater role when contemplating international travel. Toronto and Canada in general have a leading brand reputation and statistics that support it as one of the safest, most accepting and friendliest destinations for visitors to its communities – yet not sacrificing its ability to provide visitors with the flair and excitement of a major cosmopolitan and international destination.

According to Eduardo Chaillo, executive director Meeting Industry For the Mexico Tourism Board, now more than ever Mexico is a great option in terms of cost. In a market where buyers are looking to make the most out of their budgets, Mexico offers a 0% VAT (value added tax) benefits for Meetings and Congresses. This equates to a 11% to 16% discount on a broad range of services including room rate and F&B group functions, which often represent the core cost of a program. Meetings are fully deductible in USA and CANADA. But mostly the level of service, hotel facilities to amazing rates make Mexico a superb option for cost effective international meetings.

As far as safety in Mexico, while it is true that there are areas of Mexico that are unsafe to visit, it is important to point out that Mexico is a vast country with over 2,500 municipalities (the equivalent of counties in the United States) – only 3.2 percent of which have reported any type of incidents – and is roughly the size of Western Europe. These areas of concern are far away – typically along the border – from Mexico’s popular tourist meeting destinations. For example, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos are at least a two-hour flight away from the main border areas. The distance from Cabo San Lucas to Ciudad Juarez is 1,152 miles – approximately the same distance between New York and Miami (1,290 miles), Chicago and Laredo, Texas (1,395 miles), or Los Angeles and Oklahoma City (1,328 miles).

To keep meeting attendees safe, Mexico’s Incentive Group offers these tips:
  • Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings;
  • Keep your valuables close at all times;
  • Take secure taxis;
  • Stick with your group if you are unsure about where you are;
  • Ask your DMC or the local CVB for a list of English speaking doctors before you go; and
  • Read the latest news for meeting planners on
The destinations international event attendees will visit are the safest. Meeting venues and hotels provide high quality security technology and services, and the most beautiful and visited areas of a destination tend to be the most protected by government authorities and private companies that thrive on tourism.

Jamaica, with its diverse terrain, is a welcome delight for meeting groups, with lush mountains, cascading waterfalls and centuries old plantations rich with history and intrigue. Providing a safe and satisfying vacation experience is of paramount importance to all involved in Jamaica’s tourism industry.

“Tourism is Jamaica’s number one industry. We are not only committed to the industry, but also to ensuring the safest possible environment for our guests, whether here for business or pleasure,” says Dittie Guise, general manager, SMG/Montego Bay Convention Centre. The Government of Jamaica has adopted a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behavior across the island, including the resort areas. It is a goal toward which officials continue to devote substantial resources – in time, talent and dollars.

Some of our initiatives include an increased security presence across the island including the resort areas, despite the fact that very few incidents occur in them. The investment by such prestigious overseas tourism companies as the Hilton Hotel chain, Iberostar, RIU, Ritz Carlton Hotel chain, among others, is testament to the effectiveness of Jamaica officials’ work to enrich the tourism and meetings product. It also enhances the experience for guests and at the same time demonstrates a confidence in the destination.

Jamaica is proven to be one of the most cost effective destinations in the world, based on the variety of hotels and accommodations offered as well as the flight accessibility and availability. Barbados continues to be an attractive option for meetings & incentives as evidenced by the successful staging of a number of international conferences in recent months. Vice-President, Marketing, USA, Campbell Rudder, indicated that the destination has benefited tremendously from these events and looks forward to sustained interest and excitement.

“Barbados offers tremendous scope for today’s meeting and incentive planner and is an ideal location for Conferences and Events. The destination enjoys a high safety index and remains favorably accessible from major USA gateways. Barbados is delighted to have attracted these Conferences and looks to the future with optimism as we handled these Conferences well – with economic benefits trickling down to various partners on-island.”

Conferences convened on the island in the recent past include the Barbados Network Consultation, the African Diaspora Heritage Trail (ADHT) Conference, the Foromic XV Conference and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Most recently, the island hosted Liberty Travel Team Leaders from Upstate New York who – along with engaging in their scheduled Meetings – enjoyed varied elements of the Barbados experience. Business Development manager for the Barbados Tourism Authority, Eusi Skeete, shared, “That hosting the Team Meeting was an honor for Barbados and offered ample evidence that the destination is held in high regard for its ability to seamlessly facilitate these conferences and events.”

Globalization is one of the greatest forces affecting the meetings and incentives industry. Increasing competition and creating new opportunities for growth is paramount, as organizations must extend their reach worldwide to remain competitive. Emerging economies are expected to represent the majority of Global Domestic Product as soon as 2020, and for organizations wishing to achieve significant growth, these countries are not just viable, but necessary destinations for meetings.

With this in mind, South Africa is ideal for international meetings with its variety of accommodation and experiences – from its natural beauty, wines and cuisine, to its wildlife and culture. The three major international airports are modern and easily accessible; both the Cape Town and Johannesburg international airports were completely renovated and brand new Durban international airport was constructed just prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. South Africa is easily accessible from the US with daily direct flights on South African Airways from Dulles and JFK, as well as other airline options through gateways such as London, Dubai, and Istanbul.

South Africa is definitely a value-for-money destination with a favorable exchange rate to the US dollar, making high-end experiences affordable. The country has taken great strides to ensure the safety of its visitors, which was made clear as the world watched the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.  The United States Virgin Islands is an alluring Caribbean destination, and for Americans it’s easier to get to because US citizens do not require passports to enter. The territory is part of the United States and the islands are an ideal domestic location to host meetings of any size.

The island trio offers ideal settings for smaller break-out sessions to enhance productivity and to create inspiration for groups and productive meetings. Whether planning for a small group of CEOs in St. John or an incentive retreat with spouses and children in tow in St. Thomas or St. Croix, knowledgeable meeting managers and savvy destination management companies (DMCs) can supply the latest technology and prepare creative itineraries in an affordable, safe and beautiful Caribbean island destination.

Venues range from high attention service luxury resorts to smaller, intimate, hideaways, all with easy access to off-site locations for hosting functions. The USVI provides a professional, yet, low-stress environment for business.

Several local hotels and destination management companies have joined arms with the USVI Department of Tourism to offer the following meetings and incentives promotion:
  • 5% off Catering
  • 10% off Audio Visual
  • $50 Resort Credit per guest room for group staying for 3 nights or $75 Resort Credit per guest room for group staying 4 nights or more
  • $25 DMC Credit per person for group staying for 3 nights or $40 DMC Credit per person for group staying for 4 nights or more
  • Welcome Gift Bag per person
  • Airport Welcome Banner featuring group’s name
  • Airport Welcome Entertainment