Always popular as meeting sites, Western Canada and Mexico are now even more enticing as the strength of the U.S. dollar allows planners to book more (in some cases quite a bit more) for less. Add in a drop in inbound travel to the U.S., partly due to increasingly onerous travel restrictions, and planning a meeting in Canada and Mexico becomes an even more alluring choice.
Planners have the luxury of holding meetings in North America while offering attendees higher-end accommodations, food and beverage, activities and other extras. Even better, a number of destinations are adding to their meetings infrastructure with new and renovated hotels and convention centers.
“With a strong U.S. dollar compared to its Canadian counterpart, there has rarely been a better time for U.S. groups to come north of the border to Whistler,” said Preston Miller, director of conference sales and services for Tourism Whistler, the mountain resort located two hours north of Vancouver, B.C.
Miller pointed out that the exchange rate essentially creates a 25 percent discount for U.S. groups.
“It’s always a good time to meet in Whistler, and for U.S. groups right now it’s a ‘really’ good time,” Miller said.
While the largest venue in Whistler is the Whistler Conference Center, Miller noted that a relatively new and unique site for gatherings is the Audain Art Museum, which offers space for groups of up to 250 people.
“It’s a personal favorite, and would make for a spectacular meeting space,” Miller said.
Also new are the Alpine Suites at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which were added as part of a five-year, $23 million renovation project that also included its meeting space.
In addition to easy access to the mountains, Vancouver offers spectacular ocean views and a platinum LEED-certified convention center, according to Dave Gazley, vice president of meeting and convention sales for Tourism Vancouver.
“Conference planners enjoy choosing from the abundant Pacific Northwest cuisine options and top-notch hotels with striking views of our natural landscape,” Gazley said. “And it is a bonus to secure these phenomenal experiences with a favorable U.S. exchange rate.”
The city has been continuing efforts to hit its stated goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020 and this year has been celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday with a series of 150-plus events (the plus in honor of the longer history of its First Nations people).
As part of Canada’s birthday, Parks Canada has been offering free admission to its national parks—another perk for groups. A number of Alberta’s most popular parks can be found just outside the city of Calgary, including Banff National Park, which was Canada’s first national park. The area continues to add to its hotel offerings.
The Fairmont Banff Springs recently launched a number of specially curated group activities, while the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise recently completed a renovation of its Victoria Ballroom and Pipestone meeting rooms and added a new restaurant called the Alpine Social. Meanwhile, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in nearby Jasper National Park recently completed a restoration of everything from the cabins to the dining venues.
As the urban center of the region, Calgary offers a thriving cultural district, the Calgary TELUS Convention Centre with 47,000 square feet of exhibit space, and a number of high-profile events, including the Calgary Stampede, which has been called the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” Travel to the area is easier than ever with the opening of the YYC Calgary International Terminal in October 2016.
In March 2017, the Element Calgary Airport opened with 142 guest rooms and meeting space for small groups. The Fairmont Palliser in Calgary is beginning a renovation project in January. Upon its expected completion in June 2018, the hotel will feature new event space, a lobby bar and 60-plus seat brasserie-style restaurant.
The all-inclusive aspect of Mexican resorts offers many groups substantial savings. Add in the strong dollar and this year they offer an even better deal. Many of Mexico’s all-inclusive resorts are also adding meeting space, including Grupo Vidanta in Nuevo Vallarta, which opened a convention center in May. The first convention center in the Nuevo Vallarta area, the Grand Vidanta can accommodate groups of more than 2,400 people.
Jamie Cook, of Strategic Meetings & Incentives in Phoenix, recently booked an incentive program into Puerto Los Cabos and said the all-inclusive concept “allowed guests to have an experience without as much added out-of-pocket costs to them for poolside cocktails and on-site activities.”
In Guadalajara, the strong U.S. dollar allows groups to get a great deal on the city’s famous cultural experiences, according to Fernanda Landa, public relations director for the Guadalajara CVB.
“Meeting planners can ensure an unforgettable experience for attendees without breaking the bank by incorporating teambuilding day trips along the tequila trail via train, performances by traditional mariachi bands, elevated Mexican cuisine and more,” Landa said.
Both the Tequila Express train to Casa Herradura and Mundo Cuervo’s Jose Cuervo Express run from Guadalajara to the town of Tequila.
New hotels with meeting space include the Hyatt Regency Andares Guadalajara, which opened in February. A new Hard Rock hotel is expected to open in 2018 with 350 guest rooms, five meeting rooms, three boardrooms and a rooftop bar.
RCD Hotels, which runs a number of Hard Rock Hotels in Mexico resort destinations (including Cancun, Riviera Maya and Los Cabos), recently launched a new upscale resort concept in Riviera Maya called Unico 20°87°. The adults-only all-inclusive resort, designed to combine luxury amenities with an immersion into modern Mexican culture, was one of the resorts that Andrea Kinney, a manager of global accounts for HelmsBriscoe based in St. Augustine, Fla., recommended to a client that previously had only met in the U.S.
Kinney said that this particular group tends to spend a lot on food and beverage and she thought that a Mexican all-inclusive would work well for their needs, especially with the exchange rate so favorable. After looking at a number of resorts along the Riviera Maya, they chose Unico 20°87° following a site inspection that took place before the resort had opened.
“It’s an amazing place,” said Kinney, who mentioned that because it was new, the group was able to take advantage of heavily discounted pre-opening rates.
Not only did the group save money because of the strong dollar and pre-opening rates, but Kinney added that the resort also offered attendees heavily discounted fees for spa, golf and outside excursions, plus she noted that the taxes and gratuities are also included.