MICE Caribbean

Apr 23, 2014
2014

In planning for meetings and events, size isn’t always a factor. The same can be said of the Caribbean, where some tiny islands contain bustling resorts while larger islands remain bastions of nature. The region is a mélange of cultural influences from early occupation by the Spanish, English, French and Dutch, as well as African slaves. Every island is unique, but each offers the alluring mix of business and tropical pleasures. Most islands have destination management companies that can find the ideal setting for an event of any size or purpose.

“MICE travel to the Caribbean continues to thrive in many islands,” says Richard S. Kahn, consultant, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association. “MICE business took a hit during the financial crisis in 2008–2009, but this segment of tourism came back fast because of the Caribbean’s perennial lure of good weather; warm, welcoming people; and attractive pricing in hotels — especially the all-inclusive resorts, which welcome groups. Destinations have expanded their convention centers, and many hotels have added appropriate facilities.”

THE SLOGAN “The Dominican Republic has it all” is not an idle boast. Having invested heavily in its tourism infrastructure, the country is flourishing, with all-inclusive luxury and boutique hotels dotted along its spectacular beaches and near its historic, cultural and natural areas.

Since 1975, the 7,000-acre Casa de Campo resort has been a sporting life standout with 90 holes of Pete Dye-designed golf and world-class venues for shooting, tennis, polo and boating. Also known for luxurious accommodations, restaurants and entertainment, the resort hosts up to 500 attendees in two conference centers (15,000 square feet) and other indoor and outdoor spaces.

Another award-winning property — Puntacana Resort & Club — is home to more than 23,000 square feet of meeting space. The lively Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana (a merger with Palace Resorts) devotes 65,495 square feet to events. A 123,785-square-foot convention center is located in the Barceló Bávaro Beach Resort complex.

MEET PUERTO RICO, the not-for-profit organization that markets Puerto Rico as a MICE destination, recently launched a new branding campaign with the slogan, “On a tropical island, in the Caribbean.” The promotion emphasizes the island’s 1.2 million square feet of meeting space, 4,000 hotel rooms, abundance of non-stop flights — and the fact U.S. citizens do not need passports to visit the U.S. territory.

San Juan’s 580,000-square-foot Puerto Rico Convention Center — the largest in the Caribbean — can accommodate 10,000 delegates. The center is close to historic Old San Juan, the city’s business district, restaurants, beaches and the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Adjacent to the PRCC is the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino, with 40,000 square feet of conference facilities. Located 30 minutes from the city, next to the spectacular El Yunque National Forest, the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa boasts a 48,000-square-foot seaside conference center. Scattered throughout the country are similar resorts, as well as intimate hotels suitable for smaller gatherings.

THE 2013 WORLD Travel Awards named Jamaica the Caribbean’s leading destination; the 142,000-square-foot Montego Bay Convention Centre got the nod as the region’s leading convention facility, and Half Moon Resort was honored as Jamaica’s top conference hotel and golf resort.

At the 400-acre Half Moon, suites and villas are clustered in five areas, giving groups their own “neighborhoods,” while individual villas lend themselves to executive gatherings. The resort includes 27,000 square feet of meeting space throughout the property, along with outdoor venues overlooking the two-mile-long beach. Half Moon, which hosted many celebrities and royal visitors in its 60-year history, also boasts a classic Robert Trent Jones golf course.

Opening in November 2014 near the convention center, the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall (adults only) and Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall will be co-joined all-inclusive resorts with 15,000 square feet of event facilities. The two properties share 40,000 square feet of outdoor meeting space — and the Von Hagge-designed White Witch Golf Course.

A BRITISH TERRITORY, Cayman comprises three sister islands — Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. Grand Cayman, the largest and most cosmopolitan, is known for scuba diving, swimming with stingrays in Stingray City, banking, shopping and fine restaurants and hotels. Several convention hotels with spas and nearby golf courses are located along Seven Mile Beach, 10 minutes from the Owen Roberts International Airport. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman boasts the island’s largest ballroom (9,000 square feet). Meeting facilities at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort total 6,000 square feet, while The Westin Grand Cayman accommodates 400 attendees in 8,877 square feet. Cayman marketing invites meeting planners to “Get Warm. Only in Cayman” — especially appealing during harsh winters.

THOUGH IT’S ATLANTIC rather than Caribbean, the 700-island Bahamian archipelago offers the same cachet of sea, sun and sand — and it’s closer to the U.S. mainland. About 50 resorts and 11 islands cater to groups through the Ministry of Tourism’s group destination services. Some offer adventure or seclusion and unspoiled local ambience, while others revel in dusk-to-dawn activity.

The granddaddy of Bahamian hotels is Paradise Island’s Atlantis, a mammoth resort with more than 200,000 square feet of facilities to entertain groups of 4,000. Atlantis features a variety of accommodations and restaurants, a 141-acre water park, beaches and a huge casino. Also on Paradise Island, the serenely luxurious One&Only Ocean Club, a historic enclave and golf course favored by the rich and famous, is perfect for a special event or board meeting.

A $3.5 billion renewal project opening in late 2014 is under way in Nassau. The Meliá at Baha Mar hotel will be the centerpiece of the Baha Mar development, which encompasses 1,000 acres; a Jack Nicklaus golf course; five major hotels; a 100,000-square-foot casino; and 200,000 square feet of convention facilities.

Grand Bahama Island, a natural treasure with three national parks, underwater cave systems and rare birds, is also home to historic villages and the tourist hot spot of Port Lucaya. That’s the location of the Grand Lucayan, a sprawling resort with two golf courses, a casino, spa and 20 meeting venues, the largest nearly 15,000 square feet.

In mid-2014, the Bahamian island of Bimini — mostly dormant since the days of Ernest Hemingway — will awaken to the new 350-room Bimini Marina Hotel, part of the 750-acre Resorts World Bimini. Visitors will arrive at the island’s expanded airport or the new cruise ship pier via the Bimini SuperFast, a dedicated cruise ship sailing 2.5 hours from Miami.

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