The 2014 FIFA World Cup may have put São Paulo on the global stage for sporting events, but for corporate meetings, incentives and business travel, South America’s largest city has long been a must-visit destination. And with greater connectivity and more focus than ever on service, cuisine and style, perhaps there has never been a better time to meet in São Paulo.
“What makes São Paulo one of the most important MICE destinations is the great hotels, airports, transportation and location,” said Marusa Trevisan, spokesperson, São Paulo Turismo, the local tourism organization. “São Paulo has the largest hotel [offering] in Latin America: 410 hotels with 42,000 rooms.” Add the city’s status as one of the most important business hubs in the hemisphere, and it’s easy to see why the MICE segment is so important here.
The range of options is indeed impressive. São Paulo boasts no fewer than 11 large convention centers as well as countless cultural venues that also host groups for meetings and private events. Local destination management companies like IVI DMC2 Brazil help groups find the most appropriate locations for conventions and other gatherings and also provide transportation and logistical help — especially important, given São Paulo’s notoriously dense traffic.
The top choices for international meetings and conventions, according to IVI DMC2 Brazil, include the Brazilian British Center, with a 350-seat restaurant, 160-seat auditorium and three exhibition galleries; the Anhembi Convention Palace, featuring three auditoriums, five exhibition halls and four breakout rooms; and Casa Fasano, which hosts corporate events for up to 800 attendees.
São Paulo’s many cultural institutions — several of which are showplaces for Brazil’s most iconic modern architecture — offer opportunities for both free-time activities and unique events. “São Paulo is not only the financial capital of Latin America and the whole Southern Hemisphere, but it’s also the cultural capital, with thousands of wonderful options,” said Flavia Liz Di Paolo, a São Paulo specialist and guide who creates custom itineraries and programs for corporate and leisure groups. Di Paolo organizes corporate group excursions that range from architecture tours to graffiti tours and visits to favelas, where groups can learn about Brazil’s poorest neighborhoods.
Among São Paulo’s renowned MICE-friendly museums is the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, often referred to simply by its initials, MASP. Sitting imposingly on Avenida Paulista, one of the city’s most important avenues for business travelers, the venue houses one of Latin America’s most impressive collections of Western art and offers two auditoriums — one with 80 seats and the other with 374 — for private events and presentations. Also in the artistic vein is the Museu de Arte Moderno, located in the sprawling and peaceful Ibirapuera Park. The facility’s sculpture garden accommodates 300 people for cocktail parties, and a 200-seat auditorium also is available.
Culinary arts, fashion and nightlife can add extra flavor to any meeting or incentive outing. “Here in SP, every day there are new, interesting things opening, especially in terms of gastronomy, nightlife, art, fashion and design,” said Di Paolo, who mentioned art galleries like Mezanino, Verve and Luis Maluf as examples of the city’s burgeoning creative scene. São Paulo’s role as a host city for the World Cup also provides interesting opportunities for the meetings and incentives market, noted Rose Almeida, publisher, MICE Business, a website that focuses on that segment in Brazil.
São Paulo’s futebol (soccer) stadiums are worthy of a visit, she said, not only for guided group tours but also as a host venue for private meetings and events. The Museu do Futebol, opened in 2008 in Pacaembu Stadium, hosts private events in four separate spaces, allowing meetings and incentive groups to capture some of the excitement of Brazil’s most popular sport.
São Paulo’s hotel scene — including nearly every major international brand as well as several noteworthy business-friendly independent properties — adds to the city’s appeal for the MICE market. Top choices include the Hilton São Paulo Morumbi, featuring 15,000 square feet of meeting space and direct access to a shopping center, a helipad and major corporate offices. The property allows groups to plan carbon-free events and also offers packages that include guided visits to local art galleries. Other major meeting hotels include the 466-room Grand Hyatt São Paulo, which accommodates up to 1,200 for events; the Renaissance São Paulo, with almost 30,000 square feet of meeting space; and Sheraton São Paulo WTC, located in the World Trade Center São Paulo and adjacent to the WTC Events Center.
Brazil’s biggest city also exhibits its business flair at independent properties like the aptly named Hotel Unique, featuring futuristic architecture and minimalist style. Another recommended property for upscale MICE groups, Casa Fasano, offers elegant design as well as one of the city’s best hotel restaurants.
Speaking of restaurants, São Paulo’s chefs are increasingly known for their sophisticated culinary skills as well as for creating MICE-friendly venues for private dining, meetings and other events. “Gastronomy is one of the strengths of the city, [which] already has 11 restaurants with Michelin stars,” said Almeida.
Among the top picks: A Figueira Rubaiyat, where diners savor international cuisine while seated beneath the giant ficus tree that towers over the front yard. For contemporary Brazilian cuisine, groups head to Maní, headed by Brazilian model-turned-chef Helena Rizzo, or D.O.M., featuring the creations of local celebrity chef Alex Atala.
Business travelers feel more comfortable than ever transiting in and out of São Paulo thanks to the new international VIP lounge LAN and TAM airlines opened in October 2014 at Guarulhos International Airport. The first unified lounge serving both carriers, it features a draft beer bar, 9-foot buffet area and furnishings from the Andrée Putman studio.
To increase connectivity with North America, TAM Airlines this year added service linking São Paulo with Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, with an intermediate stop at New York’s JFK, aboard Boeing 767 aircraft with flat-bed Premium Business seating. Other Brazilian airlines ramped up partnerships with larger carriers to expand their presence. Gol Airlines, Brazil’s second-largest airline, partners with Delta Air Lines, while United Airlines this year announced plans to take a $100 million interest in Azul, the third-largest player. Azul recently began service between São Paulo’s Viracopos/Campinas International Airport and Orlando International in Florida.
Regardless of how MICE groups arrive, they’ll likely feel the excitement of South America’s biggest metropolis soon after arrival. “São Paulo is cosmopolitan,” said Almeida. “Being in São Paulo is to experience a city that is open 24 hours, with a lifestyle that combines work and leisure as if they were two sides of the same coin.”
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