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7 top South American ‘MICE’ destinations

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With its acronym “Meetings, Incentive Tourism, Conferences and Events,” MICE tourism — with its focus on the corporate market — is one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in the world.

One of the continents now leading the way in MICE tourism is South America. With the resumption of face-to-face events and meetings, this region is benefiting from its modern hospitality infrastructure, large-capacity convention centers, high-end hotel networks, an intense cultural life and tons of entertainment.

Likewise, as the corporate world seeks innovative ways to reward their employees, acquire new customers, or consolidate relationships, few activities are as compelling as incentive travel to South America.

More than just a meeting point or a backdrop, the best MICE destinations provide a perfect setting to become connected to our world in a unique way. Meetings and business events allow visitors to experience and embrace both the environment and culture of a specific locale while achieving important goals. Such destinations can also serve as rewards and motivation for members of your team.

Here – in no particular order – we explore seven of the top destinations in South America that might inspire you to plan your company’s next MICE getaway.  

Buenos Aires: The Americas’ #1 conference destination!

Buenos Aires… The very name evokes images of sensuous tango dancers, fine Malbec wine, thick juicy steaks, Maradona and Messi. Home to some 3 million people (and host to 2.7 million visitors each year), this vibrant metropolis stands out for its eye-catching architecture, and a sizzling arts and cultural scene. These and its many other qualities have contributed to making Buenos Aires an absolutely ideal location for the MICE industry.

Consider the fact that the city possesses three major Convention Centers and almost 500 business events venues for congresses, conventions, trade fairs, exhibitions, and corporate meetings throughout the year.

These meeting spaces boast excellent ICT infrastructure, making Buenos Aires one of the most sophisticated MICE destinations in the world. This is evidenced through its innovative uses of artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, 360-degree images, and mobile applications that facilitate the organization and virtual participation of attendees

For its more discriminating visitors, the city also offers a wide range of luxury and boutique hotels. In the city, travelers can choose from more than 13,300 hotel beds in four- to five-star accommodations. In addition, you’ll have the chance to indulge in the city’s more than 7,000 bars and restaurants.

Thanks to all these qualities, the city hosts around 2,000 major international events each year, which is why Buenos Aires is ranked as the Number 1 conference destination in the Americas!

For incentive trips, visitors to the Argentine capital can enjoy unforgettable experiences in and around the city both by day and night – from tango shows and wine tasting to and international music festivals and artistic shows.
In short, Buenos Aries has built a better mousetrap that has now caught onto MICE.

São Paulo, Brazil: South America’s ‘bleisure’ hub

While a FIFA World Cup may have pulled São Paulo into the world limelight, South America’s largest city has long been a must-visit destination for MICE travel.

In addition to providing the largest hotel offering in Latin America (410 hotels with 42,000 rooms), what also makes São Paulo one of the most important MICE destinations are its countless cultural venues that host everything from private meetings to major conferences. (Note that the city boasts no fewer than 11 major convention centers!)

With up-to-date airports and ever-improving urban transportation to boot, these add to the city’s status as the financial capital of Latin America and the most important business hub in the hemisphere. Therefore, with so much corporate activity, it’s easy to see why the MICE segment is so important here.

As for São Paulo’s hotel scene — including nearly every major international brand as well as several noteworthy independent business-friendly properties — this adds to the city’s appeal for the MICE market. Top choices include the Hilton São Paulo Morumbi, the 466-room Grand Hyatt São Paulo, the Renaissance São Paulo, and futuristic + minimalist Hotel Unique, and the elegant Casa Fasano hotel-restaurant. The range of accommodation options is limitless.

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 now has 11 Michelin-starred restaurants.

São Paulo is not only the continent’s business hub, but it’s also a cultural capital, with boatloads of amazing options for corporate group excursions – from a tour of the city’s “Little Tokyo” district to a visit to the world-famous MASP art museum. What’s more, the city’s nightlife and fashion scenes are bound to add extra flavor to any meeting or incentive outing. Even São Paulo’s futebol (soccer) stadiums are worth a visit.

Business travelers will feel more comfortable than ever transiting in and out of São Paulo thanks to direct links with North America and Europe. But regardless of how MICE groups arrive, visitors are sure to feel the excitement of South America’s biggest metropolis soon after touching down.

Experiencing cosmopolitan São Paulo is to experience a city that’s awake 24/7, with a lifestyle combining work and pleasure like two sides of the same coin. For those taking a MICE trip here, they’ll discover for themselves that Sao Paulo is all about “bleisure” (business + leisure).

Quito: An emerging mice destination

While Quito may be one of the more obscure choices for meetings and events, the Ecuadorian capital is keen on promoting business tourism and meetings in the city. This is being attempted through strengthening of the city as a destination by bringing together the ideal conditions for holding cultural events, conventions, congresses and incentive trips.

According to local tourism boosters, the city is promoting MICE activities in its dozens of “heritage spaces,” rural haciendas, metropolitan parks, contemporary spaces, and meeting sites in high-end hotels across the city. In addition, Quito’s first-class convention center is the most modern in the country, providing an enormous space for trade fairs and conferences. Nearby is an even larger “Events Center” that hosts fairs, concerts and massive shows that host up to 50,000 attendees. Both of these large-event centers are served by Quito’s brand-new metro system.

Quito’s growing culinary arts and cultural scenes are attractions in themselves

As an emerging MICE incentive destination, Quito is much more than a jumping-off point for visits to the country’s famed Galapagos Islands. With a rich colonial past and connection with Ecuador’s indigenous heritage, Quito is awash with ethnic markets, historical plazas, tight ancient streets, and well-weathered buildings, many of which are now comfortable, luxury hotels.

The ever-improving culinary and cultural arts scenes in Quito leave something more to discover, making the Ecuadorian capital an opportune choice to venture to new territory and add even more value to your business meetings, corporate events or incentive trip.

Rio de Janeiro: For a team-building incentive trip like few others

A fantasy for most travelers, Rio de Janeiro is the dream destination where you push back in your beach chair, sip a cold fruity “caipirinha,” and watch the girl from Ipanema walk by. A city of such mythical proportions, this is a place where residents dance to their own unique beat. Known to locals as “the Marvelous City,” Rio’s urban façade is fringed by mountains, white sandy shorelines, and infinite rainforests.

So, if you’re planning a MICE event that will impress your clients or motivate your employees, few places will do the trick better. Picture the Rio Carnival, the most amazing and popular party in the world? This famous Carnival — the world’s largest — sees as many as two million people, dressed in the most elaborate costumes, fill the streets before Lent each year. Tourists from across Brazil and further afield flood the city in search of the festival’s characteristic vibrant colors, energetic dancing, and soulful South American music.

And who hasn’t viewed images of Rio’s famed Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue? Or how about the beautiful beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana that have inspired musicians from all over the world? Rio de Janeiro is all that and much more. The city’s wide range of other attractions include its great food and its ENERGY! All that’s exactly what an incentive trip to Rio is all about.

It also turns out that Rio de Janeiro is a hotspot for team-building exercises; gone are the days of dull business getaways that make your staff dread heading off-site. Currently, Rio provides countless team-building activities and exercises that are meant to foster teamwork; strengthen cohesion, bonding and communication; and increase employee productivity. Such activities might include group competitions like volleyball matches on Ipanema beach, guided group tours of local culture, gala dinners in exclusive villas with ocean views, a private golf tournament, or attending the annual Rock-in-Rio festival. Company outings also encourage innovation among team members and provide a nice mental break. Again, the possibilities are unlimited.

Supporting these Rio de Janeiro attractions, as well as the city’s MICE tourism industry, are a range of businesses, including uber-modern hotels with meeting rooms, upscale restaurants, efficient transportation services, and event companies offering customized team-building days and sightseeing tours.

As most business takes place in Rio’s northern downtown financial center, most MICE travelers tend to stay in hotels there or at those near the beaches in Copacabana and Ipanema in the Zona Sul, or southern zone. Accommodations like the newer, more modern and sophisticated JW Marriott or the more elegant, old-world experience of the Copacabana Palace Hotel. More edgy abodes include the Hotel Santa Teresa, housed in an old coffee plantation mansion, or the five-star Philippe Stark-designed Hotel Fasano, down on Ipanema beach. Similar to Sao Paulo, the options abound here too.

To complement your stay, the city center is also home to a plethora of restaurants, ranging from the modern and stylish to the traditional and homely – all close to one another — which is an ideal set-up for MICE travelers.

Getting to and from the city is a breeze. An international airport located less than 20 minutes from all the biggest hotels and conference centers in the city. In addition, there are numerous event spaces to choose from, offering a wide selection to meet any event organizer’s needs.

Throughout this dynamic city, there are unique experiences for all types of MICE travelers. Whether you’re motivated or incentivized by a fine dining experience, culture, sun, sea or sport, Rio de Janeiro has something for everyone.

Cartagena Colombia: The Caribbean’s MICE go-to destination

The jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena de Indias stands proudly as a world-class destination for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE). Its well-developed hospitality infrastructure positions this city as the go-to destination for industry events in the Caribbean region. The city’s rich historical charm, cobbled streets, lively plazas, and flower-laden balconies continue to draw in business travelers and leisure tourists alike.

Cartagena is a compact city, meaning event attendees will find most everything of interest within an eight-mile radius, including the airport, hotels, tourist attractions, convention centers, shopping malls, the historic district, amazing restaurants, and the fabulous bay.

Consider the fact that Cartagena ranks 12th in the Americas’ ranking of the number of meetings per city made by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), just a few positions behind Bogota. It also is in position number 58 worldwide.

As for facilities, the city has a main international convention center that can entertain 7,000 people in a single space. It was designed to host congresses, exhibitions, fairs, and international concerts. In addition, other smaller events and meetings can be held in any of the city’s 200 hotel establishments.

As for attendee accommodation, the province boasts 44.411 beds and 24.948 rooms distributed in various lodgings, located mostly in Cartagena, the regional capital. Both the infrastructure of its convention centers and the number of luxury and boutique hotels in the city make Cartagena a great destination for hosting major events such as congresses, conventions, fairs, and business and political meetings.

With its changing image and reputation, Cartagena is gradually taking its place in the global rankings of MICE destinations. The city’s role has thereby assisted in placing Colombia among the top MICE destinations worldwide.

Cartagena de Indias appears amongst the top incentive destination lists — outranking Russia, New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa — for all the right reasons. Cartagena de Indias is a dynamic city with a plethora of perfect activities for any visitor. A picturesque seaside city of modern architecture, characterized by a colonial backdrop of balconies and cobblestone streets, exhibits a rich sense of culture and history that makes Cartagena perfect for discussions, meetings, and more. By day it’s a city of PGA golf, catamaran tours, sailing, and exploring the colossal San Felipe de Barajas Castle; but once the sun goes down, attendees can savor some truly exquisite dining and let loose while indulging in the city’s thumping nightlife.

Cartagena is bursting with high-end hotels, conference centers, extravagant restaurants and historical landmarks, making it an ideal setting for a productive and memorable MICE trip.

Bogota, Colombia: The best destination for MICE meetings

A vibrant metropolis that’s a unique blend of history, culture, business, and entertainment, Bogota is earning its reputation as one of the principal MICE destinations in South America. The Colombian capital is the most important city for business tourism in the country and is ranked sixth among the most relevant Latin American cities for the meetings industry. In addition, it was recognized in 2020, 2021 and 2022 as the “Best Destination for Business Travel in South America” according to the World Travel Awards.

Bogota is certainly no stranger to the events sector and has welcomed many conferences at its three major convention centers, each able to host between three and four thousand people. The city also has nearly 200 meeting and conference areas located in top hotels and specialized centers.

This wide selection of different-sized conference rooms is complemented by luxurious hotels well-placed to accommodate business-class events and high-value functions. In fact, Bogota has the first integrated trade fair district in Latin America. This consists of a convention center, fairgrounds and hotel facilities with the availability of more than 32,000 rooms and 45,000 beds. This is excellent infrastructure for holding events and high-quality tourist services, which — combined with unique experiences such as its fine dining, culture and natural environment — make Bogota the perfect destination for the holding of large events.

At the level of connectivity, the city’s El Dorado International Airport connects more than 80 destinations, 41 international (23 countries) and 40 domestic destinations operated by 23 airlines.

In short, the Colombian capital’s solid and ample business infrastructure (not to mention its competitive prices) makes this relatively unexplored destination the most important city for business tourism in Colombia and ranks it in the top six Latin American cities for MICE.

NOTE: Bogota is also a cost-effective destination for MICE conventions. This is especially true when compared to other major cities in North America and Europe. 

Lima, Peru: MICE in the ‘City of Kings’

Lima has been ranked as the second-best city in South America for the development of meeting tourism. The International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) made this assessment due to the city’s capacity to host top-level events

Lima is characterized by its modern buildings, lush parks, captivating plazas, and stately squares, offering the best security and protection to its visitors. In all of Peru, it enjoys the largest number of hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, art galleries, cafes, casinos, theaters and cinemas, night shows, bars and discos — thus making it hard not to find Lima the perfect MICE destination.

For major conferences and events, the Lima Convention Centre alone accommodates up to 10,500 people and is one of the largest in South America. Lima has more than 330 meeting facilities served by the most modern infrastructure and technology for satisfying all the requirements of any type of event, national or international, and turning visitors’ stay into a unique experience.

In terms of accommodations, to date, the city is home to more than 20 major international hotel chains. Among these are world-class hotels such as the Marriott, Belmond, Swissotel, and other international brands that have invested in the city. However, it’s likely you’ll also be amazed by the great quality of local hotel brands and restaurants that allow you to experience the culture.

And speaking of restaurants, it’s impossible to forget the incredible fine-dining scene that has become so well-developed in Lima. Lima’s cuisine is famous all around the world. Centuries ago, the country’s traditional ingredients started to fuse with Spanish, Asian, and other cuisines from around the world, with delicious and unique dishes as a result. With Lima in the lead, Peru has even earned the title of the “World’s Leading Culinary Destination” in the World Travel Awards for five of the last six years. As such, the culinary arts sector is highly developed, meaning that unforgettable dining experiences for every type of incentive traveler or group can be easily organized.

Lima is not only a popular country among leisure travelers; the diverse city is also increasingly mentioned among the world’s top MICE incentive destinations. This is not surprising, since Lima offers endless possibilities for incentive travel experiences allowing your clients or team members to interact with local cultures and enjoy truly unique places. Likewise, incentive trips to Lima can be perfectly combined with excursions to other famous outlying Peruvian destinations like Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines, Cusco, or the Sacred Valley and the Inca Trail.

For years, Lima and other cities have made Peru one of South America’s most popular travel destinations. As a consequence, the Andean country is very well connected. From many cities in the United States, Europe and Latin America, direct flights arrive and depart from the capital city. Even better is the ease of traveling throughout Lima and to surrounding areas with efficient and well-organized transportation – be it on modern tour buses, luxury trains, or domestic flights.

All of this makes Lima a one-of-a-kind destination. The city’s forward-thinking approach to integrating visitors with the historical landscape and embracing their rich local culture is pushing “The City of Kings” to the forefront of popular MICE destinations.

Conclusion: It’s time to think MICE

Clearly, conferences, conventions, meetings, and events are a vital component of Latin America’s tourism and travel industry. MICE tourism provides a platform where buyers and sellers from around the world secure business and launch new products, as well as an opportunity for emerging markets in the region to showcase their facilities and offerings to the business community.

And as for incentive travel, the continent’s rich cultural heritage comes to life in traditional festivals and local markets, providing a motivating experience for deserving employees especially. With activities ranging from eco-tours to water sports and sunset horse rides, South America ensures that these travelers will find their perfect slice of paradise, making it a well-rounded destination for both business and leisure.

Thinking of MICE activity travel? Think South America!

Alfonso Tandazo

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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