eli_gorinThe Latin American Connection : Bienvenidos a Latinoamérica!

Samantha Brown Rocks


August 17, 2007

By Eli Gorin, CMP

In my last post I talked about how TV news creates perceptions that people have locked in their minds about the dangers of even stepping outside of one’s home, let alone going to another country.  That is why people like Samantha Brown, the hostess with the mostess from the Travel Channel, to put it simply, rocks.  I was relaxing yesterday after a very long day of work and was happy to see her most recent program, Passport to Latin America, on television.  I loved watching Great Hotels because she gave great insight into some of the most famous hotels around the world.  She then had some love affair with Hawaii and it seems like she never left the Aloha State.  She then did all of Europe, and so I was eager to see what she came up with for Passport to Latin America.  And she has done the region justice.

Last night’s episodes were on Mexico City and Sao Paulo. I have been to Mexico City, and will be going to Sao Paulo soon… and the information provided in the show is so helpful that I am now very excited to head to Sao Paulo (more than before) and cannot wait to return to Mexico City!  Along with Passport to Latin America, another great show on Travel Channel is 5 Takes: Latin America, where 5 everyday people are given a chance to visit a country and are recommended locations to visit in each country by the viewers.  Some people may call those shows pure paid advertisement, but I say who cares??  They are showing the ins and outs of the cities and give very practical tips and show people things they never knew existed.  I pride myself on knowing about Latin America, but there are things on those shows which I had no clue about. 

I recommend those of you with TiVo’s and digital cable to go to the Travel Channel and look up these great shows and put them on your wish list.  If you are looking to research locations, the websites for these shows offer great information on locations you may have never even heard of.  Other shows which have given other POV’s of Latin America include Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (great food finds), and if you are feeling really adventurous, Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods (freaky food finds).

Oh and once you are done learning everything there is to know about Latin America thanks to our friends at the Travel Channel… don’t forget to check out Shark Week.

(Mis)perceptions


August 15, 2007

By Eli Gorin, CMP

One of the hardest things about getting people to understand about venturing out in the world, let alone to Latin America, is to get them to overcome the negative perceptions they may have about a certain place.  Unfortunately, people rely way too much on what they see on television news to be the end-all-be-all of that destination.  I stopped watching nightly newscasts a long time ago because I started noticing a recurring theme… the newscast tends to always start off something like this: “Tonight we bring you the latest breaking news… a man was found _____________ in his home this evening.  Police are investigating the motive and looking for suspects.”  Following that would be something along the lines of “And in world news… an explosion near __________ rocked [you name the city]”.  Hearing something like that day in and day out would make anyone afraid of venturing outside of their home, let alone the country!

The biggest concern people bring up when I talk about Latin America is safety and danger issues.  They are afraid of being kidnapped, robbed, or whatever else that would detract people from coming to an exotic destination.  I tend to wonder… where are they getting these perceptions from??  The same news cast that said a man was shot outside his home in a neighborhood a few blocks away?  Did that deter them from driving through that street later on in the day?  Probably not… and why not?  Because people perceive these to be “random acts of violence”.  I am not an expert in security, and I certainly am not naïve… but I think there needs to be more focus on the positive and proactive action to avoid the negative.  What do I mean by this?  Keep the thought in your mind that there are many more positives of these varying destinations that outweigh the negatives.  And if you have concerns over the negative aspects, proper planning can absolutely help in alleviating those fears.  Not too sure about the security issue in a certain city… do the research.  Ask the local tourism board for statistics on crime and any issues with foreign groups coming into their location.  Speak with other planners who may have held a meeting in the location you are considering.  If you are still hesitant, consider the options for hiring additional security to protect your group.  The same proactive actions you would take to protect your group in any part of the United States should be taken when traveling anywhere else in the world.  As I always tell people… show me one major metropolitan city in the United States that doesn’t have a section known for being dangerous.

I think if people work to overcome their fears and misperceptions, they will be one step closer to realizing there is a very big world out there with so much to offer… and in my particular case a wonderful region which is home to so many cultural wonders… including 3 of the 7 new wonders of the world.

MPI-WEC & Globalization


August 13, 2007

By Eli Gorin, CMP

Well this week I have been given the opportunity once again to wow the world with my knowledge on Latin America as a destination for meetings.  However this week I want to change things up a little and vary the topics a little more.  Not just talk about the benefits of Latin America (which I will do at some point of course) but the issues which are affecting the Latin American region’s abilities to see growth with other markets and what we as planners can do to help.

As you can tell from the title of this first post, it’s important to start thinking big and then narrowing the thoughts down.  I haven’t gotten a chance to write on any of the email lists in regards to my experiences at MPI-WEC just yet because I returned late last night, no thanks in part to “weather delays” from a week’s vacation (yes, I said v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n) in Cancun with my whole family… and that’s a whole other story for another day.

This was my third time attending MPI-WEC and the show was very good for me.  I heard some mixed reviews from people on their experiences with the sessions and/or other small details, but overall I found what I needed and did what I needed to do.  Part of that was presenting the first ever session on Meeting Management in Latin America.  Other planners have presented on the topic of international meetings (including Judith Miller who I finally got to meet and adore), but this was the first time Latin America was given its own session and I thank MPI for letting me do this.  I had a decent turnout… about 40 people or so… I think mostly due in part to Rohit Talwar having to turn away about 200 people from his Future Trends session (thanks Rohit!).  While it wasn’t a packed house it was a start.  Little by little you have to work your way up… which is why I commend MPI on their globalization efforts.  I had the opportunity to meet Bruce MacMillan at WEC, along with Angie Pfieffer, and had a moment to discuss the global expansion and how wonderful it is.  However…

Has anyone else noticed that the global expansion just goes further and further east?  What about our neighbors to the south?  We have excellent options in countries which are not far from major hubs in the United States (which you would have learned about had you attended my session at WEC), and offer amazingly affordable options (like $3/pp all day coffee service in a fantastic hotel in Panama… again, something you would have learned had you attended my session). 

I am making it part of my mission to slowly and surely teach people about the wonders of the region.  I am going to do my best to educate the members and leadership of these great meetings organizations on the vast options that are being ignored.  The major issue Latin America faces is one of perception.  I want to hear from you… the planners… who have these “negative” perceptions of Latin America about what I can do to ease your fears and open your minds.  Hopefully if enough of you learn the enormous opportunities that await you in Latin America the big dogs will listen… and possibly even act to make Latin America the next major destination for meetings and events

Latin America: Gracias Por La Visita


January 26, 2007

By Eli Gorin

I hope the information I was able to pass on regarding Latin America has given people some insight as to what the region is about and what can be expected from hosting groups in the various countries.  I know that one week and five short blog postings doesn't do justice to the myriad of information one can give to truly show the grandeur of our neighbors down south.

Just to recap a few points from this week:

  • Don't be afraid to consider something new, no matter how foreign it may be to you (that pun was absolutely intended)
  • Remember, Latin America is only a short (or potentially long, but somewhat equidistant to Europe) flight away
  • If you do not remember the few words of Spanish you may have learned back in high school, it's okay... English is quite common (and no, adding -O to the end of a word in English does not make is Spanish)
  • Latin American business relationships are about just that... relationships.  Keeps your friends close... keep your CSM's closer.
  • And finally... when in doubt... don't be... you have made a great decision in heading south for your meetings and events!

Thanks for reading and if you are in need of more information or have questions, feel free to contact me at eli@gmeetings.net or 305-735-8375.

-Eli

Latin America: The Sites


January 25, 2007

When I do my research into locations that may potentially be hosts to one of my client's meetings, I look at "wow" factors.  What is it about the location that is different or unique?  What wonders are there to explore?  What is there to do besides go from hotel room to breakfast to meeting room to coffee break to meeting room to luncheon to meeting room to cocktail to dinner to bed?  Well besides the obvious (bathroom break? business center?), what do your guests have to look forward to in their destination.  I recently did a meeting in Cancun which was very tight on time so there was not enough of it to do a true excursion to see amazing sites.  However one of my guests took it upon himself to rent a car and do the 6-hour roundtrip drive to see Chichen Itza.  While that may be a little extreme, there is so much out there for guests to see in terms of culture and natural beauty throughout the Latin American region.  Here are a few examples of some of the more famous wonders and great sites found in various countries:

  • Ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico and throughout Central America
  • The volcanos and tropical jungles of Costa Rica
  • The Panama Canal
  • The coastal towns and beautiful plains in Colombia
  • Macchu Pichu and Cuzco in Peru
  • Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, Chile - home of the Festival Internacional de la
    Canción de Viña del Mar - One of the world's most renowned music festivals
  • The wine country of Argentina, considered by many the Napa Valley of Latin America
  • Cristo Redentor statue atop Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro
  • Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina
  • So much more.....

It's important to really look into the cultural offerings of the location you are considering for your meetings.  For many attendees coming from North America, these are locations that they may not have a chance to go to had it not been for your ingenius decision to host the meeting in one of the many fantastic locations in Latin America.

Latin America: Relationships


January 24, 2007

I recently had the opportunity of presenting on a panel at the annual PCMA meeting in Toronto.  It was a panel of heavy hitters in the industry... and me.  The topic was the Art of International Contracting, a very interesting topic for those who are looking to develop meetings around the world.  I focused my part of the presentation on... you guessed it... Latin America.  The other wonderful panelists that joined me were Carol Krugman who covered Asia/Pacific, Stephen Powell from Intercontinental Hotels who covered EMEA and the hotel side, and we were kept in check, I mean moderated, by Jim Goldberg.  It was interesting to see how different business negotiations can be in all parts of the world.  To me, Latin America still seems to be the most fascinating environment to work with.

When doing research for my presentation, I spoke with some of my sales reps in the region and asked them a few questions in regards to North American based planners and what they request that is just not so ordinary where they come from.  The most common response... too much detail.  Why are we so obsessed with the finer points in a contract?  In fact why are we so obsessed with having a 50 page contract, period.  North American planners are so enthralled with making sure that every single solitary point is within the contract that we don't seem to trust people much anymore.  What I have come to learn in working with LatAm is that the business ethic in the region is one of pride.  There are still so many places you can go where one's word is as good or better than anything written on paper.  It's like the days of old where a handshake really meant something.

Accepting someone's word is not automatic.  Confidence and trust is never just given... it has to be earned.  As such, relationship building is the most important thing that one could ever do when negotiating in a Latin American country.  Get to know the people you are working with.  Get to know the cultures.  Be inquisitive.  Ask about what there is for your group, what makes the destination so fascinating.  Now I am not saying get to know your sales managers on a very personal intimate level, but you are likely to make a friend along the way.  Doing business is not just about closing the deal.  It's about reputation.  It's about respect.  It's about doing what is mutually beneficial for all parties on more than a fiscal level.  If you work on building a great working relationship then you may find some nice surprises.  While the contract may state one thing, generally there is quite a bit of flexibility and hotels are happy to work out whatever is needed to assure that your group has a great experience.

Latin America: The VAT Factor


January 23, 2007

By Eli Gorin

A few months back I began posting to my newly created blog called meetingsBabble (available for your viewing pleasure at www.meetingsbabble.com... but of course only after you read all of the wonderful items that MiGurus and MiMegasite have to offer).  I have unfortunately neglected my blog for quote a few weeks do to an overwhelming amount of work but I will be getting back to it shortly.  In one of my earlier posts, I wrote a topic called "Get the VAT Outta Here".  In yesterday's post I made a brief mention in regards to VAT exemptions in various countries throughout Latin America.  Today I am going to give a brief overview of what is out there in terms of possibilities for saving you even more money.  I will not be giving an economics lecture on VAT taxes and their impacts on any given country's economic stability as a result of market fluctuations and increased/decreased currency flow through mid-market level exchanges brought on by sudden shifts of demand due to a decrease in supply.  As you can tell just from that one sentence alone, I am not an economics guru.  HOWEVER, I will tell you this though... VAT ("Value Added Tax" for those not already in the know...) is referred to as IVA in most parts of Latin America... and that's the most statistical lesson you will get from me today.

Mexico has one of the best known policies for VAT exemption in the region.  The "Tasa Cero" initiative (or "Zero VAT") has made Mexico a very popular destination for groups and meetings travel.  And all this time I thought it was the great beaches, friendly atmospheres and amazing food.  I guess I had no clue at all.  The initiative allows qualifying groups (meaning meetings and conventions and other such groups... incentives are not yet considered applicable for this exemption) to save 10% on their meetings right off the bat.  Once qualified by your sales manager, you will not be required to pay the VAT on your groups for various items, including hotel, F&B, transport to/from your hotel, and other items consumed towards the master account.  More details are listed here.

Other countries, including Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile offer similar exemptions to foreigners.  Each country has its own version of VAT exemption, but what I have noticed is that the value is truly there.  I am in the midst of quoting a group in Uruguay with a strict budget.  One of the reasons we have chosen Uruguay is because we are able to save 14% on our room charges and nearly 23% on our F&B charges.  By packaging room rates together with food and beverage, the 23% VAT on F&B drops to the 14% rate percentage which is discounted completely... so there you go... zero VAT.  Doing some simple math, let's take these savings for a spin:  Imagine you get a room rate of $150/night single occupancy and about $50 per person in meals per day.  By not paying any VAT, you are paying $200 per person per day.  Should you not be exempt from the VAT, you would end up paying $232.50/per person per day.  Figure 100 people in your group for 3 days/nights, that's nearly $10,000 in savings. 

Now there are always exceptions to the rule.  First and foremost, the VAT exemption is stricly limited to foreigners, so if you have attendees coming in from the host country, then you will be required to pay VAT on their stay and consumption.  This is checked by the hotel having to verify travel documents (such as passports and tourist/visa cards).  Countries may restrict what is and is not included in the VAT exemption as well (i.e. coffee breaks, room rental, etc.).  But the fact of the matter is, you get wonderful savings off the bat.  No need to fill out forms and hope to get your money back.  There is no reclaiming involved.  It is important to note that you should always check which countries do and do not have these exemptions.  I am currently compiling a list of what exemptions you can find where and will try and have that available to those who need it.  But even in the countries that have no exemptions, as mentioned yesterday... the value for your money is a tremendous "bang for the buck."

The Case For Latin America


January 22, 2007

By Eli Gorin

I live in a city known lovingly as “La Republica de Miami” (the Republic of Miami).  Miami-Dade County, home of… you guessed it… Miami, has roughly 2 million residents and based on recent census data is approximately 60% Hispanic in population.  So when I mention to people here that I am a meeting planner and focus my meetings within Latin America and LatAm divisions of companies, the response is generally one of understanding in regards to doing business within Latin America.  As far as explaining to them what a meeting planner does, well, that’s a whole other story.

However, when I step out of the comfort zone of “La Republica” it becomes apparent that Latin America is a destination for meetings that most people restrict to locations such as Cancun, San Juan, and Miami (well at least based on the aforementioned demographics…).  All are fantastic locations for meetings and events, but just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wide and varied options out there for planners and guests to explore!  For the purposes of this week’s MiGuru topic, we are going to define Latin America as countries in the Americas (North, Central and South) and the Caribbean with Spanish and Portuguese as the principal languages. 
                                                                                                                           
So what is stopping you from going?  Is it the distance you have to travel to get there?  Concerned about the safety of your guests?  Could it be the cultural/language barriers?  Or are you concerned that you will be way out of budget?  Well how about I tackle each of these points individually…

Travel:

New York to Paris averages 7.5 hours, while it takes merely 5 hours to get to Panama City, Panama.  Hop on a flight in Dallas and arrive in Madrid 11.5 hours later… or you can hop on a flight to Buenos Aires and get there an hour earlier.  Miami to London is 8.5 hours… the same time it takes to get to Santiago, Chile.  Flight times are relatively equal when comparing travel between major US cities and European and Latin American destinations  Frequency of airline schedules is quite good as well.  But best of all, the jet lag is considerably less.  Current time difference between the east coast and Buenos Aires is only 2 hours.

Safety:

“But I hear that ______ is so dangerous and thieves target Americans/foreigners.”  I challenge anyone out there to give me a major destination city in which there is no “dangerous” sector.  Some countries in Latin America can be considered not “as safe” as other locations where many people are generally used to traveling.  No matter where you travel, it is important to do your research and look into the safety situations.  Do your due diligence and If you are truly concerned with the possibility of something occurring to one of your groups, look into security options.  However, no matter where you go in the world, it is always wise to stay sharp.  You can get pick-pocketed as easily in Sao Paulo as you can in Florence.

Cost:

To me this is a no-brainer.  When traveling to Europe and Asia, the US dollar is at a disadvantage.  The buying power of the dollar in comparison to the Euro, Pound Sterling, or Yen is weak.  When compared to the various other currencies throughout the Latin American region, the US dollar is at a great advantage.  In other words you get more “bang for your buck”.  Prices in major cities are generally quoted in US dollars, and in at least one country (Panama), the US dollar is the official currency.  Hotel rates are lower, F&B is lower, transportation costs are even lower… oh and did I mention VAT exemptions in quite a few locations?

Language Barriers:

In Germany, they speak German.  In France, it’s French.  In Italy it’s… oh you get the point.  But what do you hear when you travel to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile?  Yes, that was a rhetorical question.  Spanish is the prominent language throughout the entire region, and for the most part, the official language in many countries.  Brazil’s main language is Portuguese but Spanish is common.  Now while there may be varying accents and dialects and differing uses for certain words (more about that in a future posting), a basic proficiency in a language that many people grew up taking classes for in high school will go a long way.  And fear not… English is not as foreign as one may think.

This week I hope to convince you to take a very good look into the possibilities that exist in Latin America.  Open your eyes to what our neighbors to the south have to offer.  You will be amazed with what you can find.  I look forward to your questions, your perceptions, and your experiences.  And by the end of this week expect you to be one step closer to booking a meeting in Latin America.

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