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…
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.
“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.
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?
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.