New Global Hot Spots
From bicycles in Bogota to a YWCA in Singapore, surprising options for faith-based groups
Central and South America
From campgrounds and hostels to hotels and conference centers, Latin American destinations provide a wide choice of venues and pricing options. In South America, Colombia’s five international airports make the country easily accessible for North and South American travelers. Colombia’s largest city and capital is Bogota, an ideal destination for groups looking for easy airlift. Located 8,661 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains, Bogota has gone to great lengths to lower its crime rate and elevate its image as a safe tourist destination. Part of this endeavor includes the construction of major U.S. hotel chains in the early 2000s — Marriott, Sheraton and Hilton — and a mass transit system that has become a model for other transportation systems in the continent. The city also has the largest network of bicycling paths, covering 186 miles. Each Sunday, the streets of Bogota are closed to motor vehicles, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy the paths in a citywide celebration called Ciclovia. Bogota’s metropolitan landscape is dotted with well-preserved churches dating back to colonial times and its 29 religious temples are a focal point for many groups.
The fifth largest city in Latin America, Lima, Peru, is a melting pot of European, African and Asian cultures. The city is home to world-renowned museums and churches dating back to the 16th century. Art and religious significance are combined in the Cathedral of Lima and Monastery of San Francisco, which contain paintings from various schools of art and are connected by underground catacombs. Most notable are the dozens of ancient temples within the city center left untouched thanks to the efforts of archaeologists and residents. These ancient structures are a sharp contrast to Lima’s bustling metropolis, marrying historical importance with modern efficiency.
For groups requiring a Latin American location where English is widely spoken, Buenos Aires, Argentina, is a city easy to navigate. It’s integrated transportation system of subways, trains and buses make visits to notable sites quick and cost-effective. Home to one of the top five book fairs in the world, the city is populated with hundreds of book stores, public libraries and cultural associations. A popular tour stop is the Metropolitan Cathedral, a pictorial museum of religious heritage containing a working 19th-century pipe organ that’s used daily. A main meeting point for Latin American businesses, Buenos Aires has three exhibition centers and a wide range of sleeping accommodations to fit any budget.
The islands of the Caribbean, from Jamaica to Barbados, can be cost-effective options for groups depending on season. The Dominican Republic is currently the best value of the islands, offering all-inclusive options that bundle room rate, meals and in some cases conference facilities in one daily rate. Although not as economical, Jamaica’s Montego Bay properties also offer all-inclusive packages at hotels in close proximity to the airport. Comparatively, Barbados offers higher-end sleeping accommodations at both all-inclusive hotels and those priced by daily room rate alone.
English is widely spoken in the Caribbean. Since tourism is the main economic driver, foreign travelers are warmly welcomed. High season in the Caribbean — which means increased rates and more tourists — is from mid-December to mid-April. Planning outside of these months affords the greatest group discounts, but hurricane season is also in effect, causing elevated travel risk during this time period.
Located on Africa’s east coast, Kenya is a diverse nation with 70 ethnic groups. Although English is the official language, more than 80 languages are spoken throughout the country. The longest established tourist destination in Africa, Kenya offers a range of group accommodations including traditional hotels, lodges located in national parks, tented camps with modern facilities and self-catering chalets. There are more than 200 official campsites, most located in national parks. Private home stays are also available for smaller groups looking to indulge in the culture from a native’s perspective.
Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is the largest and most modern city in East Africa. The Kenyatta International Conference Centre is the city’s showpiece offering 360-degree views of Nairobi from a 30-story tower. The center can accommodate up to 5,000 delegates and offers a 26,306-sq.-ft. ballroom, the largest in East and Central Africa without a pillar.
Located approximately 30 miles from Nairobi, the Brackenhurst International Conference Centre is a serene option outside the metropolitan hustle and bustle. Nestled in the tea fields of Tigoni-Limuru, this countryside retreat rests at 7,500 feet, offering cool and refreshing air enjoyed by a variety of wildlife. Brackenhurst’s meeting rooms accommodate a range of group sizes from 300 people seated theater-style in the Clark Chapel to an intimate group of 14 seated conference style in the Lion’s Den. Sleeping accommodations are also varied and include single or double rooms and cottages that sleep up to six people. The dormitories are perfect for youth-group events; they have 19 to 22 bunk beds and shared bathrooms.
The African Cape is another great choice for groups. Located halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in George, South Africa, Carmel by the Sea offers meeting facilities and accommodations perched on rolling hills with magnificent views of Victoria Bay. Caravan Park, which includes full access to Carmel’s facilities, has standard rooms in guest houses, self-catering units that accommodate up to eight people and campsites.
Located 435 miles north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in north Thailand. With more than 300 temples, 20 churches and 13 mosques, Chiang Mai has a rich religious and cultural history revealed also by its many museums and universities. The city offers a choice of group accommodations and meeting facilities. Located in the city center and 10 minutes away from the Chiang Mai International Airport, The Empress Hotel has 375 rooms and a state-of-the art convention facility. Also located in the city center is Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew, which features two accommodations wings at different pricing levels. The Huay Kaew Wing has 246 economically priced rooms best for groups and families. Upgraded options can be found in the 420-room Suthep Wing. Meeting facilities are available in both wings.
If you’re looking for a retreat outside of the city center, the Suan Bua Hotel, Resort and Spa is an oasis nestled in 20 acres of gardens bordering the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Only 13 miles from the airport, the hotel is still an easily accessible option for groups and is close to historical sites such as the centuries-old Chiang Mai Walled City. The hotel has 176 guest rooms in several buildings spread out into the gardens. The hotel’s newest meeting room accommodates up to 250 people.
Ranked as having the best quality of life in Asia, the island country of Singapore is another ideal Southeast Asia location for groups. English is the most dominant of the four official languages spoken in Singapore, streamlining communication and making a translator unnecessary for U.S. groups.
Located in Singapore’s historical district, Fort Canning Lodge is a 175-room hotel nestled in Fort Canning Park, one of the greenest parts of the city. Owned and operated by the YWCA of Singapore, the hotel’s meeting space includes 10 private function rooms, a small exhibition hall and a large ballroom accommodating up to 500 people.
Read additional articles about planning international meetings from the December issue of Rejuvenate: