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Central America consolidates itself as MICE destination with new venues and events

The Central American region is investing heavily in improving and expanding its conference and incentive facilities to offer a top quality service and increase its share in this important sector. According to the World Tourism Organisation, MICE tourism generates around US$30 million annually, with an estimated 50 million trips worldwide.

According to the World Tourism Organisation, MICE tourism generates around US$30 million annually, with an estimated 50 million trips worldwide.

The Costa Rica Tourist Board (ICT) aims to position Costa Rica as a key destination for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions with the opening of its new National Conference and Congress Centre (CNCC) expected in November 2014.

The new conference centre will be an innovative space with capacity for 4,500 people. Its spacious main floor, nearly 11 metres high, will hold an exhibitions hall, conference and meeting rooms, VIP and press rooms, registration offices and areas for services such as kitchens, restaurants and toilets. Around £18 million are being invested in its construction and it is expected that it will attract around 50 million conference visitors to the country in its first year.

The MICE sector has been growing steadily in Costa Rica since the 1990s, thanks to the range of professional suppliers available in the country to satisfy the demands of this type of clients.

Panamá has been recognised as one of the countries in America with the biggest potential to host international conferences and meetings, according to the International Congress and Conventions Association (ICCA).

Panama is also investing in a new Conference Centre, which, together with the free medical insurance offered to visitors, and the activities of the Destination Marketing Organisation to attract major events and conferences to the country, will help consolidate Panama's position in this sector.

The new Panama Conference Centre, located on the shores of the Panama Canal near the new Biodiversity Museum, is expected to open in 2014-2015 and will have capacity for 20,000 people. The centre will occupy 53,000 square metres with 16 meeting rooms, a theatre with capacity for 1947 people and an amphitheatre with capacity for 2000 people. Besides, it will have an exhibition hall of more than 15,000 square metres, a restaurant and a multi-purpose space of 4,000 square metres. Around £124 million will be invested in this project to provide the best option for conferences and events.

Panama currently has 216 hotels with more than 17,700 rooms, with 97 of them (11,198 rooms) in Panama City. Tocumen Airport, considered the Hub of the Americas, offers direct connections to Europe and 13 other local airports in different regions of the country such as Chiriquí, Coclé, Los Santos or Bocas del Toro

During the first eight months of 2013, MICE tourism accounted for 57.7% of hotel occupancy according to the latest figures released by the Panama Tourist Board (ATP).

The Guatemala Tourist Board (INGUAT) is also committed to attracting more MICE tourism to the country. An example of this commitment is the agreement with COCAL (the Federation of Conference Organisers of Latin America) and OCCAF (The Guatemala Association of Professional Conference Organisers) to host the 2014 COCAL Congress in the city of Antigua. Taking place from 11-13 March 2014, this will be a key event for professionals in the MICE sector, which will focus on the need for sustainability in events as a growing trend, and discuss other topics such as the use of Poken for networking or the CMP certification process.

The Guatemala Tourist Board will offer 150 grants to professionals in this sector in order to take part in this event. The city of Antigua Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers the perfect combination for business and cultural tourism. Besides its rich cultural heritage, the city, consiered one of the most beautiful in the country, offers great hotels such as El Convento, Camino Real, or the Hotel Casa Museo de Santo Domingo where the COCAL Conference will take place.

The other Central American countries - Belize, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua - also have a good infrastructure for the organisation of conferences, events and incentives as a complement to their traditional tourism offering of nature, culture and leisure activities.

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