Convention draws Latin American travel agents for tour packages
By Mindy Hagen
More than 1,800 tourism and travel industry professionals will converge on Miami from Sept. 5-7 for La Cumbre del Turismo, the largest conference promoting travel to the US from Latin America.
La Cumbre focuses on matching US travel organizations with large wholesale tour operators from Latin America. Since 1990, it has been held in Miami every second year.
During the two-day convention, the four dominant airline carriers, major theme parks, hotels and visitor bureaus from cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Francisco will be represented and exchange more than $1.4 billion in business, according to Rick Still, executive director of La Cumbre, Spanish for 'the convention.'
He said Miami would benefit from about 10% of that total by playing host to the conference and having representatives of the city on hand.
"Miami is a natural place to do this event," Mr. Still said. "Miami has historically been a gateway city, not just a place for airplanes to land but where continents and ideas meet. As tourism from Latin America grows, Miami is clearly going to be in the driver's seat."
Bill Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed the scheduling partnership is beneficial to both the conference and the county.
"Our destination has been steadily improving with new hotels and lots of enhancements," Mr. Talbert said. "We are getting customers we've never had before at all tourism conferences."
The conference will take place at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Most delegates stay at Loews Miami Beach Hotel and the Roney Palace Beach Resort.
Hoping to cash in on having La Cumbre within its borders, Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, will have a large contingent of attractions, hotels and city convention bureaus at the event, eager to sell vacation packages to the Latin American tour delegates. The delegates then resell the packages to regional travel agencies in their countries, allowing tourists to buy trips to US destinations.
Tom Flanigan, a spokesman for Visit Florida, said having the conference in Miami could only help sales inside the convention center.
"We are able to present Florida not just on the exhibit floor but when delegates from Latin America step outside," Mr. Flanigan said. "Our main thrust will be focusing on the appeal Florida has. We are universally known as a fun-in-the-sun destination with beaches and theme parks. But our state also offers a wide range of other historical and cultural experiences."
Mr. Flanigan said Visit Florida particularly courts the Latin American traveler because three of the top five countries bringing more than 1 million visitors to Florida each year are Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau will also make its presence felt, Mr. Talbert said. He said the city hopes to expand on its total of 3.3 million overnight visitors from Latin America each year.
"We have the premier spot in the exhibition hall," Mr. Talbert said. "We are interested in talking to any and all customers and convincing them that Miami is the place to bring their groups and individuals. We have the inside sales edge for business."
Parrot Jungle, Miami Seaquarium and retail establishments such as the Dolphin Mall will have separate promotional booths.
Mr. Talbert also said the bureau travels to La Cumbre on off years when the conference is not held here in order to drum up business and remind delegates to attend the next year's event in South Florida.
Other locations for the summit have been Anaheim, Houston and New Orleans. Mr. Still said La Cumbre would take place in Las Vegas in 2002.
"Las Vegas realized in the past few years how important it is to be a player in the Latin American tourist marketplace," he said. "They have really stepped up their interest in marketing themselves to tourists from Latin America."
And in a year that has been economically disastrous for some Latin American countries, Mr. Still said La Cumbre's success at attracting delegates shows tourism will remain strong.
"Economics will go up and down, but people in the industry for a long time understand this," he said. "We are still seeing strong delegations from South American countries wanting to come to the US."