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Steel frames rise at new convention center site

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The framework of the new convention center's meeting rooms is visible. Photo: Handout
The skeleton of the new convention center’s meeting rooms is visible. Photo: Handout

Visitors here for a convention or trade show on average stay almost twice as long as vacationers. And convencionistas spend more than three times as much.

This is the equation behind the new convention center, which will complement the 1990s-era Siglo XXI and bring more business travelers into the center of the city.

El Centro Internacional de Congresos de Yucatán —The International Convention Center of Yucatán — broke ground in January and is on track to open next year.

El Centro Internacional de Congresos de Yucatán —The International Convention Center of Yucatán — has broken ground and is on track to book functions in the second half of next year.

Visible for a few days — in the polygon formed at Calle 60, Calle 62, Avenida Cupules and Avenida Colon — are the first steel columns that form the skeleton of meeting rooms measuring 23,000 square meters and with a capacity for up to 2,000 participants.

Located in the heart of the city near the Paseo de Montejo and the hotel zone, the US$64 million International Congress Center is expected to be a trigger for more lucrative business tourism.

The evolution of the state’s interest in convention business dates back to 2003 when the Siglo XXI, already operating six years, was booming. Back then, it hosted 63 conventions and workshops siphoning in 26,220 visitors, annually

More than a decade later, in 2015, growth at Siglo XXI has been exponential. In the last year, 228 meetings were organized for 62,234 visitors. The increase represents a 261.9 percent uptick in the number of conventions and a 137.35 percent increase in the number of participants.

This success gave local officials hope that it can compete for bigger fish that right now are most likely to be lured to Mexico City, Cancun and Guadalajara. Other competitors for trade shows include Puebla, Guanajuato, La Paz, Monterrey, Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.

Mérida and Yucatán score well among conference attendees when asked about ease of travel and their overall experience — service, comfort and the appeal of their surroundings.

Steadily improving air connectivity to Europe, the U.S. and Canada also justify the investment in a new convention center. In North America alone, the city’s airport connects directly to Dallas, Houston, Miami and Toronto. It is also easy to reach Mérida from Guadalajara, Monterrey, Mexico City, Oaxaca and Tuxtla Gutierrez. The state’s capital today is one of the country’s major air destinations.

Most new construction is happening in the north – where Siglo XXI operates. But business leaders had long lobbied for a new conference center in the hotel zone, closer to the city’s attractions.

If staying at the Hyatt, the Fiesta Americana or any other of the downtown hotels — in walkable neighborhoods filled with restaurants and historic sites — guests have to shuttle nearly 6 km to the Siglo XXI.

The Siglo XXI is surrounded by no-frills hotels such as 125-room Holiday Inn Express, and despite other neighbors such as Gran Museo del Mundo Maya and Galerias mall, the Siglo XXI is hardly in a tourist destination.

So the new center will do a better job generating income for businesses that rely on tourism, while at the same time, making a stronger case for prospective event organizers to host their next expo in Mérida.

With information from Diario de Yucatán

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