by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | October 13, 2011

Lobby of the Westin LimaThe new 301-room Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center, a $140 million development that is part of Peru's Libertador hotel group, is not your average, urban Westin hotel. Opened just months ago in San Isidro, Lima's financial district, it is not only the first Westin to debut in South America, but at 30 stories of towering steel and glass, it is also Peru's tallest building. What's more, the property's 28,000 square feet of meeting space make it the city's largest convention hotel, and it features a 20,000-square-foot spa with 14 indulgent treatment rooms, again the largest such facility in the city. And every night of the week, this city's gastronomy-centric locals flock to the hotel's trendy lounge bars and pack its restaurants to overflowing.

Bar at the Westin LimaA must for meeting planners is a sit-down tasting with chef Rafael Piqueras of the hotel's Peruvian-fusion Maras restaurant; his impressive résumé includes a stint at Spain's now legendary El Bulli eatery. The tasting room, which is right inside the kitchen, offers a front-row seat to the drama and genius of the line cooks at work and comes with a hefty dose of tableside demonstrations of the art of molecular cuisine. I watched olive oil transformed into a breadcrumb topping and tuna tartare brought to just the right color and temperature in less than 30 electrifying seconds. Here's a tip: Ask beforehand to sample the restaurant's Osso Buco -- chef Rafael's personal favorite. Adapted from his grandmother's Sunday lunch recipe, he confides that the veal shank is painstakingly slow-cooked for more than 50 hours to achieve its slide-off-the-bone perfection. Afterward, the 24-hour gym, with stunning views of downtown Lima, is just the place to work off the calories.

Pool at the Westin LimaWith expansion and development in Asia already in full swing, it's no surprise that U.S. hotel companies also have Latin America squarely in their crosshairs. According to an August report by STR Global, RevPAR in the continent for the first eight months of this year increased 26.8 percent, driven by a 21 percent rise in average daily rate, year-over-year. What's more, hotel demand, which jumped 11.2 percent in 2010, rose another 6.7 percent this year, even as the development pipeline bubbled at just 2 percent growth. "Starwood is ramping up across Latin America in response to the increased demand for high-caliber global brands in a region that is poised to grow more than 4 percent in 2011," said Osvaldo Librizzi, president of Starwood's Latin America Division, in a statement, adding that the chain's Westin Hotels would lead the company's growth strategy in that region. In addition to Peru, Starwood is looking at development options in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.

Hilton wants in on the game, too. At last month's South America Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference held in Santiago, Chile, Hilton Worldwide, which currently has 45 hotels in Latin America, revealed that the chain's expansion plans for the region would increase its portfolio to more than 60 properties, across all of its brands, by year-end 2013. Among those in development are the 230-room Hilton Lima Miraflores, scheduled to open 2012, and the chain's first Waldorf Astoria hotel in Latin America, the 130-room Panamera, set to open by the end of this year in Panama City, Panama. Planners should be watching this region closely.