While many U.S. companies are thinking twice these days about meeting outside of the country, a number of international destinations deserve a second look for their value. Along with favorable exchange rates and reasonably priced hotel rooms, the following cities offer convenient transportation, top-notch dining and a wealth of attractions with budget appeal.
Panama City, Panama
The old and the new converge in Panama City, a thriving, modern metropolis with a rich culture and history. Thanks to its strategic location at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, the city has long been a hub for international business and trade.
According to August 2009 figures released by Smith Travel Research, hotel inventory here is expanding more than any other city in Central America, with 1,318 rooms currently under construction. Among the city's many affordable properties are the 363-room Riande Continental Hotel & Casino, which offers 16 meeting rooms and a ballroom that can accommodate up to 100 people; the 330-room El Panama Convention Center & Casino, with 35 meeting rooms; and the 362-room Sheraton Panama Hotel & Convention Center (across the street from the Atlapa Convention Center). Each of the above offers rates starting at about $150 per night.
The Atlapa Convention Center, with 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, can host only one group (of up to 3,000) at a time, but a new center is being planned that will be able to accommodate several events at once. At press time, a suitable site, as well as a 500- to 1,000-room headquarters hotel, were under consideration.
Groups can enjoy excursions to nearby tropical rainforests; rafting and kayaking among the country's 1,000 islands and inlets; the 16th-century ruins of Panama Vieja (Old Panama), and the narrow cobblestone streets of the Casco Viejo historic district. The city offers numerous malls and markets that sell everything from designer fashions to discount electronics to Panamanian handicrafts and jewelry.
When it comes to food, the city offers a variety of inexpensive Chinese, French and Italian eateries; for Panamanian cuisine, a premier outpost is Las Tinajas, offering traditional dishes made with fresh seafood, yucca, beef and rice. For a tasty snack, try arepas (stuffed corn bread) and fried plantains from curbside food carts.
Recommended transport within Panama City is by taxi or bus. A one-way trip by taxi averages under US$2, while bus trips are less than US$1.
Tocumen International Airport, 12 miles from the city center, recently completed a US$85 million revamp and now features 27 gates and new baggage service. Various carriers offer direct flights from 10 major U.S. cities, including New York, Boston, Houston and Los Angeles.
Contact: Panama Convention and Visitors Bureau