Anyone who has sourced destinations for events for a few years will at some point have heard the request, “We want to go somewhere none of our attendees have gone before.” Of course with the amount of personal travel happening these days, that is a tall order, especially when you factor in budget, meeting space, easy flight access and all the other criteria a business requires for its event.
Well I have happily discovered a destination that checks a lot of boxes. It offers an authentic, unique experience, year-round warm weather, it’s budget friendly, and it’s a place few have visited: Cartagena, Colombia!
First things first – addressing safety. I contacted our Security Team to discuss any concerns. Interestingly, their response was that while Colombia as a country has its very dangerous pockets, the areas of Cartagena are well-patrolled by law enforcement and not considered any more of a concern than other tourist destinations. The danger is mostly contained in the rainforest and around the borders of the country. Staying within the walled city of Cartagena and on organized group outings is not a concern, though we will stay in close contact with our Security Team through the planning process for our 2019 event. We also plan to advise attendees on what to watch out for when booking pre- and post-vacations.
Entering the walled city of Cartagena is like going back in time to a mix of Colonial Spain and the Caribbean. The language and buildings are Spanish, but the weather feels tropical. Caribbean foods and culture are also sprinkled throughout the city. Every corner we turned, we found cobblestone streets, colorful buildings with flowers spilling over the balconies, and town squares with restaurants, shops and street vendors.
While Cartagena is on the coast, the city beaches are not where you would choose to swim. Instead, it’s recommended you take a day trip on a ferry to one of the barrier islands (about 45 minutes out) where there are beach clubs and clear waters to enjoy. Most of the hotels in the walled city are former convents with a lot of character, history and spectacular, though limited, meeting space in the convent’s worshipping hall. There are also larger hotels located in Cartagena’s downtown core, and a few beautiful resorts about 30 minutes outside of town.
If you consider this unique destination, be aware that Colombia is still a developing country, and its tourism infrastructure is currently geared to an individual traveler versus groups. Contracting was a difficult process, given language barriers, cultural differences and a North American company’s addendum requirements. Contracting with a larger chain would help to avoid these pitfalls. Flying into Cartagena versus Bogota is also recommended, due to the lack of English speakers in a major airport.
Cartagena is a delightful surprise to those who visit. I hope those who attend our 2019 incentive will respond as I did to this magical destination. Check back with me in June 2019!
Director, Canadian Division Events & Advisor Recognition
FICP Education Committee