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Full house: Argentine hotel owners find that cheaper currency brings in business convention travelers.

Tourists have flocked to Argentina and its devalued currency to take advantage of suddenly cheap, world-class shopping and atmosphere. Now, business meetings are following suit. A bevy of hotel deals worth millions of dollars has pumped up the construction sector in Buenos Aires and elsewhere in the country, and resorts are not missing the chance to cash in.

Argentine hotel conference rooms can cost a fraction of what they do in neighboring countries. In Chile, a conference room for 50 people can cost as high as US$1,700 for three days; in Brazil, the same service costs $1,200. In Argentina, a conference room for 50 people can go for $250 at a luxury hotel. If enough participants are slaying at the hotel, the room often goes for free.

Even domestic hotels are positioning themselves as cheaper alternatives for business travelers, according to Jose "Pepe" Crespo, director of the El Corazon de la Bahia resort located in Villa La Angostura, a lakefront resort nestled in the Argentine Andes.

"The objective is to reach the boards of companies looking to concentrate on paradise-style places to develop small, high-end strategy meetings," says Crespo. In 2003 Crespo opened the Centre de Relax Patagonico gym facility at his resort in a move to further lure business tourists to conduct meetings and enjoy nature at the same time. "We are planning a series of seminars that focus on CEOs that are dedicated to sailing along the Nahuel Huapi lake" he says. According to Crespo, prices for services such as his average 20% lower than other destinations in the region.

Rates aside, businesses have found that they can also count on modern hotel infrastructure that sprang up in the 1990s, when the Argentine peso was pegged one-to-one with the U.S. dollar. Today, the U.S. greenback has strengthened almost three-fold to the peso in wake of the 2001 devaluation, and that translates into discount hotel fares for businesses looking for premium hotel facilities in Argentina.

The U.S. hotel operator Crown has begun construction on two hotels in the mountainous province of Rio Negro and more projects are on the way. Meanwhile, Argentine development firm Conevial Constructora e Inversora has earmarked $12 million to build three new luxurious eco-lodges, and the search is on for investors to get those projects off the ground. These units will house 35 guests each and will go up across the country. The first unit will be developed in the north in Misiones. The second will open in the Quebrada de Humahuaca, in northern Argentina's Jujuy province, and the third will be in the province of Santa Cruz, in southern Patagonia.

All three hotels will open in 2005, says Cecilia Bibiloni, who is in charge of the Conevial projects, adding that the hotels will be named "Samana Huasi," which means "week of rest" in an indigenous language in Argentina. According to Bibiloni, the eco-lodges will target high end tourists, those willing Lo spend $500 dollars a night. Potential customers will include those from eco-tourist markets in Germany, Canada, the United States. Japan and Australia.

The Orion Asociados development company, meanwhile, has launched construction of two boutique-style hotels with 50 rooms each in the cities of Puerto Madryn in Chubut, and El Calafate in Santa Cruz. The two hotels will cost $2.6 million each to develop. The company is looking for local investors to finance the project, says Orion Asociados President Mario Koehler. The investment floor is set at $100,000 per investor, Kochler says. The first hotel, located in Madryn, will open its doors at the beginning of the 2005; the one in El Calafate will open in October of the same year. According to Koehler, the real estate costs in Argentina have become cheaper. He pointed out that building a similar hotel in Chile would cost double what it would in Argentina.

In Buenos Aires, the words "no vacancy" have become common at the Sheraton Park Tower and at tim Buenos Aires Sheraton, home to a combined 1,000 rooms. The hotels' public relations manager Cecilia Bauza says that while the number of foreign travelers rebounded after 2001, local residents also checked in more, as the economic crisis forced many Argentines to take their vacations in the country rather than abroad.

Business travel, meanwhile, continues to rise in the capital. Bauza says that a convention on sexual impotence will take place at the two Sheratons in October 2004. Business meetings reservations run through 2007, she says.

CRISTINA KROLL BUENOS AIRES
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Title Annotation:Executive Travel
Comment:Full house: Argentine hotel owners find that cheaper currency brings in business convention travelers.(Executive Travel)
Author:Kroll, Cristina
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Words:753
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