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March 13, 2014

On Location: COCAL Looks at CSR & Latin America's Growing MICE Scene

International Meetings Review’s Gregory Byrnes is on location in Guatemala City for COCAL (“Congresso de la Federacion de Entidades Organizadores de Congresos y Afines de America Latina”), a conference that casts a keen eye on Latin America's business travel scene. COCAL is the Latin American Confederation of PCOs and Related Companies, and focuses on educating industry professionals about Latin America as an event destination (the region is collectively outstripping global growth threefold) and promoting international professional relationships between Latin American PCOs. A full 27 countries are represented at the conference, and 400 industry professionals are attending. This year, the hybrid event is focusing on sustainability issues.

Alisson Batres, SVP of COCAL and president of COCAL 2014, welcomed attendees by noting that the group focuses on individual case studies of success: For example, the host hotel Casa Santo Domingo participates in local sustainability efforts like working with local chefs to prepare every meal and donating the money collected for water bottles consumed in the room towards the “route of pride” project (improving the road between Mixo and Antigua through reforestation, gardening and painting). The property has an education center with support programs where locals and visitors alike can work with local, underprivileged or mentally challenged children so the hotel and its employees and guests can make a difference in the children’s homes and communities.

RELATED: Latin America Opens for Business at COCAL 2014

The keynote speaker was Paul Salinger, vice president of marketing for Oracle Worldwide. Salinger helps direct sustainability efforts for Oracle, and is a former president of the green meetings council. In his address, he noted that many resources are used in conventions that directly lead to a negative impact. To mitigate this, he said, all resources need to be managed. While focusing on the “Three Ps” (People, Planet and Profit) are important, with a global population of 9 billion estimated for 2025, Salinger said that we need to focus on the "other three Rs”: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are a given; now we need to Refuse, Reconsider and React.
To reduce our “carbon footprint,” Salinger encouraged planners to think carefully about both the selected destination and the venue. Consider the entire supply chain, including the attendees, and work with “green teams” to create realistic expectations and generate new ideas. While “going green” can cost more in the short-term, Salinger emphasized that long-term sustainability efforts pay off in the overall ROI for a destination, city or an entire country.
Edgar Ferrera, director of sustainability for Circuit of the Americas, discussed sustainability incentives for the X Games. If a sporting event like that can go green, he argued, any event of any caliber—from a small board meeting for the hotel sector to motorsports to the X Games—can be sustainable. Volunteers and collection stations can go a long way toward making an event eco-friendly, he added.
We spoke with Jennifer Silberman, Hilton Worldwide’s VP of corporate responsibility, who mentioned the brand’s calculator to assess an event’s carbon footprint. We brought up our own Latin America Meeting & Incentive Travel Exchange, set for April 20-23, 2015, in Costa Rica, and asked her what we should take into consideration in advance of the event
“Start now with the hotel itself,” she replied, “and the local people at the destination. Ask what they are already doing in terms of sustainable efforts. How can your incoming group be aware of what’s already happening on the ground in Costa Rica, and what can your group do to help create change at that destination once they depart? What is the point of your event and how can your meeting surround the local communities’ involvement in sustainable practices?”
ICCA President Arnaldo Nardone talked about the “two dancers” in planning events: clients and providers. “How can both parties be aware of sustainable efforts, even when they close the deal or the RFP?” he asked. “We are seeing the long-term incomes and benefits of meetings to the destinations, and ultimately the central governments of the host country.” Public/private partnerships are also helping, he noted: Countries call upon consultants at the private sector level to help the centers to cooperate with public funds in order to survive.
Latin America, Salinger continued, needs improvements in its overall infrastructure, from waste management systems to water quality to lack of readily available data. Organizations like COCAL can take steps to allocate data at a local level to ensure their next event or meeting can be better than the last, he noted. 

IMR's James Latham spoke with Batres earlier this year about the event:

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About the Author: Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox





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