Mexico City is bursting with life. It's a vibrant, dynamic blend of history and modernity that is often a surprise for first-time visitors.
Dubbed the most polluted city on the planet by the United Nations in 1992, the city has turned over a new leaf
“It's a living garden,” said Gary Hoover, an Austin, Texas-based serial entrepreneur and frequent traveller to the city. “A modern, progressive and wonderful society.”
And, the year-round, spring-like weather provides the ideal climate for any activity, he added, as there will be something to captivate you – whatever your interests.
Located in Mexico’s central highlands, this sprawling international metropolis is rich in ancient and colonial history, arts, culture and gastronomy and is one of the most important economic hubs in Latin America.
So it’s not surprising The New York Times named it the number one travel destination for 2016, saying “there's nowhere in the world quite like it.”
Greater Mexico City is home to more than 21 million people, the city hosts an average of 12.5 million visitors annually— many of them travelling for business to the offices of large multinational corporations that have operations there in industries including finance, aerospace, automotive and pharmaceuticals. Big names include pharmaceutical giants Merck, Bayer and AstraZeneca.
Conferences and events are big business here too. Mexico City hosted the FIFA World Congress earlier this month, and the World Congress in Cardiology is expected to attract 10,000 visitors in June. Meanwhile, Formula One has returned to the city after two decades, creating an additional draw for motorheads in October.
It's like any great city, you could explore it for a lifetime
Dubbed the most polluted city on the planet by the United Nations in 1992, Mexico City still suffers from frequent smog alerts, traffic restrictions and car bans, but the city has been trying to turn over a new leaf.
An ambitious environmental strategy, Plan Verde, was launched in 2007 to improve air quality and reduce traffic. Its aim is to create new eco-conscious public transport, water, waste, conservation and energy programmes. There's even a bike sharing programme and eco-buses.
Hoover, who has travelled to 45 countries across the globe, also said that safety concerns about Mexico City are often overstated, adding that he feels safer in Mexico City than in some US cities like Detroit, New Orleans or Washington DC. But, despite Hoover’s assurances, crime remains a concern. Travellers are advised to be sensible, vigilant and avoid areas known to be higher risk. Take only authorised taxis, be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM and don't walk around at night alone. If in doubt, ask someone at your hotel.
But, don't let safety worries stop you from exploring this dynamic and vibrant metropolis: while many corporate travellers come for business, they stay for pleasure. Contemporary Mexico City, known locally as “the DF”, which is short for Distrito Federal, has something for every taste, interest and budget.
Cordiality is a very important value for us. That's the perfect way to gain trust
Mexico City's Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juarez is Latin America's busiest airport, according to Magda Sanchez, major events director of the city's tourism board. More than 150 international flights depart from the airport daily and new routes are being added from European and North American cities.
Located just eight miles from downtown, the airport is easily accessible on the city's public transport. But, most business travellers take taxis. Trips into the city take about 30-60 minutes and cost between $50 and $100 — or more — depending on traffic and which part of the city you will be staying. Be sure to stick with licensed taxis only (sitios), which can be picked up at the authorised taxi stands and never accept a ride from someone who approaches you. Better yet, have your hotel arrange a driver to meet you.
It can take a little time for business travellers to adjust to Mexico City’s high altitude.
Thanks to the slumping value of the peso against the dollar (about 18 pesos to $1), Mexico City offers some business travellers excellent value for money.
According to a report by business-to-business sourcing service Expert Market, the average daily cost of a business trip to Mexico City is $252, which includes accommodation, car rental and food. That compares with an average cost of $508 per day for London or $443 for New York.
Many places that business travellers frequent will take major credit cards like Visa or MasterCard, but not always American Express. Automatic teller machines or casas de cambio (foreign currency exchange booths) are plentiful and international banks including HSBC and Santander have cash machines in the city.
Tipping at least 10-15% is standard in restaurants and other service industries.
Meals are important for building business relationships and are lavish, meandering affairs
“Cordiality is a very important value for us. That's the perfect way to gain trust,” said Sanchez. When meeting someone for the first time, greet them with a handshake and address them using their title. “But, if the relationship becomes stronger, we usually use our [first] names and we would shake hands and hug,” she explained.
Meals are also important for building business relationships and are lavish, meandering affairs. When dining with colleagues, expect lunch to start at about 14:00 and last at least one-and-a-half to two hours, over several courses. Business dinners should be booked for after 20:00. “Something amazing about Mexico City is that you can find places to have dinner until midnight,” Sanchez said.
Grabbing a drink with a client? You'll likely find yourself in one of the many opulent and stylish hotel bars or lobbies or, if the weather's good, you'll talk shop while sipping drinks at an outside cafe.
Where to stay?
Mexico City has many accommodation options for business travellers – everything from the luxury, to the historic, to the boutique. But remember to book a hotel close to where you're conducting business to avoid travelling in peak-hour congestion.
At the top end of the scale are exclusive international names including the Four Seasons near the affluent Polanco neighbourhood, or the St Regis, which opened The Glass House Cafe in August 2015 and offers delectable pastries.
The Maria Isabel Sheraton, next to the US Embassy on the grand boulevard Paseo de la Reforma, is walking distance to the headquarters of many large companies and adjacent to the Zona Rosa district, known for its diversity and nightlife. If you're staying in the business district of Santa Fe, the JW Marriott Mexico City Santa Fe caters to the conference crowd.
Dinner for one
There's no shortage of culinary delights for gourmands with a corporate expense account. The city is experiencing something of a gastronomic renaissance, and the national cuisine has even been recognised by Unesco's cultural heritage list.
Temporal is a restaurant that emphasises seasonal local ingredients with a creative edge. Those wanting to spot celebrities can try Champs Elysees, which offers traditional French cuisine from its new location in Polanco.
For authentic Mexican flavours, try the historic El Cardenal, which is a favourite of Hoover's, or head to La Tecla near the Cibeles Circle for nueva cocina Mexicana dishes such as duck tacos. Nearby at Durango 200, Contramar (only open for lunch) is known for great seafood dishes such as ceviche and grilled octopus.
Off the clock
Time to spare? Walk. A stroll through Centro Historico can trace the footsteps of human civilisation. Begin at Templo Mayor, the ancient ruins of an Aztec temple that lay hidden until 1978, then walk towards Paseo de la Reforma for a glimpse into the period of Spanish colonialisation.
Along the way, you can stop at one of the many culturally significant attractions such as the Catedral Metropolitana or the Museo Nacional de Arte.
Need retail therapy? There are plenty of shopping options, including Reforma 222 on Paseo de la Reforma and the Centro Santa Fe, one of the largest shopping malls in Latin America. For local crafts, silver, obsidian, jewellery or other cultural artefacts, the Mercado Insurgentes in the Zona Rosa offers a good selection and reasonable prices amid its 200 booths.
Because Mexico City is located at 7,350ft (2,240m) above sea level, it can take a little time to adjust to for those arriving from lower altitudes. Drink plenty of water (bottled only, never from the tap) and be careful not to exert yourself until you've acclimatised. Alcohol can hit you harder too. Despite being close to equator, that high elevation means it can feel cool, with temperatures averaging about 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Celsius) in the centre of town.
Mexico is a relatively easy country in which to do business – it was ranked 38 of 189 economies in the World Bank's 2016 Ease of Doing Business survey. Still, corruption remains a problem in the country, according to Transparency International's 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, published in January.
Austin entrepreneur Hoover led a five-day tour of young business travellers from the San Francisco and Silicon Valley to the city in March. His advice for those there on business? “Be a tourist.” He encourages spending an extra day or a weekend and explore, and figure out how to make that trip one-third to one-half tourism.
“It's like any great city, you could explore it for a lifetime.”
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