Every planner knows that the destination is critical to a travel program’s success. The location must inspire top performance for incentives and top participation for meetings, but it also must provide an adequate infrastructure to minimize risk and deliver a flawless event. This can make finding a new destination a challenge.
Emerging global destinations often generate the greatest interest on the part of participants, but can be problematic when it comes to reliable security, transportation and other services we have come to expect from hotels and experienced destination management companies.
CUBA is sure to top everyone’s list of interesting potential destinations. The sights and sounds of Havana inspire even the most seasoned traveler. Long elusive, its closeness to the United States and ties with the Cuban community in the U.S. make it an exciting prospect. As of now, however, Cuba is a long way from ready to receive business travel programs. Firstly, the rules have relaxed, but permission to travel to Cuba still requires a license and proof that the visitors are in the country for one of 12 approved reasons (see www.treasury.gov for FAQs and www.commerce.gov for a Cuba sanctions fact sheet). Secondly, even if a program qualifies, Cuban hotel, restaurant and transportation services are not yet ready for an American audience used to predictable meeting and event planning. As the regulations evolve and the country gears up for rapid growth of the tourism economy, Cuba is certainly a destination to watch but is years away from being an appropriate destination for insurance or financial meetings.
An emerging alternative, however, is PANAMA. A quick five-hour flight from New York, this is likely to be a new destination for most travelers and yet its reputation as a Latin American hotspot is secure. With exciting new hotel options, including the Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis and a Waldorf Astoria, the destination now offers the service levels needed for a well-executed event, along with the support of solid destination management companies and transportation services. Excursion and activity possibilities include the famed Panama Canal, as well as eco-tours.
For a destination that’s equally exotic and easily reached from many major U.S. cities, but with a more established infrastructure, COSTA RICA should be on the list. Hotels such as the Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort can make program and meeting planning a breeze. It’s a destination that’s hard to beat, with convention services you can count on and bucket-list activities including zip-line canopy tours and volcano hikes. Costa Rica has been emergent for quite some time and is a familiar destination to many planners. It’s important, however, to keep in mind that for program participants it remains a wish-list destination, renowned for its unique natural environment, and is still off the beaten path. Beware, however, of the “green season.” The rain from May to mid-November can really have an impact on any program, so it is best to stay with high-season dates and enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer.
Europe has long held fascination for American travelers. In fact, for many program participants, a trip to Europe is a personal aspiration. Linking individual drives to organization goals will generate greater interest in any meeting or incentive program, and a trip to Europe can be a powerful motivator.
Many organizations choose tried-and-true European destinations for the exceptional cultural possibilities, as well as the reliably solid service and security they can offer. In looking for a new destination, however, there are many lesser-traveled options that ignite interest in the program but also will make planning easy.
Spain’s capital city, MADRID, offers a world-class experience for program participants and planners alike. Hotels such as The Westin Palace, Madrid feature uniquely European style and Old World charm but have a clear understanding of the needs and expectations of international business events, from menus designed to appeal to an American palate, to Starwood’s renowned focus on sustainable meeting practices. And just outside the door, the city offers a world of options for excursions and unforgettable offsite events, from the Prado Museum to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of Real Madrid.
Another great city to consider — although not in the dark winter months — is STOCKHOLM, Sweden. Swedish precision and ingenuity are well-established in the business world, and the scenic capital wins rave reviews from travelers. Spread over 14 islands, Stockholm is a walker’s paradise and home to a vibrant café culture. The city is known for a dynamic music and art scene, as well as for easy access to the dramatic countryside. Centrally located hotels, such as the Sheraton and the Hilton Stockholm Slussen, are solid partners for any incentive program or business meeting. Stockholm is likely to be a new destination for many guests, but one that quickly becomes a favorite.
For smaller, more adventuresome programs, ICELAND offers some of the world’s most astounding scenery. From a home base at an international hotel such as the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, guests can set out to explore the icebergs in the glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón, float blissfully in the thermal pool at the Blue Lagoon, or head out into the interior in a jeep rally that will never be forgotten. The landscape is extreme, but an economy centered on banking and international politics makes this a destination known for security and professional services in line with the expectations of financial and insurance program decision-makers and guests.
Since the recent recession, many organizations have elected to keep their meeting and incentive programs closer to home. Sometimes, developments in nearby destinations can breathe new life into a location or venue and make it worth a second look.
The DOMINICAN REPUBLIC has been a popular getaway for several years, particularly for vacationing travelers from the East Coast. Setting their sights on being a Caribbean frontrunner, the government invested in a highway to make airport access from Punta Cana much easier. The addition of some great hotels on spectacular beaches, such as the group-friendly and all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana, has made the Dominican Republic a strong contender for financial and insurance programs.
THE BAHAMAS also will be the scene of some great new possibilities. Billed as a mega-resort, Baha Mar will soon debut on Nassau’s Cable Beach. This extraordinary complex will include four luxury hotels, 200,000 sf of meeting space, a casino, golf course, spa and 50 restaurants. Like the nearby Atlantis, Paradise Island, Baha Mar will become a destination unto itself, just a short flight from many U.S. origin cities. For meeting and incentive planners, Baha Mar will offer an opportunity to reinvent a program in a popular, accessible destination, with experienced destination management and event partners.
The selection of a destination and a hotel partner is a critical first step in designing a successful program. In every case, however, the safety and comfort of the guests is absolutely tantamount, and the importance of the infrastructure, capabilities and service levels of the destination cannot be overstated. An emerging destination can take some time to be a reliable partner, particularly for a program where professionalism, minimized risk and ease of access are important elements. By broadening the definition of new and emerging destinations, it is possible to find some great options that offer the security and quality required, while still inspiring interest and effort on the part of the participants. I&FMM
Click here for the article in The Meetings Magazine
As Vice President of Travel & Engagement at Next Level Performance, Susan serves on the board of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and chairs the IRF Research Committee. She has also served on the board of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and is a past president of the Recognition Council, and a past member of the Performance Improvement Council and the Incentive and Engagement Solution Providers (IESP). She is interested in the strategies and benefits of employee engagement, incentive, and recognition programs. An avid traveler, she is also passionate about the art and science of incentive travel.