Sun and Sand Sit Atop the List for Attendees at These Destinations
With sun-warmed beaches, iridescent waters and breathtaking sunsets, the Caribbean and the Bahamas is naturally linked with the ultimate personal and professional getaways. Within the last several years, these island destinations have become more than just a few moments in paradise. In fact, various locales within the Caribbean have turned into key destinations as meeting planners discover that they can double as the perfect meeting and event setting. Hosting meetings in the Caribbean and in the Bahamas offers a combination of adventure travel and memorable surroundings.
Resorts in such popular locales as the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are hastening to offer meeting and event packages for meeting planners looking for unique locales. Resorts throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands, including St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, as well as Aruba, offer packages that can meet the needs of meeting and incentive events of all sizes.
Diane Murray, CMP, CIS, HMCC, president of SITE Chicago and president of Options4Meetings, recently organized a customer appreciation program for 65 attendees at the Sandals Royal Bahamian resort in Nassau, Bahamas.
“The closeness and ease to get to the islands from the U.S. is very appealing,” Murray says. “There are lots of flights, as well as English-speaking residents. Beautiful blue calm waters and sandy beaches, casinos, and friendly locals are also key.” In addition, Murray has found the Bahamas to be low-risk, safe, clean and well-maintained islands, offering both metropolitan areas as well as beach paradise locations.
To make a meeting or event in the Bahamas as streamlined as possible, Murray works with the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism to stay abreast of island developments, services and new venues. “There are numerous resorts with great meeting space options,” Murray says. “Since the Bahamas has been a destination for many years it has well-developed services.”
Lauren Grech, CEO and co-founder of LLG Events, says that in the Bahamas, the new Grand Hyatt Baha Mar resort destination is definitely a differentiator. “It’s a luxury collection of three oceanfront properties, offering an option for every preference,” Grech says. “Between this collaboration, there’s over 40 dining and nightlife options that are perfect for planners to create a unique experience, or for attendees to unwind after a day in a conference. Everything you need is onsite.”
According to Grech, the Bahamas was selected as a destination for an event the firm recently planned because traveling to the ocean oasis is as easy as domestic travel.
There are direct flights from a number of cities, and the destination takes care of customs and immigration before you fly home to the United States,” Grech says. “That way, you don’t have to worry about any travel stress after having spent a few days relaxing in the Bahamas sun.”
Puerto Rico has long been one of the world’s most popular destination locales. Offering high-quality facilities, stunning backdrops and hundreds of different activities, Puerto Rico is the perfect place for a meeting planner to find exactly what they want.
While many think of Puerto Rico as being strictly a “beach” destination, the country offers a wealth of options for those who seek more variety for their event. In addition to some of the world’s most celebrated locales — from golden beaches with turquoise waters, to old colonial cities teeming with charming buildings, cobbled streets, and classic archways — Puerto Rico gives planners the utmost in choice and opportunity for their meeting or incentive event.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful, culturally diverse and accessible islands in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is a sunburst of tropical indulgences. If this is paradise — and many say it is — being a U.S. territory it affords all the advantages of U.S. travel, with plenty of exotic flourishes to savor. Even veteran planners, accustomed to crossing off names of destinations with “been-there, done-that” abandon, find themselves returning year after year to this palm-swept Caribbean jewel.
Old San Juan, an eight-square-block city that dates back to the early 1500s, is teeming with narrow cobblestone streets studded with cobalt blue stones and pastel-colored buildings with filigreed wrought iron adornments, statue-filled plazas, mosaic-tiled churches and chapels, and the red cupolas framing Spanish colonial-style buildings.
Condado is San Juan’s sophisticated mecca of glittering hotels, Las Vegas-style casinos, and Latinesque discos, with all of the high-rise hotels, haute couture boutiques, art deco buildings and white sandy beaches, Condado is the closest thing to Miami Beach in the Caribbean.
Looking for a fun group excursion? Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a six-tiered fortress, rises nearly 150 feet above the waves that lap at its base. For centuries, this monumental walled fort repelled raids of pirates and other oceanic marauders. Its labyrinth of secret tunnels, ramparts, vaults and dungeons beckons the adventuresome attendee to explore.
Just 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, Puerto Rico is compact, allowing visitors to venture into the island’s remote depths on day trips from San Juan. It is a magical destination, where the familiar mixes with the exotic and with its close proximity to the United States, Puerto Rico is the shortcut to paradise for meeting and event attendees.
The Dominican Republic is truly a natural paradise and a wonderful, low-cost alternative for many meeting and event planners. This tropical treat offers world-class resorts, pristine beaches, off-the-beaten-path ecotourism opportunities and awe-inspiring undersea water life. Attendees can explore seaside villages, bike through jungles teeming with gushing waterfalls, or shop to their heart’s content in many of its charming historic colonial towns.
Nearby Jamaica offers a unique beauty all its own. All-inclusive resort amenities abound throughout this iconic Caribbean destination. A meeting mecca that celebrates the country’s spirited culture, Montego Bay is an ideal location for event attendees looking to work some and play some. With more than 3,000 species of flowering plants, Jamaica is a wonderland of “all things tropical” and truly offers an idyllic paradise for respite seekers and adventure lovers alike.
Michelle Esteban, CEO and lead planner at The Occasion, organized an incentive event in Jamaica for 120 top sales employees for a corporate client. “This was their annual sales incentive ‘President’s Club’ trip and the event was held at the Half Moon hotel in Montego Bay,” Esteban says. “This hotel is among the top three most luxurious hotels on the island and is a mixture of ocean view villas along with single guest rooms.” All activities held during the five-day event could be held on property because the venue’s expansive size allows for plenty of space.
“Jamaica is an amazing destination with spectacular venues. The vibe in this country is like no other Caribbean island,” Esteban says. “The food, the people and the beaches are only a few reasons why this destination is so popular.”
Over the five days, there were private events which included restaurant buy outs, private musical bands, iron chef competitions with local chefs as well as a few flown in from Canada. There were also personalized gifts and personalized company decor throughout the venue with specific directional signs for guests.
Like Jamaica, Saint Lucia is the ideal destination for meetings, incentive, conferences and special interest groups. With nonstop flights from major cities, Saint Lucia welcomes delegates from across the U.S., Canada and globally. The island has a diverse range of accommodations to fit all budgets and niches — from smaller properties where a group can do a takeover, to larger resorts that can accommodate 100+ rooms. Many of the properties offer state-of-the-art equipment to host meetings and conferences.
Saint Lucia offers conference facilities right on the beach at a wealth of resorts, hotels, guest houses and private villas tucked in the beautiful surroundings. And when meeting planners combine business with sightseeing tours and other activities, they can offer meeting and event attendees a balanced approach to work and relaxation. From the beach, to the famous mud baths, zip lines, cultural and heritage tours and street parties, attendees can find a variety of activities to enjoy.
For meeting planners looking for help in orchestrating a tropical getaway on Saint Lucia, there are several destination management companies with which the St. Lucia Tourism Authority works. They can help prepare itineraries to suit the needs of attendees, who can be as adventurous as they would like.
Aruba also has become a favorite among meeting planners who are looking for the wealth of culture and adventurous options for attendees.
Aruba recently hosted an annual incentive trip where 230 top-qualified sales executives attended after winning a trip for excellent performance. This was a five-day trip held in one of Aruba’s top resorts on Palm Beach. The meeting planner worked with a local DMC where they organized custom activities for the group, including a nice welcome experience on the beach and a “dine-around tour” where the groups were divided in three and rotated to experience a different culinary treat for each course.
The meeting planner also included an activity day where participants could choose between ATV rides, a catamaran trip, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing or kite surfing.
“The objective was to organize a trip that they cannot do on their own,” says Diantha Boekhouwer, conferences and events liaison at the Aruba Convention Bureau. For example, they organized a night at the Ayo Rock Formations, a unique experience in Aruba’s nature — which is usually only open during the day and hosted an original event at night with a band, fireworks, etc.
“The island of Aruba is very diverse and people love the fact that they can be on a 4×4 utility vehicle tour in the middle of the arid Arikok National Park in the morning and on the beach a few hours later,” Boekhouwer says.
Aruba is not a destination for very large groups. Since it’s a small island, it can comfortably host groups of up to around 500 people. While they do host some larger groups, the hotels are smaller and more focused on these sizes of incentive groups.
However, it an easy destination to plan for with experienced hotel staff and destination management companies on the island. A significant number of groups come year after year due in part to the ease of planning.
To make the most of a meeting or incentive trip to Aruba, meeting planners should reach out to the Aruba Convention Bureau. Their main objective is to make planning as easy as possible as they work with all partners on the island to ensure the best experience possible for every group.
Aruba offers a wealth of different types of meeting spaces, including executive boardrooms, expansive ballrooms, state-of-the-art multimedia theaters and many options offering wall-to-wall views of the Caribbean. More than a dozen properties can accommodate conferences as well, and each is equipped with banquet halls, meeting rooms and breakout venues for classroom sessions and smaller events.
And best of all, the island is situated outside of the “hurricane belt” which means visitors to Aruba can enjoy a wealth of outdoor events, activities and group excursions with very little rain or major seasonal storms impacting their experiences.
The U.S. Virgin Islands offer an idyllic Caribbean setting for meetings and incentive travel. Its various accommodation options, activities, attractions and island flair appeal to groups of all sizes. Also, with “no passport required” for U.S. citizens, the Virgin Islands are accessible for meeting groups seeking a hassle-free, Caribbean destination.
Although the islands is still recovering from past hurricanes, about 80 percent of accommodations across the U.S. territory are open and accepting guests; other properties continue to repair or rebuild.
Melissa Sparks, global account director with HPN Global, recently orchestrated a corporate incentive event for their top producers along with their spouses/guests. It was held for 35 couples at The Buccaneer in St. Croix for three nights and four days.
“All receptions and dinners were at the resort, which did an exceptional job of servicing the group,” Sparks says. “The couples had plenty of time to relax, gather and explore the island.”
The Virgin Islands destination was chosen by the company president, who was interested in the locale because he had spent a personal vacation there years earlier. At the time of booking, the resorts were limited due to the 2017 hurricanes, which hit the islands very hard. However, The Buccaneer was open and ready to accommodate them.
St. Croix, the largest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands, offers meeting and event planners a variety of options for meetings in paradise. Attendees can enjoy a horseback ride along scenic trails, play blackjack at the casino or relax on miles of barely touched white sand beaches. St. Croix features venues ranging from museums to historic forts, sugar mills and great houses for groups seeking to incorporate cultural elements in their itinerary.
The smallest of the three islands is St. John, which also provides many options for group activities. Countless beaches and offshore activities including Lime Out VI, a new floating taco bar, are available for groups to explore. Given that 2/3 of St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park, groups can enjoy the various hiking trails and ruins dotted throughout the island.
A selection of private settings for offsite offerings can be found on the island of St. Thomas. Paradise Point, which is 700 feet above the capital city of Charlotte Amalie, features multilevel decks and can accommodate up to 200 guests. Coral World Ocean Park is available for buyouts and Yacht Haven Grande and St. Thomas Yacht Club are ideal for corporate gatherings seeking great views.
In addition, the United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism has launched Purpose in Paradise, a program that enhances the territory’s network of “community-based philanthropic activities and strengthens the region’s ability to attract visitors in search of purpose-driven travel opportunities” according to a news release. The initiative pairs visitors who are interested in helping the territory’s recovery efforts with local nonprofit organizations in need of assistance with specific projects.
In addition to the opportunity to participate in a purpose-driven project, Purpose in Paradise allows visitors who may not be able to donate time in person to contribute financially to the territory’s recovery. Groups such as Friends of Virgin Islands National Park in St. John, the St. Croix Landmarks Society and the Family Resource Center in St. Thomas are just a few examples of the many organizations that are performing essential community-based work.
The U.S. Virgin Islands are easy to get to and you do not need a passport,” Sparks says. “Needless to say, it is absolutely beautiful and perfect for an incentive retreat. I have personally been to both St. Thomas and St. John many times and St. John is my absolute favorite place in the Caribbean.” C&IT