From Australia to Croatia, Nashville to Napa, planners have a plethora of worldwide options when choosing a location for their incentive meeting. Whether looking for an incomparable locale stateside, or a hidden haven abroad, these destinations range from well-established winners to little-known wonders. All present a variety of hotel options, group activities and first-class amenities that can impress even the most jaded executive.
Perhaps it’s Australia’s distance from the U.S. that makes it an intriguing destination for incentive programs. The anticipation of the unknown creates a one-of-a-kind experience.
Planners will discover the mystery of Australia is just one element that makes it stand out among other locations. From the iconic landmarks of Sydney to the eclectic gardens of Melbourne to the seemingly endless days of sunshine in Brisbane, the continent’s multi-faceted characteristics will capture attendees from arrival to departure.
“Australia is home to some of the world’s most inspirational event destinations and can’t-be-bought experiences,” says Mary Ann McDonald, Tourism Australia’s business events manager. “Australia’s innovative event delivery capabilities, friendly welcoming people and unique landscapes, combined with our exceptional food and wine and high-quality products and experiences, deliver above expectations for incentive events.”
To fuel new group business, Tourism Australia created the Boosting Business Events Bid Fund Program (BFP), which gives financial assistance to suppliers bidding against international competitors to hold the program in Australia.
The BFP is an extension of Australia’s Advance Program, which provides delegate-acquisition support for previously confirmed events. With a goal of driving visitation, the program boosts the country’s tourism activities and further entices international groups to consider Australia for their meetings.
“Nowhere else in the world can you dine under the stars at Uluru (Ayers Rock), bond with your team as you sail under Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge, experience the relationship between art and wine at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef,” McDonald says.
U.S.-based planners have long-chosen The Bahamas as a destination for their incentive meetings. Located less than an hour off the coast of South Florida, The Bahamas is an easy flight away from most major U.S. cities. Yet in the oasis of The Bahamas, attendees can feel like they are a million miles away from home.
Indeed, the country’s capital, Nassau, is connected to paradise. A short drive over the bridges of Nassau Harbour, and visitors are transported to Paradise Island, where the only choice is whether to stay at a quiet, secluded beachfront property or at an opulent oceanside resort.
Atlantis Paradise Island is a resort that offers both. With five distinct properties, planners can choose the location that best fits their incentive’s size and content.
Family-inclusive programs will thrive at The Coral, while an agenda allowing for plenty of leisure time is ideal for the The Beach. The architecturally stunning and centrally located The Royal dances with the Junkanoo street parades, a carnival of music and masquerade of costumes. An intimate, high-level incentive will bask in the ultra-luxury of The Cove, while a lengthier trip is perfect for The Reef’s spacious rooms equipped with kitchens and private balconies.
“There are many reasons planners should choose The Bahamas and Nassau Paradise Island for their incentive meetings,” says George Brice, vice president of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board. “The proximity to the U.S. and the array of resorts and hotels suitable for accommodating groups of any size are two compelling reasons. In addition, we have sophisticated entertainment and nightlife options, including a casino, as well as world-class gourmet dining options. Last but not least, our islands have some of the most beautiful turquoise waters and white sandy beaches in the world.”
Touting the longest coastline of the Eastern European countries, Croatia is bordered by five countries and located across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. Its weather is a combination of a Mediterranean climate along the western coast and a continental climate in its interior — warm, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. You’ll find the Mediterranean climate in the city of Dubrovnik, considered to be one of the most popular tourist destinations around the Adriatic Sea.
“Dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ by George Bernard Shaw, Dubrovnik has the feeling of an old town with incomparable views and relaxing mountain wineries,” says Beau Ballin, senior director, business development, CWT Meetings & Events. “Additionally, its proximity to Italy provides an easy and cost-efficient opportunity to include Italy for a dual-destination program.”
While Croatia’s coast is an excellent location for incentive meetings, the interior should be evaluated as a distinctive alternative. Consider a January trip to a professional ski tournament in Croatia’s capital of Zagreb. Then, visit the ice park in King Tomislav Square, where attendees have the opportunity to take a whirl around the ice skating arena. After that, warm up with hot drinks and local sweets served from charming wooden houses. Zagreb won the European Best Destinations’ award — “Best Christmas Markets” — as selected by travelers.
“With its diverse offerings and a combination of nature, tradition and cultural heritage, Croatia is a real treasure that is bound to surprise and delight all visitors,” says Ina Rodin, director North America, Croatian National Tourist Office.
“Each region offers its own unique characteristics, such as natural beauty, history and festivals, from traditional to current. One will be inspired and have memories that will last forever.”
As an emerging incentive travel destination, Croatia is a unique choice for high-level executives who have traveled the world and lack enthusiasm to visit the long-popular destinations in Western Europe.
“For those groups who have been to Europe many times, attendees are looking for newer destinations that are more up-and-coming such as Croatia,” says Rhea Stagner, CIS, CITP, vice president, supplier relations, Maritz Travel, who is also past president of SITE Foundation.
Hospitality in New Zealand began 1,000 years ago. The country’s indigenous people, Māori, practice manaakitanga, a warm style of hospitality where the importance is to care for visitors and make sure they are treated well.
“The New Zealand hospitality industry is great at collaborating to create memorable events for incentive groups,” says Lisa Gardiner, global manager, business events, Tourism New Zealand. “From the moment guests step off the plane, they will receive a warm New Zealand welcome, superb service and support. International visitors arrive as strangers and leave as family.”
Auckland is the country’s largest, most diverse and probably best-known city to U.S. planners. Here, attendees can enjoy the energy of a sophisticated city, and in only a 30-minute drive, can be on the beach, hiking or visiting an award-winning winery.
“There is an amazing array of activities offered here, as well as stunning landscapes and scenery waiting to be explored,” Gardiner says. “A 90-minute flight can take visitors from Auckland’s cosmopolitan nightlife and beaches to the snow-capped mountain and adventure experiences of Queenstown.”
Billed as the “Southern Hemisphere’s premier, four season, lake and alpine resort,” Queenstown is set on a lake and surrounded by mountains. Here, adventure abounds. For thrill-seeking attendees who think they’ve done it all, Queenstown challenges you with everything from jumping off a mountain ledge to swinging over a canyon. And then, there’s heli-biking. A helicopter drops bikers on the top of a mountain. From there, they start a downhill ride on hidden trails through sheep paths and around gold-prospecting tracks from the 1800s.
“New Zealand is unique in being able to offer itineraries where groups can hold a business function in the morning, go jet boating, bungee jumping, boutique shopping or play a game of golf in the afternoon, then dine at a vineyard or atop a mountain at night,” Gardiner says. “This is really appealing to organizations that want to provide their employees with a varied and fulfilling travel experience.”
Dive into history in its crystal waters. Race like a Formula One driver in its sunny south. Snowboard down hills as high as the Austrian Alps. This is Portugal.
A seven-hour flight from the U.S. East Coast, Portugal is the closest European country to the States. Lisbon, its capital and largest city, offers an eclectic mix of historic charm and modern conveniences with a classic European feel. Groups will be awarded an upscale sensory experience, from globally inspired cuisine to world-renowned wines. The only European capital situated on the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon is a great walking city with a pleasant climate throughout the year and an abundance of sunshine.
“Portugal is a country with diverse scenarios, heritage and culture in a very short distance from the U.S.,” says Celina Tavares, U.S. director at the Portuguese National Tourist Office. “We have rich and distinctive gastronomy and great wines in the Douro Valley wine region.”
Located in northern Portugal, Porto lies on the Douro River and is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Lisbon. Port wine gets its name from the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the oldest cities in Europe. A coastal transport from Lisbon to Porto is ideal for a longer incentive trip. In order to attract international groups, Portugal’s National Tourism Authority — Turismo de Portugal — created the Meetings and Incentive program (M&I) which provides financial assistance to companies wanting to hold events in Portugal.
“Portugal has a proven ability to receive international events,” Tavares says. “We have modern facilities, advanced and efficient communications and great transport links. Portugal is a friendly and welcoming country that, for centuries, has linked and discovered different, new worlds.”
There was a time when Austin wasn’t top of mind for planners considering Texas as an incentive destination. Austin, the state’s capital and fourth-largest city, has emerged as a unique alternative to its Texan counterparts. From its vibrant music scene — Austin boasts more than 250 live music venues and entertainment districts — to its comprehensive art collection at the Blanton Museum of Art — one of the oldest and largest collections of Latin American art in the country — Austin surprises groups with its free-and-easy culture and state-of-the-art technology.
“J.D. Power and Associates ranked Austin No. 2 for the Destination Experience Satisfaction Award and No. 1 in the Southwest,” says Katherine Wise, communications manager for Visit Austin. “U.S. Travel + Leisure named Austin one of the Top 15 Cities in the U.S., while the World Economic Forum lauds the Texas capital as the No. 1 city for tech in the world. “
Austin’s festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW) and the Austin City Limits Music Festival are world-renowned and exclusive options for smaller incentives. SXSW celebrates the merging of interactive digital media, art, film, music and comedy. The festival showcases these industries — and the gaming culture — through screenings, exhibitions, educational sessions, hands-on play, industry leader awards and parties. The festival’s lounges are an opportunity to create a VIP experience and make one-on-one connections with people from these industries.
On a smaller scale, Sixth Street and the Warehouse District are two of six vibrant areas of Austin that thrive with live music, entertainment, restaurants, bars and shops. These walkable neighborhoods give visitors a taste of the local character of the city.
“Austin is centrally located in the U.S. and has more than 300 days of sunshine on average,” Ballin says. “Weather makes it ideal for a sunset cruise on Lady Bird Lake to check out their legendary bats, or walks, hikes and bike rides on one of Austin’s many trails. Finally, a quick transfer away is 14,000 square miles of Hill Country with quaint, historic towns and more than two dozen vineyards to provide a relaxing respite.”
When U.S. planners think of creating an incentive in paradise, Hawaii is often the destination that comes to mind. With its exotic landscape, intriguing culture and captivating people, the Islands are a faraway retreat that do not require a passport.
“Beyond Hawaii’s year-round warm weather and breathtaking scenery, the rich cultural heritage of the Islands provides attendees with authentic and engaging experiences demonstrating its famed aloha spirit,“ says Mary Neister, CMP, vice president, MCI, Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. “Unlike any other state, Hawaii offers the feel and appeal of an international destination (exotic, tropical, culturally diverse), with the familiar comforts and conveniences of working in the United States.”
Group activities in Hawaii are very ordinary. The varied experiences are meant to share the local flavor of the islands, humanizing their indigenous people and sharing the Polynesian roots of the native residents. Harvesting kalo is one such activity meant to immerse attendees in the Hawaiian cultural experience. Kalo is an ancestral plant, sacred to the native Hawaiians. It dates back to 500 BC, when the first voyagers arrived on the shores of the islands. Helping restore a centuries-old loko ia (fishpond) built by early Hawaiian settlers is another example of this personal history.
“Hawaii offers the feel and appeal of an international destination with the familiar comforts and conveniences of working in the United States.”
— Mary Neister, CMP
Last year, Jenn Artura, senior director, global strategic events and executive briefing programs, Veritas, planned a high-level incentive on the island of Lana’i. The event was to take place in Bali, however, after a volcano eruption, she was forced to select another destination.
“We felt like we were on our own private island,” Artura says of Lana’i. “The people, culture and beauty all came together to create a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Thais Toro, MBA, event manager, Cox Automotive also recommends Hawaii for incentive meetings. “Each of the Hawaiian Islands are rich with beautiful beaches, mountains and waterfalls — perfect scenarios for group activities. Hawaii has a unique culture that brings magic to any event. Anywhere you go or whatever you do, there is always something spectacular that only Hawaii can offer.”
It’s difficult to imagine an incentive trip without wine. No matter the destination, whether in the U.S. or abroad, fine wines and an epicurean desire for culinary creativity are important elements of any incentive. California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma County deliver this — and more.
For Napa, it began in 1976 with a wine competition that became known as “the judgment of Paris.” A local Napa chardonnay beat out nine Parisian varieties in a blind taste test. After this, global connoisseurs viewed Napa differently. California wines were not only contenders, they were winners.
“California Wine Country gives guests quite a unique experience as a small group vs. what one might do on their own,” says Stagner. “This area works wonderfully for couples. You’ll find unique, high-end hotels with fine dining experiences, biking and picnics at the vineyards. And flying in and out of San Francisco Airport to reach wine country is relatively easy.”
If your attendees have experienced the California wine region in the past, Visit Napa Valley — the tourism marketing organization for the area — has created a program that might entice even the most jaded attendee. “True Taste of the Napa Valley” is available for groups through May 2019. Your selected hotel will provide a complimentary culinary or wine expert to curate a full-sensory experience tailored to your attendees.
“Your expert will be available to co-create a variety of activities, including a guest showcase, personalized demonstrations and an educational tasting or seminar,” says Teresa Savage, vice president, sales, Visit Napa Valley. “This memorable epicurean experience will elevate your meeting or event and ensure your guests are engaged and inspired.”
It’s no longer a place where you can hear only country music. Now, Nashville delivers diverse musical genres that attract a wider demographic. But don’t let a more mainstream ambience deter you from selecting the “Music City. “
“Planners should choose Nashville because of its state-of-the-art facilities, surge of new hotel supply and world-class music and entertainment offerings, including more than 180 live music venues offering music of all genres 365 days a year,” says Adrienne Siemers, senior vice president, sales, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. “Also, we have a diverse offering of attractions, including the Belle Meade Plantation Culinary Tour, Historic RCA Studio B, Hatch Show Print (a letterpress print shop dating back to the 19th Century), President Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, the Frist Art Museum and several others.”
Further showing the growth of the city as a strong location for incentive meetings, Nashville came in second for North America in the American Express Meetings and Events list of 2018 Hotel Openings. Currently, Nashville has more than 15,000 hotel rooms in all phases of construction. Also, Ballin attributes Nashville’s success for meetings to “great airlift with 46 nonstop flights from U.S. cities.”
A quirky, yet one-of-a kind experience for the well-traveled attendee, Nashville was known as the “Athens of the South,” long before it became the “Music City.” A replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, stands majestically in Nashville’s Centennial Park. Built in 1897 for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition, the building and an Athena statue are full-scale replicas of the originals in Greece. The Parthenon is an art museum, as well. The permanent collection is a group of 63 paintings by 19th- and 20th-Century American artists. Additional gallery spaces provide a venue for a variety of temporary shows and exhibits.
“Music can be heard 24/7, 365 days a year, from the legendary honky tonks and world-famous Bluebird Café to the Ryman Auditorium and the Schermerhorn Symphony,” Ballin says. “Nashville’s creative spirit extends beyond the music, however. The city has numerous art galleries, museums, chef-driven restaurants and historic museums.”
It might seem a little odd that the town of Wellington in Palm Beach is known as the “Winter Equestrian Capital of the World.” Winter? In Palm Beach County, Florida? Perhaps that’s why an incentive belongs in this location. It’s more than just an oceanic adventure where you can snorkel through 160 man-made reefs — including sunken ships and a sunken Rolls-Royce — it’s a luxurious haven for the famous and those who just want a vacation in paradise.
“The Palm Beaches deliver a luxury experience more than 100 years in the making, one that has long attracted the world’s elite, from the Vanderbilt family to today’s titans of industry,” says Ashley Svarney, senior director, public relations & social media, Discover the Palm Beaches. “There’s a reason why business moguls like Martha Stewart visit often, A-list celebs like Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello get married here, and global athletic icons like Serena Williams call America’s First Resort Destination home — it’s overflowing with some of the country’s most ultra-lux hotels, spas, private yachts and dining experiences.”
Why is Palm Beach known as the “first resort?” At the turn of the century, oil, railway and real estate tycoon Henry Flager built two lavish hotels to provide Northerners a much-needed escape from the harsh winters. And to make it accessible to the vacationers, he built the Florida East Coast Railway. In 1894, the six-story, Georgian Hotel went through two phases of expansion to make it, at that time, the largest wooden structure in the world — it accommodated 2,000 guests.
And this opulence continues today. Eau Palm Beach is a haven of grandeur, one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and one of eight in Florida. Attendees are welcomed with champagne before relaxing on the hotel’s private beach stretching seven acres along the oceanfront. Or they can take a respite in the award-winning Eau Spa — also rated five-star by Forbes.
What better way to incentivize your attendees than having access to Palm Beach’s tennis courts where Venus and Serena Williams practice? Or your guests can shop on luxurious Worth Avenue or peruse the eclectic vintage finds at Antique Row, a premier antique shopping district in West Palm Beach. Oh, and don’t forget to tell your attendees they might bump into a famous Palm Beach resident.
Continue to surprise your attendees with these untypical destinations. They are sure to remember the event for years to come. C&IT