Island IncentivesJanuary 1, 2014

Dreams of Caribbean Destinations Inspire Agents to Achieve By
January 1, 2014

Island Incentives

Dreams of Caribbean Destinations Inspire Agents to Achieve
No tie (or shoes) required for beach events like this one at a Sandals resort. The Sandals Luxury Meetings & Incentives Collection offers nine all-inclusive luxury resorts in six Caribbean countries. Credit Sandals Resorts International

No tie (or shoes) required for beach events like this one at a Sandals resort. The Sandals Luxury Meetings & Incentives Collection offers nine all-inclusive luxury resorts in six Caribbean countries. Credit: Sandals Resorts International

Amber Finken, is incentive trip coordinator for the Missouri Valley, IA-based insurance marketing organization Western Marketing, a company that has sponsored many incentive trips to sunny destinations. She says that the best one yet was the six-day, five-night agent trip to St. Thomas she recently planned for approximately 100 attendees.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The program got off to a strong start. “We had a very positive reaction overall to the announcement of St. Thomas as our 2013 incentive trip destination,” she explains. “The majority of our attendees prefer to travel to warm weather/beach destinations, and we had several people tell us the Virgin Islands were on their travel bucket list. A lot of people were also intrigued by the fact they would be able to island hop to other islands nearby and have the chance to explore several different destinations in one trip.”

She described other factors that made St. Thomas a good choice for the program. “First of all, St. Thomas is very easy to get to with a plethora of flight options available. We were able to get almost all of our attendees to the Virgin Islands and back with only one flight connection or less, making individual travel very quick and easy. Secondly, St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands offered an endless array of activities for our attendees to enjoy. From golf to deep-sea fishing to shopping to island hopping over to nearby St. John or the British Virgin Islands, there were plenty of opportunities available for everyone. And last but not least, both the scenery and cuisine of St. Thomas are unmatched throughout the entire Caribbean.”

Western Marketing chose the 450-room Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort as the site of the program. Finken explains why. “Having just recently finished a $48 million renovation, Frenchman’s Reef was an easy choice to host our event. The completely remodeled guest rooms and common areas made our guests feel like they were staying at a brand new resort. The event space offered at the Marriott was exactly what we were looking for, and our cocktail party on Morningstar Beach was a huge hit among our attendees. The onsite destination management company (Adventure Center) was a welcome convenience for anyone wanting to book excursions or tours, and the hotel shuttle and water taxi made nearby downtown Charlotte Amalie easily accessible.”

The Frenchman’s Reef renovation project took six months and was completed in late 2011. In addition to transforming the resort’s exterior and all guest rooms, the construction project included the 4,000-sf Lazule Sea Spa. The beachfront resort, which is located just six miles from Cyril E. King Airport, offers stunning views of Charlotte Amalie Harbor. The property’s accommodations are divided into two areas: the Frenchman’s Reef Tower and the Morning Star Beach Club.

“All of our events were 100 percent attended by our guests, and we were given rave reviews by several of our attendees. The Virgin Islands turned out to be a home run for us, and we definitely wouldn’t hesitate to go back!”

— Amber Finken, Incentive Trip Coordinator, Western Marketing, Missouri Valley, IA


Western Marketing’s agenda for the St. Thomas trip offered a balance of free time and group events. “As a reward for their hard work and dedication to earn the trip they’ve qualified for, we allow our attendees to spend plenty of time at the destination on their own,” Finken notes. “However, we typically host at least two mandatory events: a welcome cocktail party (usually on the beach), and a farewell dinner accompanied by a short awards presentation. Our cocktail parties on the beach are always a big hit as we keep both the dress and the mood very light and casual. We also usually set one day or night aside and plan some kind of optional event our guests can either choose to attend or decline, whichever they prefer. In St. Thomas we arranged for a group to take the ferry over to the neighboring island of St. John for the day. We also had groups take night kayaking tours, play a few rounds of golf and even do a little deep-sea fishing.

“St. Thomas was our best trip yet for many reasons,” she concludes. “The weather was beautiful the whole week, travel arrangements were all made smoothly and on time, and our overall attendance was the most we’ve ever had. All of our events were 100 percent attended by our guests, and we were given rave reviews by several of our attendees. The Virgin Islands turned out to be a home run for us, and we definitely wouldn’t hesitate to go back!”

The Bahamas

Kevin Dern, operations manager for Lexington Group, is planning a springtime incentive trip to The Bahamas for a large insurance and investment company. He cites “easy airlift” and “great weather” as two of the factors that make this island nation a great incentive destination. He adds, “The currency is tied to U.S. currency, so one U.S. dollar always equals one Bahamian dollar, which makes it easy and affordable for travelers.”

The property chosen for the program is Atlantis, Paradise Island, a sprawling, ocean-themed resort with 2,917 guest rooms including the 600-room Cove Atlantis resort within the resort; a 497-key condo-hotel; and the largest open-air marine habitat in the world. It also is home to Aquaventure, which is described as a “non-stop water experience” featuring multiple waterslides and a mile-long river ride. Atlantis also is a culinary destination offering restaurants by world-renowned chefs such as Nobu Matsuhisa, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Bobby Flay and Todd English. Atlantis provides more than 500,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

Dern’s program has so many qualifiers that they will arrive in two waves of 350 attendees each. “Atlantis resort is perfect for big groups,” he notes. “Without Atlantis, we wouldn’t have considered The Bahamas for a group this size. Guests can spend most of their time at Atlantis, which cuts down on the need to find activities and the cost of offsite activities.”

The attendees will stay at The Cove Atlantis. All rooms at The Cove are oversized and feature step-down living spaces. “I definitely want to provide our group with all the perks that come with being at a large resort — variety of restaurants, activities, pools and beaches, as well as experience handling large groups. Being at The Cove allows us to offer the Atlantis experience to our guests and still have the feeling of a luxury hotel. Each room is a mini-suite with a sitting area, and all rooms have a water view, so all of our guests will feel like VIPs.”

They’ll also have plenty of free time. “I find that at a sun and fun destination, people just want time on their own to relax,” Dern states. “We have group dinners planned for three of the five program nights, and breakfast is provided daily. Other than that, guests are on their own.”

Dern says that for groups considering Atlantis, doing a site inspection is a must. “Atlantis is enormous, and there’s a lot to see, and there’s quite a difference between the various Atlantis towers.

“Transportation in Nassau (and Paradise Island) is a little different than in most other destinations,” he continues. “Although there are a few full-size coach buses available, they are older vehicles, more expensive to confirm and less reliable. Most group transportation in Nassau is in 22-passenger minibuses. There are a ton of these on the island, and the best providers have vehicles that are relatively new (luggage travels in separate vehicles). In a destination like this, I would definitely recommend using a DMC to manage transportation.”

The Sandals Luxury Meetings & Incentives Collection includes nine properties, two of which are located in The Bahamas. The 245-room Sandals Emerald Bay in Great Exuma is set on 500 acres and is fronted by a mile-long white sand beach. The 403-room Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau has its own offshore island. In 2012, the property completed a $17.5 million renovation of its Balmoral Tower, which included all new rooms and suites with oversized balconies. The project also added new walkout suites and a state-of-the-art penthouse gym.

Lynette Owens is president of Lynette Owens & Associates, a hotel representation, site selection, meeting and incentive company based in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Her firm helped its client Baltimore Life book the Sandals Royal Bahamian for an upcoming program in 2015. “I’m a big advocate of that Sandals property because it’s so nice,” Owens says. “It’s so all-inclusive, literally, that you don’t even have to leave the property. It doesn’t have golf, but you can certainly get to golf. The beach is beautiful and they have butler service. It’s over the top and yet it’s affordable.”

She explained that Sandals has several different room categories and that not all come with butler service. “I have experienced the butler service rooms and they are affordable.” She added that since Nassau is so close to Miami and has good airlift, it’s more affordable than other Caribbean destinations that are farther away.

Baltimore Life used another Sandals property, the 524-room Sandals Grande Riviera in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, for its 2013 program. Laura Moser, sales support coordinator who plans the incentive programs for Baltimore Life, describes what she likes about Sandals resorts. “The service is phenomenal, and a lot of options for dining and activities are included. You get so much more for your dollar.” The company’s incentive programs typically have around 100 attendees.

Moser said that she also looked at another Nassau property for her 2015 program, but that the all-inclusive nature of Sandals Royal Bahamian won out. “It’s in a beautiful location, and in your price per person, you get your transfers, you get your meals, you get different water activities. It also has its own private little island, so it’s almost like you get two (destinations) in one.” She explained that the private island is just a short boat ride away and offers dining and spa treatments.

Sandals Royal Bahamian has 404 guest rooms and suites, and more than 14,000 sf of meeting space.

“I’m a big advocate of (Sandals Royal Bahamian).   …It’s so all-inclusive, literally, that you don’t even have to leave the property. The beach is beautiful and they have butler service. It’s over the top and yet it’s affordable.”

— Lynette Owens, President of Lynette Owens & Associates,  Rancho Santa Fe, CA

The Bahamian Riviera

The end of 2014 will mark the opening of the largest single-phase luxury resort project in the history of the Caribbean when the $3.5 billion Baha Mar makes its debut. Being touted as “the Bahamian Riviera,” the oceanfront complex will include Baha Mar Casino & Hotel offering 1,000 guest rooms, the 200-room Rosewood at Baha Mar, the 300-room Mondrian at Baha Mar and the 700-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar. The nearby 694-room Melia Nassau Beach Resort will undergo a complete makeover that will be completed by the end of 2014. The resort, which will remain open during the renovation, will be renamed Melia at Baha Mar. The Baha Mar development also will include Royal Blue Golf Club at Baha Mar, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf course; The Racquet Club at Baha Mar; and a destination spa called ESPA at Baha Mar. “Baha Mar is really going to put (the Bahamas) on the map when they’re finished. It’s going to be amazing,” Owens states.

Owens adds that Nassau has an “incredible” airport (Lynden Pindling International Airport). “You clear customs in Nassau (on the way home), so that’s another really good feature. You just get there early enough and you clear customs, so when you get back to the U.S., you don’t have to do that at whatever gateway you’re going to or your final destination.”

Dominican Republic

Top achievers generally love to be treated like rock stars when they earn an incentive trip, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana makes that easy. This all-inclusive beachfront resort offers 1,787 rooms, a 65,500-sf convention center, nine restaurants, 19 bars and lounges, 12 pools, a casino, spa, Jack Nicklaus golf course and Oro, the top nightclub in the Dominican Republic. Every room is a suite that includes a Jacuzzi, a premium liquor dispenser and 24-hour room service. Attendees will be happy to know that any calls they make from their room to the U.S. and Canada are free of charge.

For groups that like to pack a lot of outdoor activities into their programs, the luxurious Casa de Campo resort in La Romana will fit the bill. Set on 7,000 acres, this all-inclusive resort offers a choice of private villas or hotel accommodations, three Pete Dye-designed golf courses, tennis, polo, horseback riding, water sports and a 245-acre shooting facility. For memorable cocktail receptions and dinners, the resort offers Altos de Chavon, a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village complete with cobblestone streets and spectacular views from its clifftop setting.


After a four-year, multiple-phase overhaul, Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino has enhanced its property with a $1.5 million revamp to its 8,435-sf Grand Ballroom. The updated ballroom is divisible into four salons and can accommodate up to 800 guests. The property boasts 411 guest rooms, each with large, private balconies, seven F&B options, the largest casino in Aruba, a 6,500-sf spa, free-form swimming pool, the new H20asis adults-only pool and high-energy health club.

The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba opened in November. Set on the island’s beautiful Palm Beach, the hotel offers 320 guest rooms all offering private balconies and views of the Caribbean; a 7,500-sf ballroom; multiple outdoor event venues; and 24-hour casino.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico also is reaching out to planners, touting its 1.3 million sf of meeting space, more than 14,000 guest rooms and world-class Puerto Rico Convention Center. In December, Meet Puerto Rico, the island’s CVB, welcomed 86 planners to its second annual four-day Puerto Rico Showcase & Travel Expo. The event included site visits to several properties and an educational seminar on using social media to promote meetings.

The 580,000-sf Puerto Rico Convention Center (PRCC) is the largest facility of its kind in the Caribbean, and groups have a wide choice of hotels nearby, including the city’s largest hotel, the 910-room Caribe Hilton, which offers 65,000 sf of meeting space. In 2012, the property completed the first phase of an $8 million renovation project. The second phase of the project includes a kosher banquet kitchen, renovated ballrooms and upgrades to the hotel’s Condado Lagoon Villas.

The 126-room Hyatt House San Juan is expected to open in 2014, making it the first Hyatt House to open in the Caribbean. A 252-room Courtyard by Marriott is currently in the planning stages.

The first phase of the Bahia Urbana project, which links the PRCC District to Old San Juan, was completed in May. It includes a park-like promenade along San Juan Harbor, an open-air restaurant, an amphitheater and water taxis.

The Puerto Rico Convention Bureau reports that five of its member properties were named to Cvent’s list of the 100 Most Popular Meeting Resorts in 2013. They are Caribe Hilton; El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort; Gran Melia Golf Resort Puerto Rico; Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa; and The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan.

Set on a clifftop on the northeastern tip of Puerto Rico, the 750-room El Conquistador Resort, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is located just 31 miles from San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. The resort offers views of both the Atlantic and the Caribbean, as well as a wide range of amenities, including the award-winning Arthur Hills golf course, the 2.5 acre seaside Coqui Water Park, seven pools, a private marina and the 26,000-sf Waldorf Astoria Spa. Guests also can enjoy water sports and horseback riding on Palomino Island, the resort’s private, 100-acre getaway. Excursions to the nearby El Yunque rainforest, a popular destination for hiking and viewing the island’s rich biodiversity, also can be easily arranged.

El Conquistador also contains an enclave of private villas called Las Casitas Village, a collection of 157 one- to three-bedroom luxury casitas that offer ocean views and personalized butler service.

Delectable Destinations

Island destinations offer an endless number of ways to reward top achievers and leave a good taste in their mouths: “Definitely check out the Fish Fry in Nassau,” Dern advises. “I (also) recommend Twin Brothers and suggest getting conch fritters, fried grouper with peas and rice, fried plantains and macaroni! Best meal in the Bahamas!” I&FMM

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