Incentive travel may make up a small part of the meetings, incentives, conventions, and events industry, but it is a lucrative one, and in many ways as important as the much larger events in the acronym MICE. After all, incentive travel is a vital tool that many companies use to retain their best and brightest salespeople and woo their biggest customers.
All incentive travel programs have two goals in common. The first is to wow the participants with a trip that they couldn't take on their own so they know how highly the company values their achievements. The second is to inspire them to keep going above and beyond, so they get to go on a fantastic trip again next year.
Here is a look at where companies are sending their best of the best:
THE UNITED STATES
Within the U.S., there are the perennial favorites that will always be at or near the top of any list of hot incentive destinations, chief among them Florida, and notably Southern Florida. "For winter warmth, the South Florida area -- Miami, particularly South Beach and Key Biscayne -- is really the main destination for a U.S.--based company that wants to stay domestic and still have almost a guarantee of nice weather in the traditional incentive months of January, February, March, and April," says Scott Siewert, president of Fab At Incentives.
Mike May, president and CEO of Spear One, believes that this is a good time to head up the west coast to Clearwater, saying that its award-winning white-sand beaches have recently been joined by some new and renewed incentive-quality hotels.
Although the flight time is far longer, Hawaii is a destination that "never fails to appeal to any group," says Sarah Thompson, director of purchasing and product development at EGR International Inc. "It's exotic, far enough away from the mainland that attendees feel that they are really 'getting away,' the activity options are endless, and there are a plethora of hotel options within a large range of rates."
Las Vegas remains a favorite
domestic destination for
Then there is Las Vegas, which Siewert calls "a no-brainer." JNR International's clients are "booking a lot of programs in Las Vegas," say Vicki Kern, vice president of global sourcing and proposal development, and Kim Hester, an account executive in global meetings and incentives at the firm. "Our clients are doing a lot of larger programs, and Vegas has great airlift, easy transfers from the airport, flexible function space, and top-quality hotels."
Also near the top are the traditional big cities: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and, of course, Miami, which does double duty as a beach destination. "Urban experiences offer historical, cultural, and local experiences," says Kendra Murray, CMM, CIS, vice president of meetings and incentives for Bishop-McCann. "They are a big hit with every generation!"
MotivAction is "finding a great deal of interest in second-tier cities such as Austin, Nashville, Asheville, San Antonio, Boston, and Philadelphia, says Kari Vrba, the firm's senior vice president of business development. "There are new or refreshed hotels and rooms inventory and as long as the airlift works out, then our groups are open to looking beyond the traditional cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Orlando."
And first- or second-tier, major cities offer a lot of activities that can't be found anywhere else, says Richard Gaeta, president of Premier Incentives, who points to Boston for its "history, great restaurants, sports teams, attractions -- and the Wynn Casino is coming to Boston."
Cities that are rugged-yet-beautiful outdoor destinations like Denver and Scottsdale, AZ (right next to Phoenix), remain popular. "We're also seeing a lot of interest in mountain destinations, such as Aspen, Vail, and Jackson Hole," says Thompson. "For incentives that regularly visit a beach destination, mountain locations can offer a fresh change of scenery, whether the group travels during ski season or summer season.
But the one city that came up more than any other was Nashville, named by seven of the 14 meeting and incentive planning firms interviewed for this feature. Walkability, a central location for the East Coast, a unique culture, interesting history, and great entertainment all factor into Music City's popularity, planners said. Nashville has "become popular among Millennials for the different atmosphere it offers: a music scene, eclectic eateries, and alternative activities such as an Amazing Race teambuilding event," say Beth Gear-D'Imperio, project manager, and Gregg Gensone, venue sourcing manager, at Ashfield Meetings & Events. "It is a unique environment for not only the younger generation but for all active thrill-seekers."
When the planners we interviewed for this story were asked about the hottest new incentive destinations, two small European countries came up again and again: Iceland and Croatia. And there was a similar reason for both: their use as locations in the hugely popular HBO series, Game of Thrones.
"People that follow Game of Thrones have seen the grandeur and beauty of Iceland's scenery," says Scott Siewert, president of Fab At Incentives. Even though it is a bit of a challenge to get to, Dubrovnik, Croatia, is seeing the same thing "because of Game of Thrones," says Ira Almeas, CITE, president of Impact Incentive & Meetings. Of course, it is also a good value and has wonderful venues, he adds.
The TV show isn't the only reason, of course. Iceland has been trending dramatically in the last few years. "Iceland has seen a huge boom in popularity and is becoming a favorite of the rich and famous," says Sarah Thompson, director of purchasing and product development at EGR International. And its location -- the closest part of Europe to the U.S. -- is a big boon in a time when air travel is seen as an increasing hassle.
As for Dubrovnik, "the combination of aesthetics of the old city and the rich cultural influences of the area keep this destination on the top of upscale incentive groups' lists," adds Patrick T. Smith, senior director of group sales, North America, for Leading Hotels of the World and treasurer of the Incentive Research Foundation. Mike May, president of Spear One, adds that the activities, history, nature, and food-and-wine culture give this one-time cruise port the ability "to stand on its own as a host destination. It is a gem on the Adriatic."