Around the world, a variety of destinations are emerging as favorites for incentive programs. Among the incentive travel specialists whom we spoke to, including A-Plus Meetings & Incentives, CWT Meetings & Events, Dittman Incentive Marketing, Maritz Travel Company, Ovation Global DMC, and Spear One, these were some of the most mentioned
cities and countries, categorized by region.
South Africa continues to draw groups that want to help participants check off their bucket lists with a one-of-a-kind safari experience. “Safaris are very unique for groups,” says Maritz Travel’s Ruszala.
Asia continues to appeal to groups that have business ties to the region. Some of the most cited countries and cities among the planners we spoke to included China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Central and South America:
Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Panama, and Peru are drawing the interest of more incentive groups and providing value, as well as unique cultural experiences. Another country to watch is Colombia, which continues to invest heavily in attracting both incentive and meetings groups.
In Europe, Prague, in the Czech Republic, was noted by both CWT’s Wagner and Maritz’s Ruszala as an unexpected but rather popular incentive spot. “As more groups go overseas again, they are starting to go back to places that people may not have been to before,” says Wagner. “Prague has the allure, and great amount of lift. You get a great experience there but you also have that precious time that you save in getting there.” Other countries of note were Spain, Switzerland, and Monaco.
Ovation’s Delaney saw a number of clients headed to the Middle East this year, traveling to such places as Jordan, Qatar, Oman, and Abu Dhabi. “These countries have so much more to offer than what you might think,” says Delaney.
Both Australia and New Zealand are still very popular with incentive groups, as is French Polynesia.
— Deanna Ting
As the U.S. economy swings upward, and incentive
travel programs continue to make their slow but steady
comeback, new incentive travel trends have taken hold this
year. These trends reflect the changing demographics of the
U.S. workforce as well as the new economic realities that face
businesses on a global scale. "I think we've moved beyond the
rhetoric of the past few years and as event and incentive
planners, we've become more focused on having programs that
deliver more value overall," says Dahlton A. Bennington, senior
meeting planner for Coral Gables, FL-based A-Plus Meetings
For many programs, delivering value means offering family-
inclusive programs, or traveling to adventurous,
off-the-beaten- path locales. Here's a closer look.
One emerging trend, says Bennington, is the resurgence of
family-inclusive itineraries. "In the past year, three of my
clients have looked at adding families to their itineraries for
2014," she says. Tony Wagner, vice president of CWT Meetings
& Events, sees a similar trend. "Some companies, I think,
are having a younger salesforce or workforce coming in now that
wants to include their families on the incentive trips."
By extension, Wagner sees more organizations crafting their
incentive travel programs to appeal to a variety of lifestyles.
"There are multiple generations now," Wagner explains. "You
might see a track of activities who are more suited for Gen Y
and Millennials, or another one for the Boomers, or one for
less-experienced travelers and one for those that have traveled
extensively. There's a different blend of activities because
motivators differ for every person."
Rather than adhere to traditional incentive travel components
such as golf and spa, many groups are opting to forge their own
paths in creating programs that work best for their attendee
mix, says Jim Ruszala, senior director of marketing for Maritz
Increasingly, more attendees are seeking adventurous
itineraries. According to Lincoln, NE-based incentive house
TenDot Corporate Travel, nearly 65 percent of its clients'
programs included such activities as mountain biking,
whitewater rafting, cultural tours, and photography lessons. "A
lot of our demographics are looking for adventure activities,"
says CWT's Wagner. "They're heading to places like Colorado and
Idaho where they can do things like hiking and rafting."
Cruises are also becoming a more popular option for incentive
travel groups. Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise
Lines International Association (CLIA), and former CEO and
president of Maritz Travel, says that the variety of ships and
itineraries to choose from make cruising particularly
attractive for incentive groups. "There's a product for
everyone, from large to small, and very often, it's a very
all-inclusive type of experience," she adds. "Our cruise lines
are doing a lot more to educate incentive and meeting planners
about all the opportunities that are available in the cruise
Duffy says that larger groups will find plenty of space and
activities onboard some of the newer mega ships, from lines
such as Royal Caribbean International. For smaller groups, she
says the option to charter luxury small ships like those from
Paul Gauguin, SeaDream, Seabourn, and Silversea, is highly
desirable, as are European river cruises.
Renew Those Passports
While many organizations opted to travel closer to home in the
wake of the recession and, there are signs that more companies
are opening up to the possibilities of international incentive
travel programs - and heading to some unexpected,
non-traditional locales. "International travel for us is still
huge," says Aofie Delaney, director of global sales for Ovation
Global DMC, based in Dublin. "Many clients still want to go
abroad, whether for long-haul or short-haul trips, and it's
those unique experiences that you can have that are still key."
Susan Adams, director of special initiatives for New Brunswick,
NJ-based Dittman Incentive Marketing, echoes Delaney's
observations. "There is greater interest in international
programs than there has been in some time."
Maritz Travel's Ruszala says that more companies are realizing
that long-haul destinations are not a deterrent in motivating
incentive winners. "I think it's an assumption among many
people that the longer the distance you travel, the more the
motivation value gets diluted, but that's not the case."
Ruszala cites Maritz Travel's April 2013 whitepaper, "Making
Destination Choice Go the Distance," which found that as long
as the chosen incentive destination aligns well with attendees'
preferences, perceptions, and appeal, longer travel times will
not devalue the overall experience.
Luxury Is Relative
Traditional notions of luxury no longer apply to incentive
travel. "Luxury needs to be something much more authentic for
our clients these days," says Delaney. "It's doing what the
locals would do. It's about luxury in the sense that you can't
organize it on your own - that's what people are defining as
Today, a luxury experience might be something like having a
private dinner on the Great Wall of China, or cocktails on an
iceberg with surprise encounter with whales, according to
Ruszala. "The inspiration and meaningfulness of unique
activities should always align with the local culture, theme,
"Luxury is a relative term," adds Dittman's Adams. "Companies
are slowly returning to known luxury brands, but they
definitely are looking for a great guest experience at good
value, no matter what hotel or destination they choose."
While perception issues are not as weighty as they were just a
few years ago, they still exist, which is why many
organizations continue to make the ROI of each incentive
program central to any major decisions. "Perceptions of
grandeur are always a consideration, and often contemplated
with each organization's need to recognize and reward their
talent," says Bennington. "Fiscal responsibility is still a
good rule of thumb."