Today's been-there, done-that travelers crave new experiences. In the past six years, adventure travel has grown 6 percent to 8 percent annually, according to the Salina, Colo.-based Adventure Travel Society. But while most people think of such travel in terms of challenging physical activities, incentive adventures can be something quite different, says Helen Nodland, whose Chicago-based company, Nodland Travel Enterprises, mounts educational programs in exotic locales. She defines incentive adventure travel as a balance “between a good deal of comfort and a variety of opportunities in the physical world or the intellectually challenging world.”
Jim Skiba, director of incentives for Intrigue, a San Francisco incentive house, says that many physical activities can be toned down for incentive groups. “When I think of soft adventure, I think of something connected with ecology or the environment, or getting more exercise than you might sitting by the hotel pool.” White-water rafting, for example, has a reputation for danger, but in reality, “level-three white water means participants are sitting on the raft and paddling occasionally.” On the other hand, activities perceived as safe might not be. “Someone hiking even on a flat trail can twist a knee,” he notes.
Skiba says it's important for a corporate group to offer a variety of activities to accommodate attendees with varying fitness levels. He suggests having incentive winners complete detailed health questionnaires to make sure that they are up to any physical challenges.
That said, here are some upscale adventure options for your “been-there, done-that” top producers who expect a heavy dose of luxury with their adventure experience.
Explora, Patagonia, Chile
The Explora resort combines a breathtaking outdoor setting with the comfort of deluxe accommodations. In the remote Patagonia region of Chile, surrounded by mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, Explora offers such amenities as gourmet cuisine, spa treatments, and distinctive architecture.
Group Size: Up to 60
Getting There: Daily flights on Lan Chile from Los Angeles, New York, and Miami take 10, nine, and eight hours, respectively. A four-hour flight to Punta Arenas follows, then a five-hour drive to the resort.
Prime Time: Weather in Patagonia is unpredictable. “You can experience four seasons in one day,” says Daniela Orellana, a spokeswoman for the resort. But weather in Chile is not extreme at any time of the year.
Target Attendees: Savvy and educated baby boomers, “those who enjoy being outdoors but who will never give up a good glass of wine,” Orellana says.
Precautions/Special Needs: Passport, endurance for the journey to the hotel
Activities: Hiking the glaciers, spa treatments, swimming in the lap pool, horseback rides, mountain biking, trekking, photo safaris
Contact: (800) 858-0855; email@example.com
King Pacific Lodge, British Columbia
King Pacific Lodge, a member of the Rosewood Hotels & Resorts group, offers a remote and luxurious retreat with helicopter adventures, marine wildlife cruises, fishing, a full-service spa, and gourmet dining.
Group Size: From 16 to 30
Getting There: Vancouver is the gateway, easily reached from most U.S. cities. Flights from Vancouver to Prince Rupert leave early Mondays and Fridays and return late on the same days. A floatplane picks up guests and brings them to the lodge, a total travel time of about 2½ hours from Vancouver. Many groups charter planes from Vancouver; the floatplane service is part of the lodge's package price.
Prime Time: King Pacific Lodge has only one season: late May to early October. Visitors interested in catching king salmon should arrive in May or June, but September is the best time for viewing bears.
Target Attendees: High-level management groups or senior sales staff interested in a moderately challenging physical program
Precautions/Special Needs: Passport is recommended. Two pieces of valid ID required. Because of the remoteness of the lodge, it has its own helicopter fleet available to take people to medical facilities, which are a 45-minute flight away.
Activities: Daily guided helicopter excursions for hiking, fly-fishing, kayaking, and beachcombing; marine wildlife, sunset, and evening cruises; yoga sessions; aromatherapy massage; fishing tournaments; wilderness scavenger hunts; adventure races; survivor games; and aqua golf
Contact: (888) 592-5464; www.kingpacificlodge.com
Abano Terme Spa Town and Hotel Ritz, Italy
In northeast Italy, 25 miles from Venice, Abano Terme is known for its waters and mineral-rich mud. In town, the Hotel Ritz has its own spa and maintains an old-world European flavor, with many guests dressing formally for dinner. A weeklong cultural adventure combines a five-star spa and cooking experience with excursions.
Group Size: 15 to 20
Getting There: Fly into Venice, a which takes about six hours from the eastern U.S., and then take a 40-minute ride to Abano Terme and the Hotel Ritz.
Prime Time: Spring and fall are the best times to avoid crowds. “August is out, as all of Italy is shut down,” explains John McKeon, vice president of sales for iExplore, which organizes the trips.
Target Attendees: Top incentive winners who have done more typical programs and are seeking something different. Participants tend to be 40 to 50 years old, adventurous, but they seek good food and pampering rather than a big physical challenge.
Precautions/Special Needs: Passport
Activities: Gourmet cooking lessons feature local cuisine; European spa treatments; tours of historic Verona; tour of Bassano del Grappa, a grappa-producing town; bicycling.
Contact: (800) 439-7567, ext. 134, or www.iexplore.com
Tips for Planning Adventures
Adventure Travel Society (www.adventuretravel.com/ats) provides links to companies that organize adventure travel
Specialty Travel Index (www.specialtytravel.com) lists operators, arranged by interest and location
Iexplore (www.iexplore.com), affiliated with National Geographic, offers adventure travel packages
The World Outdoors (www.theworldoutdoors.org) offers resources for active adventure travel
1-World Adventures (www.1worldadventures.com/luxurytravel.htm) provides links to luxury adventure operators around the world
GORP Travel (www.gorp.com) outlines 3,000 adventure trips designed for active travelers