— Albuquerque, New Mexico —
HYATT REGENCY TAMAYA
The Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa is an immersion experience, a place where visitors are transported to an ancient and proud culture. Visitors can make adobe with their hands, be tantalized by the smell of fresh bread baking in Pueblo ovens, stroll along the Rio Grande, and listen for coyotes at dusk.
Working together, the Hyatt and the Santa Ana Pueblo leaders have created a tranquil destination that respects and highlights Pueblo culture, yet offers all the pleasures of a luxury resort. Tamaya's adobe architecture is brilliantly sited; from a distance, the resort's buildings appear to be stones on the high-desert landscape. As an example of cultural sensitivity, Tamaya's exterior lighting at night is subdued so that neighboring Pueblo residents (and resort guests) can stargaze.
For golfers, the Twin Warriors course, located at the resort, gives players strategic options on nearly every hole. The course is routed in and around 20 ancient cultural sites. Another fine golf option is the Santa Ana Golf Club, which is across the road from Twin Warriors. Santa Ana features 27 holes and was the boyhood course of PGA player Notah Begay.
— LARRY KELTTO
— New Orleans —
RITZ-CARLTON, NEW ORLEANS
When you walk through the air-conditioned entrance of New Orleans' only AAA Five-Diamond luxury hotel, you're not just leaving Canal Street — you're entering another world. While you know you're in a hotel, the feel is more of a stay with a gracious host in one of the antebellum mansions in the Garden District. This elegant 452-room property was a department store until a few years ago.
While I didn't have a chance to sample the spa, I heard that the French-inspired treatments, such as the signature Napoleon's Royal Massage, are fabulous.
Because it is on the edge of the French Quarter, there's plenty to see and do. But for those who simply must golf, several challenging courses are within a half-hour's drive of the hotel, including the Jack Nicklaus — designed par-72 Championship Course at English Turn and the 36-hole course at Eastover, which has hosted qualifying tournaments for the PGA Tour.
— SUE PELLETIER
— Amelia Island, Florida —
AMELIA ISLAND PLANTATION
It's the unspoiled beauty of Amelia Island Plantation that makes it so memorable. On Florida's Northeastern tip, near Jacksonville and bordering Georgia, this resort is a charming retreat tucked into 1,350 acres of pristine tropical flora. More than three miles of clear blue water, bordered by unspoiled beach to the east and the natural green marshlands of the Intracoastal Waterway to the west, make Amelia Island Plantation a panoramic blend of top-notch amenities and nature.
Attendees can be pampered at the spa, wander seven miles of nature trails, pedal bikes around the island, ride horses on the beach, or get their heart pumping on 23 tennis courts and at the health and fitness center. A staff naturalist leads groups on nature tours, and 54 holes of championship golf are nestled into the island's primal marshlands and majestic Atlantic dunes. And Amelia Island Resort is a charming, ultra-private community packed with upscale shops and eateries.
— KELLE LARKIN
— New York City —
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL NEW YORK
An instant architectural landmark when it opened 10 years ago, The Four Seasons Hotel New York provided a sense of urban theater that, with its 52-story tower and soaring post-modern design by famed architect I.M. Pei, still feels exciting. During my recent visit, the hotel looked as stylish as ever. The trademark Four Seasons service, friendly and attentive, can be felt throughout.
Long a favorite of upscale individual business travelers and a popular watering hole and dining spot for local execs, The Four Seasons New York has also become popular with small corporate groups. Nine function rooms can accommodate up to 200 people for a reception and 160 for a sit-down dinner.
The hotel's spa has just completed a $5 million redesign, overseen by architect Peter Marino. State-of-the-art fitness equipment has been added. There has also been a softgoods re-do of the 368 oversized guest rooms — they average 600 square feet, which is huge for Manhattan — and a renovation of the hotel's two presidential and one penthouse suite, designed by the legendary Pei.
— REGINA BARABAN
— Salt Lake City —
You may think that Salt Lake City is a tough sell as an incentive destination — until you step into the 775-room Grand America. I certainly wasn't expecting to have my socks knocked off, but they were.
The hotel has fittingly been described as a “European boutique hotel built on American scale.” The lobby, lined with Italian marble and warmed by huge flower-filled urns, opens into a spacious, sun-drenched parlor where a harpsichordist plays during afternoon tea. It's a grand space, but not stuffy. The staff, who certainly must have had their mettle tested during the Olympics, make guests feel like visiting royalty.
The hotel is an aesthetic experience: From the white Vermont granite exter or to the Murano glass chandeliers to the thick European wool carpets, yards of silk wall covering, and a Mediterranean-style formal garden, even to the large metal guest room keys that operate electronic locks, everything evokes the best of European hospitality. Half the guest rooms are (oversized) suites, and there's nothing standard about the 700-square-foot “standard” rooms. All rooms feature marble-and-brass bathrooms, custom French cherry-wood furniture, stylish draperies, and much more. There is also a spa, indoor/outdoor pools, a huge banquet kitchen that was designed for group culinary events/classes, and some of the finest golf and skiing in the West just 30 minutes away in Park City.
— REGINA MCGEE
— London —
What could be more fitting for an incentive group than an event in the Tower of London and a private viewing of the Crown Jewels? How about a reception atop the Wellington Arch? Or an event at the 18th-century Somerset House, newly opened to groups, which houses a stunning collection of art (including that of the Courtauld Institute of Art)? Many of London's venerable museums, including the Victoria & Albert, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum, can be used as spectacular venues, especially after museum hours when groups can take over the galleries.
If your group's cup of tea is more contemporary, take them on a ride aboard British Airways' London Eye. Built to celebrate the Millennium, the 443-foot-high wheel is the fourth-tallest structure in London, and its enclosed capsules comfortably fit 25 people for a champagne reception. The revolving wheel affords spectacular views, especially after dusk, of all of London, with the houses of Parliament and Big Ben just across the river.
For a small upscale incentive, as many as 12 can dine in The Dorchester hotel's new Krug Room. Below ground level in the hotel's gleaming master kitchens, the room is invisible behind a wall of opaque glass that, at the flick of a switch, becomes transparent. Inside the room, red leather chairs are set at a long glass table, all surrounded by rich taupe leather walls. The Krug Room's menu can be custom-fit to any group, and guests can watch the preparation of their meal while sipping champagne.
The Savoy hotel, next to the Savoy Theatre and close to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, has reopened its Grill Room after a sensitive redecoration that kept the art deco influences while updating the look. And the Canary Wharf district's new Marriott West India Quay has 301 rooms and the 47-unit Marriott Executive Apartments.
— BARBARA L. BREWER
— Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia —
With Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures living side by side, Malaysia bills itself as “truly Asia” to visitors. Malaysia offers incentive planners many extremes: from Kuala Lumpur, the most modern of cities; to remote rain forest villages where groups can experience wildlife and the natives' traditional ways; to comfortable resorts with water sports, golf, spas, and other activities.
The capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is a growing metropolis of 1.4 million people that resembles many other modern urban settings. The bustling city has several four- and five-star hotel brands: Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La, Westin, Marriott, and Mandarin Oriental. Nightclubs and restaurants entertain and feed locals and tourists, and a handful of upscale shopping malls teem with international retailers. Art and craft collectors and bargain hunters are drawn to the city's Central Market, which features the work of Malaysian artisans, and to nearby Petronas Street, where open-air vendors offer convincing designer knockoffs at rock-bottom prices.
Incentive groups usually travel on to Penang, which combines British and Eastern influences in a seaside setting; to sunny islands such as Langkawi, where water sports rule; to Sarawak, where visitors can mingle with the Ibans, Bidayuh, Melanau, and other tribes that maintain their traditional lifestyles; or to Sabah, home of the highest peak in the region, rain forests, and direct access to diving in the South China Sea. Resorts offer friendly and efficient service, and English is commonly spoken.
Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, and Philippine Airlines and their respective codeshare partners offer regular service from New York and Los Angeles. It's a long journey — figure a minimum of 20 hours from New York or Los Angeles with one stop.
— MEGAN ROWE
— Paris —
Paris is more inviting than ever to incentive organizers. The 1,000-room Concorde Lafayette Hotel, the largest hotel in the city, links to the Palais des Congrès and is very user-friendly for planners. The spacious lobby features four welcome desks for groups, situated in a very visible area, and a semi-private area for group check-in. For incentive groups, Club Lafayette offers a hotel within the hotel with 270 rooms with four-star superior service. One of the most appealing features of the hotel is the breathtaking view of Paris from the Bar Panoramic on the top floor.
The palatial InterContinental Le Grand Hotel reopened in April 2003 after extensive renovations. The property is a historic monument and houses one of the most beautiful event rooms in Paris, L'Opera Salon. Another piece of history, Café de la Paix, is attached to the hotel. After a $150 million renovation, Café de la Paix has one of the most modern kitchens in Paris.
Hilton just opened its sixth property in Paris on March 30 at L'Arc de Triomphe. The Hilton Arc de Triomphe Paris, designed and decorated in 1930s art deco style, is across the road from Parc Monceau and is a short walk from L'Arc de Triomphe and Les Champs-Elysées. The Hilton Paris Rive Gauche, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, recently completed a series of renovations at the price of 7 million euro. The hotel has some of the most phenomenal views of the Eiffel Tower.
A popular activity for incentives is the Yachts de Paris, five ships available for dinner cruises or private hire with gourmet meals prepared by Chef Gerard Besson. The ships accommodate from 10 to 650.
Not to be missed, Les Pavillons de Bercy is one of the most intriguing venues I've seen anywhere in the world. Set in a private compound, its three buildings house antique and historical memorabilia from music halls and carnivals dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries — life-size wax figures, swing boats, and carousels. Les Pavillons de Bercy is available for private hire.
— HELENA MIELE
— Tahiti —
To experience French Polynesia is to fall under the spell of island fever in its most enchanting form. Cast away any preconceived ideas about “Tahiti and Her Islands ” — the flight time is only 2.5 hours longer than to Hawaii, and these islands receive fewer visitors in a year than Hawaii does in 10 days.
Getting there is easier than you may think. Tahiti can be reached in 7.5 hours from Los Angeles via Air France, Air New Zealand, and French Polynesia's own carrier, Air Tahiti Nui, with the latter having nonstop service from New York.
A visit to the region begins and ends in Papeete on the island of Tahiti, the strategic gateway to the South Pacific. Throughout the islands, there is an abundance of four- and five-star resorts, and several new high-end properties are under development. Within minutes of Papeete's international airport are Le Meridien Tahiti Hotel (138 rooms), Sheraton Hotel Tahiti (190 rooms), InterContinental Beachcomber Resort Tahiti (265 rooms and bungalows), and the nearly completed Radisson Plaza Resort Tahiti (165 rooms), with its own black-sand beach.
A half-hour ferry ride or a few minutes on Air Tahiti, the domestic inter-island carrier, transports visitors to the lush, dramatic scenery of Moorea. Restaurants, sightseeing, and shopping complement an impressive array of accommodations, including Moorea Pearl Resort & Spa (95 rooms and bungalows), Sheraton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa (106 bungalows), and InterContinental Beachcomber Resort Moorea (143 rooms and bungalows).
The process of choosing between multistarred resorts and top-tier hotel brands disappears on Taha'a, home of the Tahitian vanilla industry, where the island's sole property offers the ultimate in seclusion. Le Taha'a Private Island & Spa (60 bungalows) is the most intimate and exclusive property in the islands, with spectacular beachfront and over-water bungalows with views of neighboring Bora Bora.
A 15-minute helicopter flight departing from the resort's beachfront landing pad takes guests to Bora Bora. Spectacular Mount Otemanu presides in emerald green glory over the island's picture-perfect lagoon. The variety of sophisticated hotels includes Bora Bora Nui Resort & Spa (120 bungalows and suites), Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort (80 bungalows), and Bora Bora Lagoon Resort (80 bungalows).
French Polynesia's unique over-water bungalows offer direct access to the lagoon via a private stairway for swimming and snorkeling. Many also have glass coffee tables for viewing the colorful fish below. The concept has been developed to its full potential at Le Meridien Bora Bora Hotel (100 bungalows).
All of the major resorts typically offer nonmotorized water sports to guests on a complimentary basis and can organize activities such as circle island tours, inland Jeep safaris, shark and ray feeding outings, and visits to black pearl farms and ancient temples.
— LAUREN HARO