Monaco:
See You This Winter

To most, Monte Carlo means elegance, luxury, glamour — and the beach. But in fact, notes Cindy Hoddeson, director of meeting and incentive sales for the Monaco Government Tourist Office, the principality first gained fame as a winter resort in the late 1800s. Now she wants to remind meeting managers that the winter months offer great weather, rich cultural options, and good deals.

Some major renovation projects are wrapping up, she adds, including the final stage of work at the Fairmont Monte Carlo, which opens a Willow Stream Spa next spring. And speaking of spas, Monaco draws from the resources of the Mediterranean Sea for treatments at a trio of well-known spas — the montecarlospa at Les Thermes Marins (accessible via underground walkways from both Hôtel de Paris and Hôtel Hermitage), Metropole ESPA Monte-Carlo at the Hotel Metropole, and Le Spa Cinq Mondes at the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort.

This summer, the Société des Bains de Mer company rebranded as Monte Carlo SBM, operator of some of the principality's best-loved properties and venues. One of these, the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel, closed its doors in September and will reopen in May 2009 after a renovation that will decrease room count from 47 to 40 rooms and suites. Responding to the needs of meeting clients, Monte Carlo SBM is adding a conference room for 500 guests along with six breakout rooms at Hôtel Hermitage as well as renovating all rooms in the hotel's Costa and Midi Wings. The rooms will be completed by May 2010 while the meeting space will open in May 2011. Monte-Carlo SBM's latest offering is Moods, a live-music venue that can be used for private events for up to 200 guests.

With the dollar gaining slightly on the Euro at press time, consider taking advantage of Monaco's U.S. dollar-guarantee packages, which extend through 2010.

Palace Resorts:
The Era of the All-Inclusive?

With Wall Street turmoil translating into major budget uncertainty for incentive travel planners, all-inclusive resorts are poised to make a big splash in the market. “In the beginning, all-inclusives had a reputation for cheap food and cheap liquor,” says Ginny Davito, vice president, group and incentive sales, Palace Resorts. “They were seen as purely vacation properties. The meeting and incentive market couldn't see it working for their segment.”

Palace Resorts has worked diligently and successfully to change the perception — and the reality. “Palace has raised the bar,” Davito says. Furthermore, she adds, “In a tough economy, people like to know what their budget is. We don't have a surcharge for private functions. The rate is the rate. It includes your room tax, gratuities, food and beverage, and we allow meeting planners to have as many private functions as they want. Want to extend your coffee break? You can. There's no extra cost.”

The latest key additions to the all-inclusive pricing: wireless access and long-distance phone calls to the U.S. and Canada.

Palace Resorts operates 11 properties throughout Cancun, the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres, and Cozumel in Mexico, and in January will open its 12th location — the 1,791-room Moon Palace Casino, Golf, & Spa Resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Jamaica:
The First Solis to Open in '09

Targeted for a March opening, Solis — a brand started by The Ritz-Carlton Company's legendary Horst Schulze — will make its Western hemisphere debut in the Rose Hall area of Jamaica as the 229-unit Solis Palmyra Resort & Spa. There are only two other Solis hotels, one in Switzerland and one in Ireland. Others will open over the next few years in locations as diverse as Sunny Isles, Fla., and Zala Springs, Hungary. The brand represents relaxed luxury, says Juan Ortega, director of sales and marketing for Palmyra, where he expects groups to make up 70 percent of the business mix.

Situated next to the Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall, Palmyra enjoys the best resort location in Jamaica, with golf at the Rose Hall courses, shopping, and beaches. The resort is also part of a five-year plan known as Celebration Jamaica that includes two more hotels, shopping, restaurants, and a convention center. In addition, Palmyra is in the final approval stages for a casino, which would be the first on the island. Palmyra will offer a spa and 5,500-square-foot ballroom, which holds 400 seated guests for dinner. Five breakout rooms also are planned.

London:
Gearing Up for the Olympics

Since the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in August, attention turns to London, which is gearing up to host the next summer Olympics, July 27 to August 12, 2012. Those preparations can only strengthen the U.K. capital's efforts to host meetings, incentives, and events, said Chris F.J, Lynn, sales & marketing director North America & Long Haul for Visit London. “Even though there are four years until 2012, London's business tourism industry is already seeing some major benefits,” Lynn said. “The overall mindset of London stakeholders seems to have changed — the hotels, transport, venues, and production agencies are all working together to create a consistent approach to delivery, and a willingness to work with and deliver events for large groups coming to London — a fantastic legacy for London's event industry.”

Among the city's initiatives:

  • The creation of The 2012 UK Events Industry Fair Pricing and Practice Charter, which allows event planners to readily identify event venues, destination management companies, producers, and suppliers that have made a firm commitment to reasonable and fair trading terms during the Olympic Games.

  • An increase in hotel rooms from 100,000 to 120,000 by 2012. New hotels are being added to London's already plentiful hotel base, including the Westminster Bridge Park Plaza, the new Hilton at Wembley, and the Renaissance at St. Pancras Chambers.

  • Establishment of new venues, restaurants, and entertainment spaces. To underscore the destination's standing in international cuisine, Visit London launched a food-related guide at The Motivation Show 2008, called “Tasty Reasons to Organize Events in London.” The guide includes sections such as “food to motivate.” Also included is a food-related events calendar and an exclusive “gourmet map” of London, which highlights areas of the capital offering different ethnic cuisines. The new InterContinental London Park Lane, for example, offers the Cookbook Café, designed as a venue for aspiring chefs and sommeliers, and a place where guests can experience wine and food tastings, book launches, drinks master classes, cooking demonstrations, and roundtable discussions with visiting chefs. It also features Theo Randall at the InterContinental, crowned “Italian Restaurant of the Year” by the London restaurant industry.

USVI
What's New and Luxe

With tourism investments of more than $500 million, the beautiful U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas are ready to welcome incentive groups with new luxury properties and extensive renovations of existing hotels.

The hot news from St. Thomas, says Kay Milliner, regional manager, Atlanta, for the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, is the ultra-luxe Jumeirah Botany Bay Resort — a 400-acre, 84-room boutique hotel set to open in 2011. Also on St. Thomas, the Carambola Beach resort is completing a $20 million renovation and expansion, and will become a Renaissance Hotel. Recently renovated: The Ritz-Carlton ($40 million) and Frenchman's Reef and Morning Star Marriott Beach ($25 million).

On St. Croix, the buzz is all about the Wyndham St. Croix Golf Resort and Casino, a 400-room hotel sited on a $250 million complex that will include a 43,000-square-foot conference center. It is due to open in 2010.

Milliner says that group business is strong in the USVI, helped by the facts that American travelers do not need passports to visit and that there's good airlift. In fact, she says, Delta is increasing service to St. Thomas out of Atlanta and New York's JFK this winter.

St. Thomas is also a popular cruise destination, with a new $28 million retail shopping center at the Crown Bay pier. In 2009, Royal Caribbean and Disney will be adding St. Croix — where the main cruise-ship port and pier area has been extensively renovated — to their ports of call.

Canada
More than Moose and Mounties

As Vancouver readies its infrastructure for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the marketing focus will be on Canada as a destination, says Susan Frei, director, insurance market development, Canadian Tourism Commission. “We're not all about moose and Mounties anymore,” she says. Among the new buzz words: organic, fresh, green, and clean. “Canada has always been known for its healthy lifestyle,” says Frei, “and we're becoming known for our food and wine as well.”

Although the economy in Canada is relatively strong, hotels “are negotiating and ready to deal,” for U.S.-based incentive programs, says Frei. Planners will want to check out a new Web tool at the CTC site (www.corporate.canada.travel/en/ca/index.html) called Canada Explorer, which can help reveal what kind of “explorers” your qualifiers are, says Frei.

Los Cabos
Hilton's New Look

Gleaming from a $15 million renovation that has updated guest rooms, renovated the Spa Oasis, and added swim-up taco and sushi bars, the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort next will invest millions to renovate the resort's pool areas and meeting spaces. The work is all part of an effort to reposition the property to join Hilton's top-tier Waldorf=Astoria collection.

With 375 oceanfront rooms and 11,349 square feet of meeting space, the hotel's business mix is 60 percent group and 40 percent transient, according to General Manager Lee Chipman.