The tranquil island of Anguilla evokes an earlier era of Caribbean history. There are no casinos, no tourist-jammed shopping areas, and just a handful of nightspots. In fact, visitors encounter few distractions from the unspoiled white sand beaches and surprisingly good restaurants. The island's economy depends almost completely on tourism. Locals are friendly but no one tries to sell tourists T-shirts on the beaches. Attendees won't find gloss and glitter, but they just might rub shoulders with some of the many celebrities, like Robert DeNiro or Liza Minelli, who escape to this low-key island to get refreshed and recharged.
With less than 10,000 hotel rooms, Anguilla isn't equipped for big groups, but it is well suited for small incentives and meetings. Among the deluxe properties with meeting facilities is the Sonesta Beach Resort Anguilla (formerly the Casablanca), a 100-room resort sited on a long stretch of pristine beach about three miles from the airport.
The short drive from the airport is unspectacular--Anguilla is dry and flat--but this makes the first glimpse of the Sonesta's North African-style pink stucco architecture all the more dramatic. The hotel is a Moroccan fantasy, with arches, fountains, and colorful handcrafted mosaics installed on-site by 20 Moroccan artisans. There are fabulous views of hilly St. Martin across the turquoise sea. Spacious guest rooms, all with balconies and large marble bathrooms, are grouped in low-rise buildings that overlook gardens or the ocean.
When Sonesta took over the five-year-old hotel in January 1996, it pumped $7 million into the infrastructure. The improvements include a new 1,750-square-foot conference center, which opened in February 1997 with room for up to 70 persons theater-style in the largest of its three meeting rooms. An outdoor terrace with sweeping vistas of the Caribbean provides an appealing venue for coffee breaks or sunset cocktails.
Other island venues for group events include a tiny private island called Scilly Cay, where companies such as Motorola and Chrysler have treated their attendees to fresh lobster barbecues. With its landscape featuring driftwood, tropical flowers, and pink conch shell walls, Scilly Cay can accommodate private groups of up to 200 persons.
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the American Airlines gateway to Anguilla, with daily American Eagle flights to Wallblake Airport. Tyden Air or WINAIR fly to Anguilla from nearby St. Martin, and a ferry service runs between St. Martin/Sint Maarten and Anguilla several times daily.