Among the news from this year's Motivation Show in Chicago, September 25 to 27: U.S. companies spent $46 billion on travel and merchandise incentives in 2006, according to the U.S. Incentive Merchandise and Travel Marketplace Study sponsored by the Incentive Federation, an umbrella organization that conducts lobbying and research efforts on behalf of the incentive industry. Of that total, $32.7 billion was spent on merchandise and $13.4 billion on incentive travel.

Perhaps even more important than the big bucks posted for 2006 was the trend revealed by the study: “This boom is not going to be ending,” said Frank Katusak, chairman of The Incentive Federation and president of The Incentive Research Foundation. “More than half of large companies that use incentive travel said their budgets had increased over the past two years and will continue to increase over the next two years.” On the merchandise side, 59 percent of respondents expect their budgets to increase over the next two years. For a full report, go to www.incentivecentral.org.

As well, The Incentive Research Foundation released its 2007 Industry Profile Study, which looked at spending on three categories of meetings: incentive travel, motivational meetings, and special events. Spending for all three segments was more than $77 billion in 2006. Other highlights:

The average budget for motivational meetings in 2006 was $68,000.

The average budget for special events in 2006 was $78,000.

On average in 2006, large companies sponsored 4.7 motivational meetings, each involving 197 participants.

On average in 2006, large companies held 91.3 special events.

The full report is available at TheIRF.org.

New and improved A new and improved educational focus was evident at the show, which attracted 13,500 attendees. More than two-thirds of the conference registrants were first-time attendees, says Conference Director Donna Oldenburg.

Also new was Motivation Connect, a Web-based tool for connecting buyers and products. According to Managing Director Peter Erickson, more than 3,600 registrants used the online portal an average of 2.6 times to plan their show participation.

Suppliers on both the travel and merchandise sides of the show were on hand to update attendees with their latest news. Following is a selection of hotel and destination updates of particular interest to FIM readers:

  • Disney: The Celebration Continues Next year looks to be exciting for groups at Disney resorts. The “Year of a Million Dreams” continues into 2008 and includes new attractions and shows. Opening simultaneously in 2008 at both Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., and Walt Disney World Resorts in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Toy Story Mania! will set a new standard for interactive ride/game technology. The attraction will be available for private events. Looking further into the future, Disney Cruise Line is adding two ocean liners, scheduled for completion in 2011 and 2012.

  • Miami Gets Ready for “The 'Bleau”

    With a billion dollars and 22 acres of beachfront, you can really make a splash. And you can expect Fontainebleau's splash to be heard 'round the meeting world when it opens in July. For insurance and financial planners, once you add Scott Flexman and Anne Erickson to the mix, you'll be grabbing your next open dates because selecting this site is a no-brainer.

    The resort “has been brought back to its former glory and equipped with 21st-century amenities,” says Scott Flexman, vice president, sales and marketing, discussing the enormous scope of the renovation and expansion at the 1,500-room Miami Beach property. Meeting and pre-function space totals 150,000 square feet, including three ballrooms. Outside, there is an additional 51,000 square feet of meeting space.

    “There hasn't been a property of this magnitude to open on the Eastern seaboard in a long time,” says Erickson, director of national accounts, insurance.

  • MGM Grand Comes to Foxwoods

    MGM Grand is migrating cross-country to Mashantucket, Conn. The $700 million, 26-story MGM Grand at Foxwoods opens in May with 2 million square feet and 825 guest accommodations and is “filling up fast,” says Suzanne Bajek, senior sales manager, resort sales. Purpose-built for meetings, the MGM Grand will add 115,000 square feet of meeting space to Foxwoods' existing 55,000 square feet. Anchoring the new conference space will be a 50,000-square-foot, pillar-free ballroom that can host up to 3,800 people banquet-style; and a 4,000-seat performing arts theater.

  • The New and Improved Greenbrier

    Fresh from a $50 million renovation, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., reopened in April. While it remains an historic landmark, the Greenbrier is no longer “suit-and-tie formal,” says Michael Karr, director of national sales. He describes the new vibe as a relaxed formality with multigenerational appeal — with additions such as wireless Internet access throughout the resort. Also new is Hemisphere restaurant, featuring globally inspired cuisine in a tasting menu format, paired with wine or cocktails.

  • Puerto Rico: Offshore, In Country

    With a billion dollars in hotel development and renovation and a new convention center marking its first anniversary, Puerto Rico has reached a new level for meetings. “It's offshore and it's easy,” says Ramón Sánchez, executive vice president and COO, Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. The big news for meeting groups includes the new 240-room Renaissance La Concha Hotel & Casino, which has 15,000 square feet of meeting space; the 300-room luxury Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, which will open late next year with 20,000 square feet of meeting space; a 350-room ME by Meliá, the new luxury brand owned by Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts, just breaking ground in Old San Juan; and a 500-room hotel that will open in 2009 under the Sheraton flag, which will be the headquarters hotel for the Puerto Rico Convention Center. Also notable is the new $34 million meeting complex at El Conquistador, the cornerstone of a $100 million enhancement.

  • Multiple Choice in London

    Attendees have more choices than ever in London, from a tour that follows the footsteps of the Beatles, to a private viewing of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London at twilight, to a wine tasting in a private pod of the London Eye, to an exclusive look at “insider's London.” There are 1,500 hotels, many suitable for meetings. Getting there is also easier than ever, with direct flights from 300 cities. The best news: U.S.-dollar guaranteed rates for groups.

  • Monaco Guarantees Rates

    The dollar may weaken, but your Monaco incentive program will keep going strong with U.S. dollar-guaranteed rates through 2009. The guarantee, along with lots of hotel investment, is making 2007 the principality's best year for North American meetings and incentives since 1999, according to Cindy Hoddeson, director, meeting and incentive sales, Monaco Government Tourist Office. Hotel news includes the year-old, 334-room Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, Monaco's first new hotel construction in 75 years; the $50 million renovation of the 619-room Fairmont Monte-Carlo; and the $11.5 million upgrade of the Hotel Hermitage's 54-room Excelsior Wing.

  • St. Kitts Marriott Sets Standards

    The seven-year old St. Kitts Marriott is about as far from a mainstream resort as it gets. “It's ideal for a well-traveled customer who has been to Europe and Asia,” says Simon Bell, director of marketing. The resort's Venetian owner imported the rich appointments from throughout Europe. Here, you can swim with the turtles, dine in a restaurant whose menu is designed by a Michelin-appointed chef, and luxuriate in an Italian-designed spa. According to Bell, 30 percent of the resort's business is groups, including Citicorp, which recently held an incentive program there.

  • Easy Travels to the U.S.V.I.

    Recent passport hassles have groups taking another look at the U.S. Virgin Islands, where no passport is required for entry. More groups are also looking to St. Croix, says Loan Sewer, director of sales, U.S.V.I. Department of Tourism, in part because of the elegant Buccaneer and the Carambola, which is being rebranded as a Renaissance. Both resorts offer golf: the Buccaneer is an 18-hole, par-70 golf course with spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea; the Carambola has 18 holes designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. The news on St. Thomas revolves around stately Frenchman's Reef, which was recently renovated to restore its old-island feel; as well as a new venue, Yacht Haven Grand.

  • Sand + Water = Aqua

    Cancun's stunning new addition, Aqua, reopens in December after repairs to damage from Hurricane Wilma. It's also the flagship of what will become a new brand for parent company Posadas, owner of the Fiesta Americana brand. Described by Mark Benson, vice president of sales, North America, as “Ian Schrager meets W Hotels on steroids and located on the beach,” Aqua has eight connecting pools and three celebrity chefs. The ideal group size is 275 rooms/night. This Aqua is only the first: Posadas is opening others in Mexico City's Santa Fe business district (December 2008) and Acapulco (December 2009). Also planned are Aqua properties in Punta Mita and Los Cabos.

  • Jamaica's First Convention Center

    “In the next three years, the total landscape will change for the good,” said Donnie Dawson, deputy director of tourism-USA, for the Jamaica Tourist Board. New facilities include the $52 million Montego Bay Convention Center, which is expected to open by December 2008 with more than 200,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space in Rose Hall; and the 1,400-acre Harmony Cove in Trelawny, east of Montego Bay, which will include a convention hotel with 1,750 guest rooms and a 75,000-square-foot convention center. Also notable, the 427-room Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort Rose Hall, Jamaica, has completed the first phase of a $15 million project featuring a renovation of all meeting rooms, lobby, guest areas, and Cohoba Lounge. A second phase is under way. Rose Hall Resort and Country Club (formerly Wyndham Rose Hall), an LXR Gold Resort, completed a $35 million renovation including a restyling of the 488 guest rooms and 14 suites, a pool update, a new spa, and renovations to its 11,000 square feet of indoor meeting space.

  • Australia: They Want It

    For the 11th year running, Australia tops the list of wished-for destinations among Americans surveyed by The Harris Poll. “And when we see you next year, we'll be telling you we're at the top for the 12th straight year,” quips Skye Baird, business events manager, Tourism Australia. Baird says the Land Down Under is responding to groups' desire for an ecotourism experience with the new luxury Orion Expedition Cruises, which use Zodiac boats to speed passengers from the cruise ship to shorelines to see aboriginal rock art and 100-foot waterfalls.

  • Shangri-La Comes to North America, Europe

    Discerning meeting and incentive groups who recognize Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts as Asia's leading luxury hotel group don't have much longer to wait for the brand to debut in North America and Europe. In 2008, the first Canadian property will open in Vancouver, B.C. In 2009, Shangri-La will open a hotel in Chicago — its first in the U.S. — and in Europe with the Shangri-La Hotel, Palais d'Iena, Paris. In the ensuing three years, hotels will open in Miami, Las Vegas, New York, London, Vienna, and Toronto. Most will have a room count between 150 and 250, and many will include CHI, the Spa at Shangri-La, the group's signature spa brand based on traditional Chinese and Himalayan treatments.
    Betsy Bair, Regina Baraban, Alison Hall, and Barbara Scofidio

Green Power

At a green meetings seminar moderated by Corporate Meetings & Incentives Editor Barbara Scofidio, a panel of experts shared hands-on tips that planners can implement to begin greening their meetings. “Just raising awareness with your hotel gets the ball rolling, said Kim Boriin, CMP, senior events marketing specialist, Guardian Investor Services LLC, who also incorporates the Environmental Protection Agency's green sourcing guidelines into his RFPs.