Planners taking programs overseas can be in for some surprises
Beyond Borders: What's the biggest surprise in terms of international?
Elaine Macy: There are a few: noclauses, as in the U.S.; payment in international currency, which is subject to fluctuation; and payment schedules that require more money in advance. Concessions vary widely and are never given as in the U.S.
BB: How about in terms of hotel facilities and services?
EM: Hotels in Asia are the greatest surprise, because most rooms have two twin beds. King-size beds are not common unless you are working with American-based brands. European hotels differentiate much more between single and double rooms and have different pricing. Many international properties will give a rate per person and not per room, which can be very surprising. Hotel spas in Europe are often “healing” spas that are focused on holistic medicine and provide nutritional and physical exams. Asian spas are extremely different. You may find massage therapists standing over you on the table or actually on your back. A deep-tissue massage may be much stronger than you are used to. The bottom line: Ask questions and never assume.
Be aware that many European properties do not provide BEOs [banquet event orders] or anything in writing until arrival, and even then some provide planners with only verbal confirmation. In Asia, you may be provided with a written confirmation, but upon arrival will find that the property cannot meet your exact request. They work better if you operate in their usual way and do not try to change their systems to fit your needs. For example, you may request (and even discuss on the site inspection) a “dinner by the bite” format, but when you arrive you will find a complete buffet, with all hot and cold items on trays and no chafing dishes.
BB: What advice do you have for choosing an appropriate incentive location?
EM: Prioritizing the program requirements is the first thing to do. List the budget, time of year, size of program, cities of origin, any special requirements like golf and sightseeing, and whether you want a city or resort destination. Then you can begin to consider your options. If you have a tight budget, consider Europe between November and March. If it's a high-end incentive, consider your group's history and travel experience. If your group has been to South Africa, how about Russia? If they have never been to London, Rome, or Paris, I would not start with Portugal or Tokyo. You also could combine destinations (depending on budget): Consider Florence and Venice, or two areas of Bali, or Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand.
BB: Is a site inspection a must when booking overseas?
EM: If you have never been to the destination, it is absolutely necessary. You have to experience the unique customs, foods, accommodations, and services to make that final decision.
BB: What do you see as hot destinations right now, and what are some up-and-coming destinations?
EM: The hot destinations are still Italy, and of course, the Caribbean and Mexico. South America is becoming much more exciting and popular. Up-and-coming destinations are Russia, Peru, Australia, and South Africa. China is also a hot destination, especially for companies with offices in Asia.
With 23 years of experience at two large incentive houses, Elaine Macy has traveled extensively throughout Europe and lived in Asia. She is now director of global sales for Preferred Hotel Group, working directly with more than 400 international and domestic properties.