Though a recent Site Index survey identified Africa, Hawaii, and China as the top-three up-and-coming incentive destinations among respondents (followed by Las Vegas, Germany, and the Dominican Republic), there appears to be a disconnect between some of those choices and what’s do-able in this economy and business environment.

When asked what is the greatest influencer in selecting a destination for an incentive trip, 82 percent of respondents (104 registrants in the Site Index database) ranked cultural or exotic appeal highest. Yet, says Fay Beauchine, CITE, Site International Foundation president and president, engagement and events, Carlson Marketing, Minneapolis, Minn., “the primary reason for choosing a destination is still financially driven, which is no surprise in this economy. Quality service is an extremely close second.”

An informal survey of Corporate Meetings & Incentives’ advisory board members questioned some of the results of the Site survey. Ira Almeas, CITE, president, Impact Incentives in Florham Park, N.J., saw the survey as being “way too broad. Up-and-coming destinations should stem from locations that have new infrastructure, such as a new airport, road system, and resort/hotels that cater to corporate groups.” For example, China as a country would not be considered up and coming, he says, “but a resort within China, such as Sanya, is an up-and-coming destination with new five-star beach resorts, good flights, and plenty of quality activities such as golf and spas.” He also recommended Cartagena, Colombia, and Panama as new destinations “that have recently developed the U.S.–quality resorts and infrastructure that we seek when placing incentive groups. In Europe, he agrees with Berlin as a city with “the vibe and new properties that make it ideal for incentives.”

Though the excitement about Africa has increased even more since it was showcased during the 2010 FIFA world cup soccer games in South Africa, several advisory board members brought up concerns over safety issues, the time it takes to get there, and the cost. Only one of the respondents, Jennifer Glynn, director, marketing communications
, at Boston Scientific Neurovascular, 
Fremont, Calif., is using Africa in 2012 “because the destination is unusual and the audience is mostly international. It's considered a premium destination by our audience.”

China was not on the radar of many of the advisory board members. “I’m surprised about China, especially with its pollution issues,” said Todd Zint, CMP, CMM, vice president, meetings and event marketing, NFP, Austin, Texas, “I would think of destinations like Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and Thailand, which are culturally diverse with rich traditions, as up and coming.”

For others, like Chuck Lane, director of incentive travel and public relations at Humana, Green Bay, Wis., their companies do not allow incentive trips beyond the continental United States. Anything beyond the Caribbean and Mexico is a tough sell for James Vachon, associate director, events, meetings and conventions for Millennium: The TAKEDA Oncology Co., Cambridge, Mass., “because of the cost of travel (we would want to offer business class if people were flying so far), as well as because of perception issues.”

All agree that Hawaii does not fit the category of an “up and coming” destination and is the most commonly—and often repeatedly—used by advisory board members, especially those in the financial services sector. Dan Young, CMP, director of event planning and field recognition, Thrivent Financial, Minneapolis, Minn., who is taking a group to the St. Regis Princeville in 2013, said he also would consider the Dominican Republic if a major chain opened there.

The complete Site Index survey is available on the Site Foundation Web site.

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