England: Fit for a Queen The legendary Ritz Hotel feels like a small island of serenity in the heart of London, far from the crowds just beyond its doors. A renovation completed in May restored the splendor of the hotel's original Louis XVI decor and added dedicated ISDN lines and U.S.-compatible modem sockets to the guest rooms.
The Queen Mother keeps a corner table for lunch at the Ritz Hotel's restaurant, a fantasy in rose and ivory, highlighted by pillars and walls of rare marble, floor-to-ceiling windows, and an outdoor terrace and garden overlooking Green Park. Three beautifully appointed private suites near the restaurant can accommodate up to 30 people for meetings, 40 for meals, or as many as 90 for receptions.
In a bucolic setting 90 miles southwest of London lies the stately country house hotel known as Chewton Glen. Situated at the edge of a vast wooded preserve dotted with dreamy little villages, Chewton Glen combines rustic touches with a regal ambiance. Its 18th-century red-brick manor house, swathed in ivy and punctuated by classic white gables, is surrounded by 70 acres of immaculate grounds. Follow a footpath for 10 minutes, and there's a view of the English Channel coast, its rockbound cliffs looking out across the crashing waves toward the Isle of Wight.
Chewton Glen's 33 bedrooms and 19 suites are the epitome of country class, each individually decorated with fine period antiques. French doors open out onto lushly planted balconies, with striking views of the rolling green lawns and the manicured nine-hole golf course. On-site amenities also include a full-service spa and health club. Renowned chef Pierre Chevillard and sommelier Mark Walter will create customized menus for corporate meetings, which can be held in any of the property's five function rooms, each accommodating from six to 40 people. --Margery Stein
New York City: A Heck of a Town New York is in the midst of a renaissance. From Wall Street to Rockefeller Center, there are new venues and facilities to please even the most jaded achiever. Consider The Regent Wall Street, slated for a fall opening. A historic landmark building, the hotel was once a customs house where Moby Dick author Herman Melville worked as an inspector. Back then, people who couldn't pay their dues were locked in cells in the building's underbelly. Now, those cells add to the atmosphere of what may be New York's most unusual function venue--the wine cellar, adjacent to the cells, that holds about 40 people. The 144 capacious guest rooms, with luxurious touches such as DVD players and hand-blown Italian glass fixtures, will make your qualifiers feel truly rewarded.
Also downtown, the elegantly hip 369-room SoHo Grand recently unveiled its redesigned Chart Room, which can accommodate up to 100 for a reception; and a private dining room in the Canal House restaurant that can fit 60 for a sit-down meal or 100 for a reception.
Create a Broadway weekend for your qualifiers at the Premier, an elegant, residential-style 125-room property that opened this past January in the theater district. Its companion hotel, the 627-room Millennium Broadway, evokes 1930s New York with its Art Deco design. Or combine an incentive with meetings at the Millennium Conference Center, an IACC-certified, five-floor facility with 33 conference rooms. The historic Hudson Theater, also part of the Millennium, has been renovated with videoconferencing and satellite links and seats 700 theater-style or 300 for sit-down events.
Moving uptown, the 2,000-room Hilton New York, in Rockefeller Center, is adding 37 guest rooms; two dining venues; a spa; and 15,000 square feet of new meeting space, including a videoconferencing facility and boardroom. The project is slated for a January 2000 completion. --Tamar Hosansky
Rio: True Spirit Situated amidst a stunning landscape of mountains, forests, and 50 miles of beaches, Rio's extraordinary natural beauty combined with its fun-loving attitude and contagious samba spirit make it a compelling destination for an incentive program. There is an impressive roster of world-class hotels, many of which have recently undergone major refurbishments or expansions. The Copacabana Palace, a landmark building completed in 1923 that was purchased in 1989 by Orient Express Hotels, recently completed an extensive $40 million renovation. The Hotel Nacional has added a new convention center with an enlarged capacity of up to 5,000, while the Rio InterContinental has added a new ballroom and refurbished three club floors, a club lounge, and five presidential suites. The Rio Atlantica, now a member of the Summit International Hotels chain (who also operate Raffles in Singapore), has renovated all 228 rooms and suites and added two more meeting rooms to bring its total to 12.
Among the favorite group activities is a trip via cable car to the top of the city's famed Sugarloaf Mountain for cocktails at sunset. While being served tropical drinks and canapes, guests enjoy pan-oramic views of the city to the accompaniment of live Brazilian music. Incentive participants can also dance the night away during a special visit to the oldest gafeira (dance hall) in Rio, where a big band features the sounds of the bossa nova, samba, and lambada. --Jonathan Siskin
New Orleans to Mexico: A Cruise Alternative Commodore Cruise Line's Enchanted Capri may not be the world's most luxurious vessel, but it's immaculate--and its five-night New Orleans-to-Mexico itinerary can't be beat. Companies can charter the entire 488-passenger ship, whose small size makes it possible to dock at Progresso, a small port at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Skip the tiny village and head out 20 miles to Merida, a 450-year-old colonial city that still retains plenty of Old-World charm. Merida is the capital of the state of Yucatan, but it has not entirely succumbed to the modern world: Young men still dress up on Saturday nights and serenade their women in the palm tree- fringed town square. There's plenty to do in this safe and friendly city, from shopping in local markets to visiting the Paseo de Montejo, a grand boulevard modeled after the Champs d'Elysee in Paris. Merida is also the gateway to several fascinating Mayan cities, including Chichen-Itza and Uxmal. Additional ports-of-call on the Enchanted Capri five-night cruise include Cozumel and Playa del Carmen
Berlin: A City Reborn Early in this century, Berlin's Potsdamer Platz was among the liveliest squares in Europe. Some 50 years later it had become a desolate space between East and West Berlin, destroyed in World War II and watched over by border guards.
Now, as the turn of a new century is upon us, Potsdamer Platz is again abuzz. New buildings by Daimler-Benz, Sony, and others anchor the rejuvenated plaza, and in the midst of it all is the new Grand Hyatt Berlin. In its interior design, the 325-room hotel is a model of modernity and restraint, its rooms stylishly comfortable. Even tables spread with coffee-break fare look fashionable, the housekeeping carts artfully designed. The Grand Ballroom seats 600 for a banquet; the unique Bibliotek offers an elegant smaller meeting space; and seven additional conference rooms are available.
The city is aiming to increase inbound incentive travel, especially from the U.S. A new airport, planned to open in 2007, should cap years of effort to increase direct flights to Berlin from the U.S.
Start the German incentive experience in Lufthansa's business class. The airline recently added Detroit and Philadelphia to its list of North American gateways, which include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, B.C., and Washington, D.C. --Alison Hall
Singapore: Exotic, Yet Modern For those who need to balance the yang of desire for adventure with the yin of need for familiar comforts, few countries in the world can match Singapore. The city impresses from the moment of arrival: Changi Airport is an ultramodern facility, and travelers taking the 30-minute drive into the center city will see golf courses, modern buildings, and bougainvillea-laden overpasses. Large groups are easily accommodated in the Marina Bay district, where the five-star Marina Mandarin, Oriental, and Pan Pacific hotels offer a total of 1,900 rooms. Rates for all three can be set in a single, since they share common ownership.
This is arguably Asia's safest, cleanest city, a plus for incentive organizers. And the Straits Chinese, Malay, and Indian peoples who make up the majority population of Singapore are themselves sophisticated, cosmopolitan citizens comfortable with Western ways.
A welcome aspect of Singapore's multicultural status is the variety of great dining experiences. There were 3,725 restaurants and 17,080 food stalls in Singapore at last count. Most food stalls are now in Hawker Centers all over the city, which are a must-see. But there's all kinds of sit-down dining, too. For good Chinese food take your group to the House of Mao, a restaurant whose theme is the Chinese Revolution and whose slogan is "A Dinner Party is Not a Revolution." The UDMC Seafood Centre on the Eastern Parkway, a cluster of eight open-air restaurants along the waterfront, offers the ultimate local seafood experience. --David Erickson
South Africa: A Land of Contrasts Service is the hallmark of a South African incentive, starting from South African Airways, which offers non-stop flights from New York and Miami. Capetown, on the southwest coast, provides a gracious transition to this land of contrasts. At the 100-year-old Mount Nelson Hotel, for example, the immaculately manicured emerald green lawns, old British-style furnishings, high tea, and impeccable service transport winners to a world of the privileged upper classes of old.
The sense of luxury continues on the fabled Blue Train from Capetown to Pretoria, where private butlers acquaint achievers with all the services of the upscale overnight compartments. From Pretoria, there's a choice of several nearby options: the lavish fantasy of Sun City; the capital city of Johannesburg; or farther north to private game parks in or near Kruger National Park. These walk the fine line between luxury and back-to-nature. At Makalali, for example, each thatched-roof "hut" is an individual guest room evocative of all the romance and grandeur of a bygone era, with flowing mosquito netting, hand-carved wood doors, sculptured basins, a wood-burning fireplace, and a connected huge stone-enclosed shower (not to mention air conditioning). With safari drives in open Land Rovers in the early morning and at dusk led by guides and trackers, guests are likely to see lions, giraffes, zebra, white rhino, elephants, and other big game. The animals are often only a few feet away--an experience that's both terrifying and exhilarating. --Irene Korn
The Adirondacks: A Grand Retreat Picture Scotsman Donald Ross, the greatplayer and course architect, who, it's been said, turned golf course design from an engineering job into an art form, musing about his next design challenge, circa 1928, at the Sagamore Hotel in Upstate New York. His task? To create a course befitting American royalty: Those masters of the universe who had made their fortunes in the early 1900s and would traipse up to this resort area on Lake George from New York City each summer. Some 70 years later, The Sagamore (of the five grand hotels built in that era, the only one that remains) and its golf course, which were once closed but completely and lovingly restored in the 1980s, offer spectacular recreation and much more to satisfy 1990s high achievers.
An hour's drive north of Albany, The Sagamore rests on Bolton Landing, a private 70-acre island in Lake George. The resort has 17,000 square feet of meeting space and 350 guest accommodations, including 100 newly renovated rooms in the main hotel and lakeside suites with wood-burning stoves. Wapanac Castle, a historic lakeside private home, is now available for group functions, and the full-service European spa will be expanded in late 1999/2000. --Betsy Bair
Philadelphia: Living History The nation's first savings bank. The former Stock Exchange Building. The 1893 Reading Terminal Headhouse. All historic venues, yes, but also sites for Philadelphia's new hotels. The city has launched a major building boom as it gears up for the Republic National Convention.
Take, for example, The French Hotel Sofitel, sited in the old Philadelphia Stock Exchange Building. Scheduled for a February 2000 opening, the Softitel will be the centerpiece of the city's new French Quarter. The 300-room property will have 12 meeting rooms and a 5,000-square-foot-ballroom. The nation's first savings bank will be transformed into the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, featuring such modern accouterments as T-1 lines in its 583 guest rooms. But its old-fashioned appeal will be preserved: The three-story former banking rooms will become banquet space and the rooftop Board of Directors room will be transformed into a function venue. The Philadelphia Marriott is expanding into the Reading Terminal Headhouse, adding 210 luxury rooms and 9,000 square feet of meeting space.
The city's most deluxe new hotel will be the 330-room Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, a transformation of the historic Mellon Bank Rotunda and Tower located in Philadelphia's emerging arts district at One Avenue of the Arts. The hotel includes the 40-room Ritz-Carlton Club, with its own private lounge and dedicated concierge, 25,000 square feet of meeting space in the main tower, and 7,000 square feet of meeting space in the 19th-century Rotunda designed by famed architect Stanford White. Meanwhile, the former Ritz Carlton, reflagged as the St. Regis, Philadelphia, also offers upscale accommodations for qualifiers. Starwood has invested $5 million in upgrading the hotel's guest rooms and public areas.
China: Ancient and Changing The People's Republic of China just celebrated its 50th anniversary this fall and to get ready, landmarks around Beijing are being completely renovated--Tien'anmen Square, Mao's Tomb, the moat around the Forbidden City, and more. A visit in 2000 will find the city in top shape. Astounding sites are just short trips from the city center: The Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Ming tombs. And while Beijing cleans up, Shanghai, the financial heart of China, is booming at an almost unimaginable rate: Reports say there are now 10,000 high-rise buildings under construction in the city. New first-class hotels there include The Pudong Shangri-La Shanghai and the Grand Hyatt Shanghai.
Not to be missed is a trip to the Three Gorges Dam Project, now under construction. The dam will be the largest ever built (phase one opens in 2003), spanning 1.2 miles across, rising 600 feet, and costing some $29 billion dollars. These are the last few years to bring a group through the majestic middle reaches of the Yangtze before its transformation.
Orient Royal Cruises sails East King and East Queen through the gorges and can arrange for tours of the dam construction site. While the Orient Royal ships are currently only about a three-star product, there are renovation plans in the works.
Kingsway Incentives, launched last fall with offices in Beijing and San Jose, Calif., allows meeting organizers for the first time to work with a U.S. corporation on their Chinese programs. Aligned with destination marketer Networld, Kingsway is working to bring the incentive mindset to China. How about a sit-down luncheon on the ramparts of the Great Wall or a final evening in the Great Hall of the People? Later this year Kingsway is planning a first: A U.S. insurance company client will bring 800 for dinner inside the walls of the Forbidden City. --Susan Hatch
North Carolina: Luxury Hideaway Nestled in the heart of North Carolina, Chatham County is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of modern life. As you drive along the roads that wind through the county's 707 square miles of agricultural countryside, you'd never guess that you're only eight miles from Chapel Hill and 45 minutes from the Raleigh Durham International Airport.
Visitors to Chatham County can peruse antique shops and galleries, or enjoy outdoor recreation at Jordan Lake State Park. The county is also home to North Carolina's only AAA Five Diamond rated property, the Fearrington House Country Inn and Restaurant in Pittsboro. The inn has 30 guest rooms, meeting space for 12 to 30 people, and a rustic dairy barn that can hold up to 300 for a party. Groups also can book receptions in the inn's beautiful gardens. --Lauren Wiley
Russia: Waterway of the Czars The Golden Ring incentive cruise is a superb option for touring Russia. Traveling aboard a luxury river cruise ship, participants journey along the region's rivers and canals. A typical incentive package begins with a three-day shipboard stay in St. Petersburg and visits to the city's many historical attractions: Catherine's Palace, the Hermitage, and Peter the Great's Summer Palace, all restored to their past splendor. Departing St. Petersburg, ships dock at five sites on their six-day journey. Shipboard lectures about each destination precede shore excursions. Arriving in Moscow, the ship is the passengers' hotel while they visit the capital's many attractions.
The M.V. Sergei Kirov, flagship of the Russian river fleet, is managed by I.C.H., a Swiss company. That incomparable Swiss style--and the peerless Chef de Rotisseur cuisine--makes the journey a memorable incentive. The ship accommodates 250 passengers in 124 ample, air-conditioned outside cabins with picture windows. --Rudy Wright, CMP