Value, value, and more value. Destinations were full of news at The Motivation Show, but most international representatives wanted to emphasize the good value that they offer American meeting and incentive planners.
Some of the highlights:
In late August, for the seventh year in a row, Americans voted Australia their No. 1 dream vacation destination in the latest Harris Interactive survey.
A new ad campaign will focus on seasoned travelers' “bragging rights,” or travel resumes. Added Michelle Gysberts, the ATC's partnership development director, “Motivating people is all about giving them a unique experience, all about delivering the ‘Wow’ factor.” Seven-day air and land incentive packages start at $2,499.
Traffic from the U.S. to China from January to June dropped 42 percent because of the SARS outbreaks earlier this year. Since then, Shan Zhong Zhu, director, China National Tourist Office, New York City, and his colleagues have been traveling around the United States hosting China Nights for planners, “to let everyone know we are back in business.” Air traffic has returned to normal, he says, and United has even added flights.
The other good news is a new alliance, China-The Luxury Partnership, which consists of six five-star hotels in Beijing (Beijing Shangri-La, China World, Kerry Center, Grand Hotel Beijing, Great Wall Sheraton, Kunlun), three five-star hotels in Shanghai (Grand Hyatt, Westin, Hua Ting), two five-star cruise ships on the Yangtze River, and Kingsway Incentives/Destination China, a destination management company. The Beijing Tourism Administration supports the partnership in Beijing.
“Within the next five years, it's a certainty that most planners will be planning or operating a meeting in China,” says David Spain, the U.S.arm for the Luxury Partnership.
“Visit London” is the new name of The London Tourist Board, and “Visit London Business and Conventions” is the new name of the London Convention Bureau. There's also a new American presence for Visit London in the form of Chris Lynn, who has been named North American sales & marketing director, based in New York City.
“I'm here to help incentive and meeting planners see how London can be different again, even if they've been there before,” said Lynn. “We have opened more museums, palaces, and unique places to groups. Trafalgar Square has been pedestrianized. I wouldn't be surprised to see group events there within the year. Even Somerset House can be hired as a private house.”
Because business has been off, rates are down, added Lynn, “which makes us more affordable.'04 is looking up, '05 looking even better.”
Cindy Hoddeson, director, convention & incentives sales, Monaco Government Tourist Office, New York, sees glimmers of hope in American incentive and meeting business, with pharmaceutical and insurance companies taking the lead.
“We're seeing a strong comeback for the end of '04. Even if qualification periods are being shortened — and they are — most companies still need a year for the program.”
She also pointed out that, starting last July, the euro exchange rate has become more favorable to the U.S. dollar. “We had asked all our hotels to come with a U.S. guarantee through '05,” she said. “The incentive packages include all the basic components for a four- to five-night stay, but are flexible in that you can choose a destination management company of your choice. Anyone who is uncomfortable with currency exchange now has a comfort level.”
In hotel news, Le Metropole Palace Hotel closed in September for six months for a complete redo, and will reopen just before Grand Prix in May. The Hotel Hermitage is also undergoing a renovation and expansion program, adding 63 rooms and suites to the current 229.The project will be complete in April 2004. And Le Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel is reopening its 10th floor as executive suite accommodations.
Darryl Hartley-Leonard, the inimitable chairman and CEO of PGI Inc., had one of the show's more newsworthy announcements: Washington, D.C.-based PGI has split into two distinct brands. PGI — The Strategic Events Agency will provide creative, production, exhibition, meeting management, and online services. Destinator by PGI will represent “the logistical side of the business,” the destination management services. Destinator by PGI DMCs are located in 24 cities in North America and Europe; the newest office opened in October on Maui. The Strategic Events Agency headquarters will remain in D.C.
With a new 580,000-square-foot convention center opening in 2005, Puerto Rico is undergoing a major change. “Huge initiatives are under way to take the Puerto Rico hospitality community through the necessary educational steps in preparation for a shift from the traditional business into the citywide convention arena,” said Jorge Pesquera, executive director, Puerto Rico Convention Bureau. “There are strong urban renewal projects under way to elevate infrastructure to meet the needs of growing tourism visitor arrivals.”
There are plenty of hotel rooms (approximately 16,000) to support the new center, but two new hotels are scheduled to be built as headquarters hotels within 24 months of the center's opening. Until then, two existing hotels, the Condado Plaza and the Caribe Hilton, with 1,300 rooms between them, will serve as headquarters.
Another plus: The airport is undergoing major expansion and renovation with the addition of 14 new gates and increased international service from South America, the United States, and Europe.
In the incentive market, Puerto Rico is promoting its eastern islands of Vieques and Culebra. “They would make a perfect pre- or post-trip for groups coming into San Juan,” said Pesquera. The Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa, a 156-room boutique property, opened in March.
Bob Moore, senior vice president,sales, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., reported an uptick in the individual corporate travel market in many cities in which Starwood has a high concentration of hotels, including New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Miami. Moore believes that there is pent-up demand for face-to-face meetings, although he observed that short lead times for corporate events have become the norm, and that “there continues to be hesitancy about signing .” He also sees meetings and travel “staying inside continents” but believes that international travel will eventually return for incentive groups.
Starwood CEO Bob Cotter also talked about a major effort to elevate and standardize group business procedures over the next 18 months, with such services as standardized banquet event orders that can be e-mailed to planners. Perhaps most significant, he suggested, is a commitment to on-site involvement by the general manager. “For every group in every Starwood property, the GM will be at the pre-planning meeting,” he said. “On request, the GM will meet and greet VIPs. We're dead serious about it.”
It's an uphill battle, but Toronto hotels have been gradually winning back meeting and incentive business since SARS disappeared from the city's hospitals, said Susan Nolan, senior sales manager with the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. While a number of properties are pushing heavy discounts to get business on the books, Nolan said her hotel is holding the line. The Four Seasons staff is accentuating the positive, such as Toronto's value compared to other large North American cities and its convenient location. “It's [SARS is] over and done with, and we would like to assure people that we're moving past it.”
Tuscany is getting its day in the sun, thanks to Under the Tuscan Sun, a film starring Diane Lane that celebrates the beauty of the Italian region. Tuscany has long been a popular tourist destination: Travel & Leisure recently named Florence the most popular destination in Europe for the third year in a row.
Tourism authorities are working to make it a favorite among meeting planners as well. Susanna Cenni, tourism minister for the region, unveiled a $190 million plan to expand exhibit facilities in Florence, Carrara, and Arezzo. Total exhibit space in the three cities will expand about 40 percent, and new conference centers in Florence, Montecatini, and Arezzo, respectively, will add facilities for 2,000, 900, and 750 visitors.
Business is on the upswing at Disney, said George Aguel, senior vice president for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. He pointed to financial services and health care as particularly strong group markets for Disney, and noted that tech companies are starting to come back.
Anne Hamilton Chehab, vice president, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said she is seeing smaller incentive programs of 150 to 200 attendees who aren't necessarily the top-tier producers, and that many attendees are adding pre-and post-trips for family vacations. Cruises and land-sea packages are also popular incentive options.
Disney continues to diversify for the meetings market with an expansion of its largest convention resort, the 1,921-room Coronado Springs, that will double the function space to more than 220,000 square feet. A new 86,000-square-foot exhibit hall, due to open in 2005, will be integrated into the resort's one-level convention center.