Stingrays, Cayman IslandsThe Bahamas, Bermuda and Caribbean islands, which deliver an alluring mix of sunshine, relaxation and local color, are popular choices for executive meetings and incentive travel. Despite the islands’ exotic nature, it is surprisingly easy to do business in the region. English is widely spoken, and with hundreds of daily flights from the United States, travel is a breeze.
“With so many destinations and accommodation options to choose from, the region holds a great deal of untapped potential for meeting and incentive planners,” says Karolin Troubetzkoy, acting president of Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. “Excellent service, warm hospitality, well-orchestrated activities focused on authenticity and the best possible culinary offerings are all staples of the Caribbean meetings market.”
Immersive experiences allow planners to illuminate the unique culture and traditions of the host island. From a perfume-making workshop or an excursion to the local straw market in Nassau, to kayaking in Puerto Rico’s Bioluminescent Bio Bay or ziplining through the jungle in the Dominican Republic, Caribbean islands are deep on adventure.
The Bahamas is an ecological oasis consisting of 2,000 islands, cays and islets. Its vibrant capital, Nassau, is located on the island of New Providence. Paradise Island is situated just off the shore of Nassau. With more than 80 flights daily from North American, Canadian and European gateways, it is easy to get to this appealing destination.
More than 50 resorts accommodate groups of all sizes. Joy Jibrilu, director general of , notes that in addition to first-class meeting facilities on Nassau and Paradise Island, several of the outlying Family Islands offer excellent facilities and amenities.
, a premier meetings destination, recently underwent a $1 billion expansion. The sprawling resort has everything a planner might want—and more. Paradise Island’s Conference Center can accommodate 4,000 guests. It features the 50,000-square-foot Imperial Ballroom, more than 40,000 sq. ft. of prefunction space, 30 breakout rooms and three boardrooms. Outdoors, planners can take advantage of 21 unique event spaces, as well as an elaborate water park, a walk-in aquarium and casinos.
, located on a white sand beach on Grand Bahama Island, is a refined AAA Four Star resort with 542 airy guest rooms, a 40,000-square-foot conference facility and 50,000 sq. ft. of outdoor meeting space. Elegant Sandals Royal Bahamian Spa Resort & Offshore Island in Nassau and sophisticated Sandals Emerald Bay Golf, Tennis & Spa Resort in outlying Great Exuma boast two of the most extensive casinos outside of Las Vegas. Melia Nassau Beach, located on Cable Beach, offers 694 guests rooms, 32 suites and 82,021 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor meeting space.
When business concludes, fun beckons. “Planners who choose the Bahamas can select from a plethora of activities, including regattas, heritage, food, music and island homecoming festivals, and major sporting events,” Jibrilu says.
George Brice, vice president of the , points out that Nassau Paradise Island offers more than just beautiful beaches and turquoise water. “We have found that our visitors—especially those here for meetings—really want to get outside the boardroom and enjoy immersive experiences. We give them the opportunity to get a sense of the local culture, food and people, along with our natural environment,” he says.
For foodies, Brice recommends the three-hour , featuring stops and tastings at seven local hot spots. Bahamian guides weave history, architecture and culture into the experience. Rum enthusiasts and history buffs will enjoy . The free tour includes a visit to historic Buena Vista Estate and features tastings of premium rums. Beer fans can stop by a craft brewery and bar that showcases live music.
In the late 1600s, pirates were commonplace in the Bahamas. Visitors can learn more about the swashbucklers at the interactive , which has a replica pirate ship. is located on the upper floor of the Mountbatten House. The beautifully restored property, which dates back to the 1700s, can be rented out for events.
Shoppers can experience local color at Straw Market in downtown Nassau, where artisans sell hats, mats and baskets, as well as wood carvings, conch shell jewelry and other handmade souvenirs. Don’t hesitate to bargain; U.S. and Bahamian dollars are accepted.
The country’s People-to-People program fosters interactions with friendly and outgoing Bahamians, who volunteer to share their homes and meals with visitors. Afternoon tea parties, held monthly at the historic Government House, are an offshoot of this cultural exchange. The free, one-hour events include entertainment, storytelling, a fashion show and refreshments.
Beaches in Bermuda
Bermuda’s rich culture draws from its British heritage and Afro-Caribbean roots. The island is blessed with gorgeous pink sand beaches, colorful marine life and historic towns.
Bermuda has several top-notch hotels, making it ideal for meetings. , a historic property known locally as The Pink Palace, features 410 guest rooms and more than 22,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. As part of a $90 million renovation, the resort opened Marcus’ restaurant in May 2015, with a menu created by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson. Another standout property is , which has 593 guest rooms and more than 25,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, A Fairment Managed Hotel, Bermuda
“Bermuda is a badge-worthy destination for incentive trips and meetings,” says Victoria Isley, chief sales and marketing officer at . Just a 90-minute nonstop flight from New York City, it is easy for groups to tap into local experiences via destination management companies that provide creative spins on traditional activities.
“From whale watching and sailing regattas on the water to gombey troupe dances, rum tastings and beach clean-up programs on land, there are lots of ways groups can enjoy immersive experiences on the island,” Isley says.
A romantic way to view Bermuda’s unique architecture is in a horse-drawn carriage, which can be rented by the hour in Hamilton City (the capital) and St. George, which was settled in 1609 and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Visitors can immerse themselves in history at The Ducking Stool in St. George, where a free re-enactment of an 18th-century public trial takes place. While in St. George, check out Royal Naval Dockyard, home of National Museum of Bermuda. A two-story mural painted by local artist Graham Foster depicts 500 years of Bermuda history and culture. The Bermuda Craft Market is nearby, as is the Rum Cake Company.
Gombey is a traditional Bermuda folk art form, originally performed by slaves. Today, enjoy the colorful pageantry at weekly summer festivals in Hamilton, at important soccer and cricket matches, and on Boxing Day (Dec. 26), New Year’s Day, during the Bermuda Day Parade in May and at the Bermuda Gombey Festival in September. Troupes of male dancers and drummers energetically perform, clothed in elaborate costumes that make them look like beautiful tropical birds.
With 200 sq. mi. of coral reef and more than 300 shipwrecks, immersive underwater experiences abound. Many find the lore of ancient shipwrecks enchanting. In 1864, the Mary Celestia sank off the coast of Bermuda. In 2011, divers discovered a box of cargo containing, among other items, a pair of perfume bottles from an elite 19th-century perfume house in London.
Visitors can see and smell the 150-year-old perfume at . A replica of the scent can be purchased, with some of the proceeds benefiting the preservation of Bermuda’s historic shipwrecks. Planners can arrange a private fragrance workshop at the perfumery, where participants create their own scents.
Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, the Dominican Republic is the second-largest country in the Caribbean. It occupies two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Republic of Haiti.
A popular destination for Americans, reports that the Spanish-speaking country received 19.5 percent of the 26.3 million individuals who visited the Caribbean in 2014. The capital, Santo Domingo, is the oldest city in the New World. Although numerous airports provide service to the island, most air traffic filters through Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), which handles flights from more than 28 countries.
It is easy for planners to do business in this tropical paradise. According to Asonahores, a hotel and tourism association, the country boasts 69,000 hotel rooms—the most in the Caribbean. Many of the world’s top brands have properties in the Dominican Republic, including AccorHotels, JW Marriott, Barcelo, AMResorts, Crowne Plaza, Embassy Suites, Hard Rock Hotels, Hilton, Renaissance, Sheraton, Melia and The Westin.
Popular Punta Cana, located in the eastern part of the country, boasts 20 miles of white-sand beaches and swaying palm trees. There are two luxurious AAA Four Diamond Paradisus resorts— and on Bavaro Beach. Both offer entertainment, golf, spas and casinos, and cater to the needs of meeting planners.
Paradisus Punta Cana Beach has a 20,128-square-foot convention center with 13 meeting rooms that can accommodate up to 700. The all-inclusive Paradisus Palma Real Golf & Spa Resort has 25,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, plus an additional 18,000 sq. ft. in the new Palma Real Convention Center.
Cultural immersion and environmental responsibility are important pillars of the Paradisus brand. Event professionals can weave these values into programming by adding guided tours of the mangroves and lush gardens, and creating opportunities for volunteer tourism with local charities.
, also on Punta Cana’s Bavaro Beach, is an excellent choice for large meetings. Its modern convention center has more than 120,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space that can accommodate up to 5,000, and a new clubhouse offers eight multifunction rooms. The property features an 18-hole golf course, a casino and a cigar and rum lounge. The all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana offers 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and unlimited cocktails.
Casa de Campo Resort and Villas, on the southeastern coast, is set on 7,000 acres. In addition to two well-appointed conference centers and a 5,000-seat amphitheater, it boasts three championship golf courses including Teeth of the Dog, the No. 1-ranked course in the Caribbean. Aman Resorts’ beachfront property, Amanyara, opened on the northern coast of the island in late November; more hotel development is planned for the area.
Although meeting attendees could happily stay onsite at any of the Dominican Republic’s magnificent resorts, immersive experiences beckon. Hospitable Dominicans warmly welcome visitors to local music and art festivals. At nightclubs, they happily teach merengue, the favorite local dance.
Water attractions such as boating, sailing, deep sea fishing, swimming with dolphins and whale watching are big in the Dominican Republic. So is golf. The island boasts 26 courses, many considered top notch. For those who prefer to watch sports, the island is home to many of Major League Baseball’s top players. Catch a future star at a game; baseball stadiums are located in all the main cities.
Ecotourism adventures are also big in the Dominican Republic, which is surrounded by water and blessed with rivers, lakes and mountains. Runners Adventures can help planners organize team-building activities such as ziplining in the tropical jungle and off-roading in monster trucks or buggies.
Nature lovers can explore Laguna de Bavaro, a protected wetland, in boats and kayaks. Parque Ecologico Ojos Indigenas is a natural reserve with swimmable lagoons and hiking trails where visitors can view 100 different bird species, 27 of which are indigenous to the Dominican Republic. A Segway tour to this attraction includes a visit to Puntacana Ecological Foundation, which has beekeeping and worm composting projects. Hikers can enjoy miles of terrain and great views at Parque Nacional del Este.
Puerto Rico is an archipelago in the northeastern Caribbean; its people are natural-born citizens of the United States. The capital and largest city is San Juan, which offers plenty of airlift to America. Always a popular getaway destination, Puerto Rico Tourism Company reports that hotel occupancy increased 6 percent from 2014–15.
Boasting more than 1.3 million sq. ft. of meeting space, the Caribbean’s largest and most technically advanced convention center, and 15,000 guest rooms throughout the island, Puerto Rico is also a meetings mecca. Milton Segarra, CEO and president of , says his organization can help create memorable and authentic events.
“Meet Puerto Rico can offer planners and attendees an ‘only in Puerto Rico’ experience,” Segarra says. Some examples include kayaking on a neon bay, hiking in a subtropical rainforest or attending a mojito or mofongo-making class.
helps planners organize interesting local excursions—from kayaking in the Bioluminescent Bio Bay —to hiking in El Yunque National Rainforest, where they can explore the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system.
Ziplining at ToroVerde, Puerto Rico
Other interesting outdoor adventures in Puerto Rico include rappelling, river journeys and team-building experiences offered by . Ziplining has become quite popular throughout the country. Near San Juan, try it with . , a new ecotourism park featuring thrilling ziplines, was selected by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the world’s coolest new attractions. , located 10 minutes from San Juan, offers ATV eco tours, horseback riding and ziplining. The elegant property, a former plantation home, can be bought out for parties.
will take groups on a gastronomical adventure, illuminating the history, culture and architecture of the neighborhoods visited in the process, the official service provider of Puerto Rico Tourism Company, can arrange customized cultural, shopping and food tours of historic Old San Juan. is Puerto Rico’s signature spirit; groups can tour the distillery. At a mixology workshop offered by taste rums and learn how to craft perfect mojitos.
When seeking accommodations, Puerto Rico has properties for all budgets. Some standouts for planners include , which boasts a 500-acre oceanfront conference center with 100,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space. The ballroom, which can accommodate 2,200, is one of the largest in the Caribbean
in San Juan is just minutes from and offers 41,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Caribar, a destination bar at , claims to be the birthplace of the pina colada. The 651-room hotel has a panoramic ocean view and caters to business travelers. The aforementioned has more than 100,000 sq. ft. of versatile event space that can accommodate groups of all sizes.
Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the Cayman Islands in 1503, naming it Las Tortugas due to the many sea turtles. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake renamed it Caiman, the Carib word for alligator, because they also inhabited the island.
Of the three islands, Grand Cayman is the largest. In downtown discover quaint gingerbread-style buildings, lively nightclubs, Michelin restaurants and luxurious hotels. Seven Mile Beach, located on the western coast and dubbed best beach in the Caribbean by Caribbean Travel and Life Magazine, is an attractive meeting and leisure destination. The 14-square-mile Cayman Brac, with a population of less than 1,800, inspired the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Seven miles away is Little Cayman, a largely uninhabited fishing and diving paradise that is a wildlife sanctuary.
The Cayman Islands offer unparalleled snorkeling and scuba diving. “Whether you’re an enthusiast looking for adventurous water sports or just looking to explore, there’s something for everyone,” promises the , noting that the less adventurous will enjoy the duty-free shopping, championship golf and fine dining.
Nature enthusiasts can hike Grand Cayman’s Mastic Trail, horseback ride on the beach or go caving. Popular attractions include Turtle Farm and , home to hundreds of friendly stingrays. Arrange boat tours from Seven Mile Beach.
Those who want to experience Grand Cayman’s impressive marine life without getting wet can enjoy a dive expedition on , a 48-passenger submarine that plunges down about 100 feet. Views are particularly dramatic at night.
The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands has many top-notch resorts, making it a great choice for incentive travel. Of particular note is , a modern upscale property on the beach, near a golf course and the Cayman Islands National Museum. The 343 guest rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows and free Wi-Fi. Amenities include a spa and fitness center. Seven breakout areas can accommodate groups of up to 400. The Governor’s Ballroom seats up to 650 theatre-style; the Galleon Ballroom seats up to 300.
Reggae music is just one of the many attractions of Jamaica, where tourism is strong. Dr. Kenneth Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s minister of tourism and entertainment, says the country is benefiting from “unprecedented levels” of hotel development, which began in 2015 and is expected to continue into 2018.
Some new resorts launched in 2015 include Karisma Hotel & Resorts’ Azul Sensatori Jamaica in Negril; Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall and Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay; and Courtyard Kingston in the capital. Karisma has a $1 billion plan to open 4,000 rooms on Jamaica’s north shore over the next decade.
Montego Bay is especially hot. AMResorts’ Sunscape brand opened two properties there in late December; Royalton White Sands Resort is currently adding 200 new rooms; while Hotel Riu Montego Bay is adding 50 new rooms. Ocean by H10 Hotels plans to add another 800 rooms in Montego Bay.
Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, Jamaica
For meeting planners, the all-inclusive beachfront Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa offers 44,000 sq. ft. of indoor/outdoor event space and lots of exciting immersive experiences such as river rafting and swimming with dolphins.
The newly renovated Moon Palace Jamaica Grande, located five minutes from downtown Ocho Rios, has 705 guest rooms, free Wi-Fi and 22,000 sq. ft. of indoor meeting space—more than any other property in Jamaica.
Meeting in the Bahamas, Bermuda and Caribbean is easier than ever. When planners combine the trip with an immersive experience that gives attendees insight into an island’s culture, they are guaranteed to make everyone smile.