When more than 500 experts in the art of using travel to motivate performance met in the Bahamas at Baha Mar for Incentive Research Foundation’s Invitational 2024, it was personal—as in attendees were surprised with celebrations of anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions gleaned from a pre-event survey and some judicious Facebook stalking.

The annual gathering to discuss trends and connect with peers kicked off with a discussion about the power of designing incentive programs that include personalized touches. IRF President Stephanie Harris reminded attendees that these gestures don’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful. Then she demonstrated by recognizing attendees for years of attendance, including free time in the form of a Cabana Day and lots of choices to immerse in the island culture. Let’s take a look.

A Vibrant Setting

Flamingo yoga
Flamingo yoga

The Bahamas, generally, is known for its vivid, aquamarine waters and welcoming culture. Baha Mar, located in Nassau, the capital and largest city located on the island of New Providence, takes service to the next level. The resort is actually a collection of three hotels—Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood (the view from one of the guest rooms shown above)—fronting 15 acres of beachfront and home to the largest casino in the Bahamas.

Read More: Meeting Professionals in the Caribbean

The bright 300,000 sq. ft. convention center operated by Grand Hyatt Baha Mar offers indoor and outdoor opportunities for meeting surrounded by art and greenery. IRF embraced the beachy, seaside vibe with help from Island Destination Services and Cacique International to surround attendees in oversized bubbles, mythical sea creatures, Junkanoo dancers and Bahamian music.

Bright Junkanoo costumes
Junkanoo costumes in Baha Mar Convention Center

The agenda, which gave attendees time to experience local diversions such as flamingo yoga, catamaran sailing and interactive cultural and foodie tours, demonstrated the one thing IRF studies say incentive participants want: Free time. “The good news,” Harris explained, “is that in a time of rising costs and tight budgets, free time is free.”

Radical Possibility

Decorative blue bubbles and woman with coral
Into the Deep decor

Harris also shared insights from the recent bestseller “Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect” by Will Guidara, one of the founders behind New York’s Eleven Madison Park restaurant. It turns out that the heart of surprising and delighting is empowering teams to listen and take action. “Personalization done right is magical,” Harris said. Hyper-personalization brings more humanity into incentives on an individual basis by allowing people to feel seen,” she said.

Read More: Bahamas/Caribbean Soak Up Paradise

The business of exceeding expectations is a big economic engine. “Just like Taylor Swift, you have the power to impact communities when you bring an event to a destination,” she reported. IRF attendees aggregate $1.6 billion in spending.

Ben Nemtin on stage at IRF 2024
Ben Nemtin

A similar message about the power of the individual to make a difference came from author and co-founder of The Buried Life movement Ben Nemtin. “Planners face challenges all the time, but your sense of purpose is a powerful tool,” he shared. He added that every act of kindness has a ripple effect, touching their family and friends that can result in exponential benefits. “The work you do creates connections, culture and memories that last a lifetime,” he said.

Learn More: Traveling Beyond the Stars with Ben Nemtin Podcast

Nemtin encouraged attendees to do what they do best, make their own bucket lists, journal and prioritize the most important things to do the most good. “Give without expectations,” he said.

Again, IRF demonstrated this truism by honoring the Accelerate Class of up-and-coming incentives professionals and making a grant to a Baha Mar employee through the Above and Beyond Foundation.

IRF Invitational 2025 is scheduled for AVA Resort Cancun June 1-4.