The meeting planner’s unofficial code includes a pledge to mold every event into a special experience—and thanks to planners’ finely honed ability to think both creatively and logistically, the success rate is high. But when it comes to incentive meetings, expectations are raised from special to unforgettable.
Whether an incentive group is celebrating a job well done, basking in employee appreciation or building camaraderie, attendees deserve an extraordinary experience. Planners don’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to achieve that goal, however.
Instead, think of destinations that provide an extraordinary escape from everyday life, such as island-chic resorts, luxuriously rustic mountain retreats, glamorous gaming meccas and extreme coastal and desert environments. Then, look for a venue that provides thoughtful extras by weaving local traditions into the fabric of the hotel, or offering incentive groups exclusive experiences that create lasting memories. Check those two boxes, then wait for glowing feedback to stream in from travelers awed by your ability to craft an inspired itinerary.
An island getaway holds timeless appeal, but the properties committed to exceeding expectations and showcasing local ways of life truly stand out. One example is Fairmont Kea Lani (pictured above), Maui, Hawaii’s only luxury oceanfront resort where all guest accommodations are either suites or villas.
“The hotel has an outstanding room product, with great value provided by the quality of the room and villa amenities,” says Michele Hayes, managing partner of Strategic Meetings and Incentives, LLC, and a repeat customer of Fairmont Kea Lani. “Every time I visit I notice small enhancements, which keeps it in top condition.”
The property features 42,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Hawaii is full of pinch-me landscapes, and those found on the island of Kauai are some of the most dramatic. Set out from the luxurious Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu to explore the impossibly verdant rainforest or the accordion folds of the Na Pali Coast. Knowing that a sprawling pool complex, state-of-the-art spa, 60,779 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor event space, and other plush amenities await upon their return to the resort helps power attendees through their rugged adventures.
Set to wrap late this year, a $115 million, multistage redevelopment of Pacific Beach Hotel on Oahu’s South Shore has been rechristened as Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach (pictured above). The hotel boasts 839 guest rooms, 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 280,000-gallon oceanarium containing more than 2,000 fish. It also lays claim to a historic pedigree: A summer palace belonging to Queen Liliuokalani, the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, once occupied the site.
Surrounded by sparkling white sand and piercing aquamarine water, Barcelo Aruba provides balconies with all 373 guest rooms, allowing every guest to revel in the view. Prime placement at the foot of Palm Beach makes the resort a perfect choice for water sports enthusiasts. Adventurous groups can go diving at the site of the Antilla shipwreck, sky-dive from 10,000 feet and windsurf at Fisherman’s Hut Beach. After a day of exertion, attendees can seek refreshment at one of the property’s six restaurants, ranging from authentic Japanese at teppanyaki tables to Tex-Mex on the terrace.
To experience island life tinged with European flair, head to Melia Palma Bay Hotel (pictured above), which opened in April on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Situated along a seafront promenade overlooking Palma Bay, with ready access to local attractions such as sailing, golf and gastronomic experiences, the hotel makes a perfect hub for exploring the city of Palma and the island at large. For meeting planners, the benefits don’t end there: Palau de Congressos de Palma, a brand-new convention center with 45,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, adjoins the hotel.
Coastal retreats deliver the perks of waterfront lodging, no ocean crossing necessary. In the newly renovated atrium lobby of Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay (pictured above), 25-foot ficus trees echo the dramatic presence of Central California’s fog-shrouded seaside cliffs. The arresting entrance space introduces attendees to the dual values that define the property: eco-consciousness and sense of place.
At the AAA Four Diamond hotel, groups can hit the nearby beach for bocce ball tournaments and sand-castle contests or enjoy whale-watching excursions and kayaking trips. Onsite event spaces span more than 60,000 sq. ft. with the adjacent Monterey Conference Center and include the 10,655-square-foot De Anza Ballroom, which seats up to 1,000 attendees.
Set on a golden hillside overlooking the azure waters of the Pacific, Monarch Beach Resort is an AAA Five Diamond sanctuary that offers guests an array of exclusive activities and inspiring experiences. Groups can enjoy celebrated dining, restorative spa services, championship golf links and water sports. The property has 400 guest rooms and more than 90,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
One&Only Palmilla (pictured above) in Los Cabos, Mexico, showcases how contrasting landscapes and interests can coexist, rather than clash. Situated at the convergence of sea and desert, the resort serves up a menu of activities curated by its singular environment, including off-road desert driving, tequila tastings, spa treatments and surfing lessons. A similarly varied array of meeting and event spaces includes an onsite conference center that holds up to 200, idyllic Turtle Beach and a magical, private Bahia Courtyard.
An AAA Four Diamond Hotel with world-class amenities, Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort is situated in an inlet of the Los Cabos Corridor along the Sea of Cortez, with direct access to one of Cabos’ only swim-safe beaches. The resort features 343 guest rooms, a wide variety of restaurants, championship golf courses, two pools with swim-up bars, a spa, tennis courts, a fitness center and 11,843 sq. ft. of prime meeting space.
Krystal Grand Los Cabos Hotel, which opened this year, is an all-inclusive, five-star resort 10 minutes from downtown San Jose del Cabo. It features 454 guest rooms with stunning views, haute cuisine, a private area on the beach with Balinese beds, the Sky Lounge a private swimming pool and 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Hyatt Regency Sydney in Australia recently underwent a $250 million renovation that added 222 guest rooms—bringing the total to 892—and a 272-seat restaurant. The property has 37,100 sq. ft. of meeting space and the rooftop bar—which is available for buyouts—offers panoramic views of Darling Harbour.
Whether they last for an afternoon, a day or a long weekend, boating excursions bring people together in a dynamic, ever-changing environment. Aboard ship, attendees become a community, and every event becomes a shared experience, be it a sunset, a wildlife sighting or a culinary demonstration.
Hornblower Cruises & Events (pictured above) operates out of seven California ports of call, as well as New York City. The company, headquartered in San Francisco, has planned more than 50,000 private and group events in nearly 40 years in business. On-staff experts can help planners craft itineraries designed to delight and engage attendees, complete with custom-mixed welcome cocktails and up-close encounters with singular attractions such as Alcatraz Island.
Groups with a longer sail in mind can set sail with Celebrity Cruise Line, which can transport incentive travelers to Alaska, the Caribbean, Bermuda, South America and beyond while fulfilling passengers’ every need.
Once-in-a-lifetime destinations include the Galapagos Islands, where attendees can witness firsthand the remote, unmatched ecosystem that has helped to educate humankind about life on Earth. Multiple cruise options allow planners to make selections that best suit their groups. Since all services and amenities are contained within the ship, Celebrity delivers a luxurious, modern experience without compromising the biological wonders of the Galapagos.
Away from the waves, desert and mountain destinations carry their own allure. Case in point: New Mexico’s Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, where the pervasive influence of ancient Native American culture enlivens the present. Set on 550 acres owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo, the property offers groups an array of classes and activities led by members of the Pueblo community. Subjects range from adobe-brick-making to storytelling under the stars. The property’s 54,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space show off the scenic backdrop at every opportunity. “Several meeting venues utilize floor-to-ceiling windows with unobstructed views of the Sandia Mountains, so even while attendees are in their sessions, they are able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the local area,” says Jolene Mauer, public relations and marketing manager.
Two of Las Vegas’ elite properties, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas, are housed in connected luxury hotel towers on The Strip. Together, they provide 4,748 guest rooms, 34 food and beverage options featuring signature chefs, three nightclubs, two award-winning spas, an 18-hole golf course and 260,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, with many providing floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning views overlooking pools and gardens.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas exudes a unique brand of desert glamor. With an abundance of event spaces totaling nearly 200,000 sq. ft., the hotel provides a broad canvas for planners’ creativity.
Distinctive venues include The Chelsea (included above), a highly adaptable 40,000-square-foot, multilevel theater space offering state-of-the-art sound, audiovisual and lighting systems. “The venue allows groups to modify the space to fit specific needs, even if those needs include full-size basketball courts,” says Kurt Wuebbenhorst, vice president of sales.
Fellow Sin City staple Station Casinos manages a collection of 10 award-winning Las Vegas hotels and resorts specializing in luxury accommodations off The Strip. Palms Casino Resort, the jewel of the portfolio, encompasses 30 acres of pools, gaming areas, dining and nightlife outlets, and musical performance venues. Guest rooms occupy three towers featuring sweeping views of The Strip.
Planners seeking a steeper, less sandy landing spot can turn to the Vail Resorts’ portfolio of 11 renowned mountain resorts in locations such as Colorado, Utah and the Lake Tahoe, California, area—each one a village unto itself. Among the seven accommodations options available at Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, there is nearly 56,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Courtney Peter is an award-winning writer who has covered travel, food, history and preservation for a variety of print and online publications.