When the United States in 2014 announced plans to lift its 50-year-old embargo on travel to Cuba, incentive travel planners across the country began salivating. Incentive planners are always looking for fresh destinations to motivate reward recipients; "new" and "different" may be among planners' favorite adjectives. But two other adjectives are equally important to an incentive planner's vocabulary: "tried" and "true." That's why as planners have begun looking south toward Cuba, just as many have kept their gaze focused east, towards Western Europe, where traditional destinations like London, Paris, Madrid, and Barcelona continue to dazzle -- and incent.
The reasons are numerous. For one, many Americans still have European heritage, which keeps them connected to Europe on a very personal level. Likewise, Europe's big cities are full of landmarks and attractions that Americans grew up hearing about, so they're familiar enough to be magnetic -- even for Americans who've never been before. Additionally, the workforce includes a whole new generation -- Millennials -- many of who have never visited the traditional destinations that older generations have already crossed off their list.
"Traditional European destinations like Paris, London, and Madrid continue to resonate with people because they're still places many people dream of visiting -- and employees will strive that much harder to earn an incentive trip to a destination they've always dreamed of visiting," says Cindy Hoddeson, director of meeting and incentive sales at the Monaco Government Tourist Office in New York.
Like its peers, Monaco is an incentive travel destination that has both a long history and a bright future. A sovereign city-state located in the French Riviera, it's been well known among Americans since at least 1956, when Monaco's Prince Rainier married American actress Grace Kelly in a televised wedding that remains one of the era's most iconic events.
"Even though it was another generation, many Americans still think of Princess Grace and her magical wedding," says Hoddeson, who notes that the principality's current leader is Prince Albert, a former Olympian with American blood. "Most Americans know very little about European royalty, so that builds a certain mystique around the destination."
That mystique is further amplified by Monaco's starring role in the James Bond films Never Say Never Again and GoldenEye. "Monaco conjures up images of royalty, glamor, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and, of course, James Bond," continues Hoddeson. "Although there's more value there than you might realize, people think of Monaco as a place they could never afford to go on their own, which makes it perfect for motivational trips."
It's not just mystique that makes Monaco special. Rather, it's the experience it offers that attracts incentive groups there and elsewhere in "old" Europe. Highlights of the old Europe experience include the following:
When they visit classic European destinations, travelers have an idea what to expect already because they're so familiar with them. That makes planning an incentive trip easy, because there are always certain things attendees want to experience -- many of which are historical in nature, which is one reason Europe remains so special.
In the case of Monaco, classic activities include a helicopter transfer to Monaco from France's Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, or aerial tours of the principality's coastline; walking tours of the old town, known as "The Rock," which has cobbled streets and buildings dating back more than 700 years; the Oceanographic Museum, which once was overseen by world-famous explorer Jacques Cousteau; the Monaco Top Cars Collection, a museum housing the late Prince Rainier's private car collection; and the famed Casino de Monte-Carlo, which dates back more than 150 years to 1863.
Although they're very old cities, destinations like Paris and London are constantly evolving. That means there's always something new to see and experience, which keeps even the most classic European destinations fresh for new and returning visitors alike.
In Monaco, new experiences are mostly participatory in nature. Instead of experiencing the destination from a tour bus, as groups used to do, incentive groups can now partake in cooking classes with classically trained French chefs; rowing activities that pay homage to Grace Kelly, whose father and brother were Olympic scullers; Solex electric bike rides along the route of the famous Monaco Grand Prix auto race; spa treatments at Thermes Marins-Monte Carlo spa, which is one of only two spas in Europe to offer cryotherapy; and hiking along the Via Alpina, a network of five long-distance hiking trails through the alpine regions of Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monaco.
Getting to Europe from North America is generally easy, and once you're there you're at the doorstep of multiple destinations with which to customize a unique incentive travel itinerary. Paris is just a hop away from London, for instance, and Barcelona a short jaunt from Madrid.
Monaco, meanwhile, is literally steps from both France and Italy. "You can have breakfast in Monaco, lunch in Italy, dinner in France, and come back to Monaco for after-dinner drinks -- all without packing and unpacking your bag," Hoddeson says. "The geographic proximity to Italy and France enable groups to have many different kinds of experiences. The possibilities are endless."
Reliable Hotel Product
Nascent destinations have a lot to offer. One asset of Europe's established destinations that they can't match, however, is their hotel product.
"Many of us dream of visiting some of the newer destinations, and they will be wonderful, but they generally don't have sufficient hotel product yet to accommodate a good-sized group," points out Hoddeson, who says highlights in Monaco include Hotel de Paris, Hotel Hermitage, Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort, and the Fairmont Monte Carlo.
Finally, there's one more reason that groups continue to flock to Western Europe over newer, more exotic options: experience.
"A lot of the newer destinations don't have enough experience yet to even know what a motivational trip is," Hoddeson concludes. "A motivational trip isn't just a group trip operated by a tour operator; it's a trip offering activities that -- even if you had the money -- perhaps you could not buy. Many of the traditional European destinations like Madrid, Barcelona, and Monaco have years of experience learning and comprehending what a motivational trip is. As a result, we can truly make the corporation that's hosting the trip look like a star in front of its audience."