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Incentive Destinations Topping Every Planner's List

Domestic and international hot spots from Las Vegas to Iceland

sunsets at Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

There is no shortage of terrific destinations for groups to consider for their next incentive outing. But a few stand out these days, whether for their new offerings, the bragging rights they confer, or the cultural cachet they promise to those who visit.

Vegas Reinvented Again

From new and renewed resorts to an embrace of the great outdoors, there's so much happening in Las Vegas these days, starting with the debut of professional sports when the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team's first season opens in October. In 2019, they will be joined by the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders -- lately of Oakland -- for whom a $1.9 billion stadium is being built.

On the Strip, there have been major renovations at a number of resorts, chief among them MGM Resort's ongoing transformation of the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino into The Park MGM and NoMad Las Vegas, as well as a major remodel of 2,895 rooms at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which began this summer.

And the great outdoors is about to get greater as MGM Resorts' The Park and Caesars Entertainment's Linq will be joined by the long rumored and recently confirmed Wynn Paradise Park, a lagoon project that will bring beach and water sports to the Strip, where the golf course used to be.

Inviting Maui

Another top incentive destination is Hawaii, and just past the historic town of Lahaina is Maui's Ka'anapali beach, a three-mile stretch of crystal-blue water that once attracted Hawaiian royalty. Sitting right next to Pu'u Keka'a (Black Rock), where a famous torchlight cliff-diving ceremony takes place every day at sunset, is the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa. The 508-room, 23-acre property offers spectacular ocean views, a meandering, 142-yard freshwater lagoon, and more than 12,000 square feet of indoor function space.

It's a casual resort in an idyllic setting, with a great pool area to complement the beach. Dining options start with Black Rock Kitchen, where an amuse bouche -- such as ginger carrot soup over quinoa, litchi, and pickled ginger -- sets the tone for an evening that focuses on the local catch and island-grown produce. Other options range from Teppan-yaki Dan to the Maui Nui Luau.

Next door is the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka'anapali, a 12-acre resort wrapped around a five-pool complex that faces out over the rich blues of the Pacific and plays host to a number of flamingos and parrots. The 759-room Westin Maui has 46,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space and plenty of boutique shopping next door at Whalers Village. The Heavenly Spa lives up to its name, and the Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage is a treatment that soothes your stress with an island touch.

Dining options include the creative Relish Burger Bistro and the incredible Wailele Polynesian Luau, a captivating door into Hawaii's cultural heritage that ends with a mesmerizing "extreme fire-knife dance."

Unexpected Europe
As our recent Incentive Industry Roundtable reflected, when it comes to international destinations, groups are increasingly seeking a combination of old and new. While classic European destinations such as Italy, the U.K., and France have been making a comeback, at the same time attendees are looking for less-traditional incentive destinations within those countries. Attendees who have been to Rome want to try Tuscany; those who have seen Paris are considering Nice.

One European destination that has quickly moved to the top of many attendees' places-to-visit lists is Portugal, particularly its capital city of Lisbon, which is a coastal city that offers both distant history and cutting-edge modernity. For the former, there are the historic Bairro Alto and Bica neighborhoods filled with shops, bars, and some of the best strolling in Europe, reflecting the city's position as a major trading hub going back centuries. Groups can travel back to the 7th century at the Castelo de São Jorge set on a hilltop overlooking the Tagus River.

For a more modern experience, incentive groups can explore the Park of Nations, full of stunning architecture and event venues including unique spaces such as the Lisboa Oceanarium, Museum of Knowledge, and the Casino Lisboa. The logistics add up nicely, too: plenty of five-star hotels, a centrally located airport served by all the major airlines, mild weather, and terrific value.

The Pavilhão Carlos Lopes, originally designed to serve as the Pavilion of Portuguese Industries during the 1922 International Exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, underwent a renovation last year, and is now an impressive event venue in the center of downtown. Groups can also consider the recently opened SUD Lisboa, with state-of-the-art technology and incredible views of the Tagus River.

Iceland Excites
Another unconventional destination many incentive planners are hearing requests for is Iceland. Its combination of Instagrammable scenery, modern infrastructure, and an ideal location between Europe and North America have made it a hot spot for many groups (and the country where our Global Incentive Summit will be held from Nov. 1--4 of this year). In 2016, Iceland saw its MICE tourism grow by 21 percent compared to the year before, according to Iceland Tourism Research & Consulting.

Its capital city of Reykjavik is filled with restaurants, hotels, shops, and architectural gems. The city offers high-end properties such as the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, with a number of event spaces, as well as the 112-room Canopy Reykjavik, opened last year. Groups will want to explore the city's food and drink scene as well, from microbreweries and vodka distilleries, to world-class restaurants and cooking classes.

But the biggest draw of Iceland is the land itself. Incentive groups can go ice climbing, snowmobiling, river rafting, and caving through the landscape that inspired J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and has served as filming locations for Game of Thrones. For those seeking a more relaxed experience, a swim in a hot spring or geothermal pool will offer an experience they won't soon forget.

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Incentive.