All incentive travel programs have two goals: to show participants how highly the company values their achievements with a trip that they couldn't take on their own, and to inspire them to keep going above and beyond, so they get to go on a fantastic trip again next year.
Here is a look at where companies are sending the best of their best.
Within the U.S., there are the perennial favorites that will always be at or near the top of any list of hot incentive destinations, chief among them Florida, and notably Southern Florida. "For winter warmth, the South Florida area -- Miami, particularly South Beach and Key Biscayne -- is really the main destination for a U.S.--based company that wants to stay domestic and still have almost a guarantee of nice weather in the traditional incentive months of January through April," says Scott Siewert, president of Fab At Incentives.
Mike May, president and CEO of Brightspot Incentives & Events, believes that this is a good time to head up the west coast to Clearwater, saying that its award-winning white-sand beaches have recently been joined by some new and renewed incentive-quality hotels.
Although the flight time is far longer, Hawaii is a destination that "never fails to appeal to any group," says Sarah Thompson, director of purchasing and product development at EGR International Inc. "It's exotic, far enough away from the mainland that attendees feel that they are really 'getting away,' the activity options are endless, and there are a plethora of hotel options within a large range of rates."
Then there is Las Vegas, which Siewert calls "a no-brainer." JNR International's clients are "booking a lot of programs in Las Vegas," say Vicki Kern, vice president of global sourcing and proposal development, and Kim Hester, an account executive in global meetings and incentives at the firm. "Our clients are doing a lot of larger programs, and Vegas has great airlift, easy transfers from the airport, flexible function space, and top-quality hotels."
Also near the top are the traditional big cities: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and, of course, Miami, which does double duty as a beach destination. "Urban experiences offer historical, cultural, and local experiences," says Kendra Murray, CMM, CIS, vice president of meetings and incentives for Bishop-McCann. "They are a big hit with every generation!"
Cited by more planners than any other city, Nashville, has "become popular among Millennials for the different atmosphere it offers: a music scene, eclectic eateries, and alternative activities," say Beth Gear-D'Imperio, project manager, and Gregg Gensone, venue sourcing manager, at Ashfield Meetings & Events. "It is a unique environment."
In summer or winter, Canada remains "a no-brainer for North Americans," Siewert says, pointing to Vancouver and Whistler. Others mention Banff and Quebec. Down south, Mexico is "a perennial best value for U.S. companies," Siewert adds. Beau Ballin, senior director of business development for CWT Meetings & Events, notes that both the classic incentive destination, Los Cabos and Punta Mita, have great new properties in place or coming. Cancun remains a staple as well.
Gear-D'Imperio and Gensone say Central and South America are hot right now, with "countries like Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Colombia high on the request list."
"Europe as a whole has been very hot," says Mark Herbert of Incentive Solutions. "The value of the euro has also helped since it is down versus the dollar." Brightspot's May agrees, noting that the exchange rate and VAT refunds, along with what he calls "podium power cachet" of "major European cities such as London, Paris, Rome, and Barcelona," are bringing them back to favor with U.S. groups. All of Italy is extremely popular, Murray says, noting that the north and south both have "charming cities, stunning waters, and beautiful people."
England, Scotland, and Ireland remain favorites with American groups, as does Switzerland, while the Scandinavian countries are getting more interest. And, of course, both Croatia and Iceland are red-hot.
Greece is "returning to favor," Murray says, adding, "Monte Carlo, on the French Riviera, is always popular and [can be] topped off with a side trip to Cannes or Eze for culture, perfume, and food."
Combining buzz, value, and all the options incentive planners look for, Portugal and its capital city, Lisbon, were mentioned by more planners interviewed than any other destination.
While travel time and cost are cutting into long-haul destinations, "Africa continues to be a bucket-list star," Kern and Hester say. "Once they arrive, the distance is well worth it. Guests can explore charming Cape Town, go on safari in the Kruger National Park, and marvel at Victoria Falls."
More exotic sites such as Dubai, Bora Bora in French Polynesia, Thailand's Phuket, Bali in Indonesia, "and similar destinations are very popular," says EGR's Thompson. "They will always be bucket-list destinations."
Vietnam is "exotic, has interesting history, and breathtaking beauty. It's also less expensive than bigger neighboring cities in China," says Murray. Other top countries include Japan, Thailand, and South Korea, as well as Australia and especially New Zealand.