by Leo Jakobson | June 09, 2017

It's becoming more and more common to see Chinese incentive groups in classic destinations, and they can be huge -- easily large enough to pass for a medium-size convention -- which presents unusual challenges beyond a language barrier. After all, instead of being centered around a convention center intended to handle groups of that size and larger, they need to be wined, dined, and entertained.

That's hard enough in one destination. But when Jeunesse, a U.S.-based multilevel marketing firm of lifestyle products and dietary supplements, brought 2,700 top producers from all over China, as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau to Germany for five days in late May, it used four destinations. Starting with three days in Frankfurt, the group made a day-long transfer to Stuttgart and nearby Metzingen, before departing for two days in Munich.

"To make an incentive trip for a group so large successful, we need lots of support from the tourism bureaus, from the hotels, and, of course, support from the nation," says Sandy Liu, general manager of Taiwan-based Melchers Travel, which planned, organized, and carried out the trip in just 10 months. "Fortunately, the German Convention Bureau gave us lots of support."

Liu's first challenge was working with hoteliers and other venues that could handle a group 2,700 strong, few of whom spoke either German or English, she says. "It takes a lot of support from the convention bureaus and a lot of discussion," she adds. "There's a lot of things to arrange. We need security, we need a nurse to come with us, we need to do lots of research on restaurants, we even have three empty buses with us to make sure everything goes smoothly."

Jeunesse attendees celebrate at Kaltenberg Castle, near Munich.

That's in addition to the 66 full buses needed to move the group to various venues and then back to the 10 hotels in Frankfurt, before departing for a day visit to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, followed by a 20-mile journey to Metzingen, known for its scores of brand-name outlets like Hugo Boss and Gucci, and then soldiering on to Munich. "Transport is the hardest part for me," Liu says. "We have to find the route, find parking space, and work with highway patrol. But the Germans - if you tell them the reasons and the story of the trip, they will find a way to make it work."

The trip began in Frankfurt, where the group was accommodated in 10 hotels. Over two days, they split up, with half taking in the famous scenery during a two-and-a-half hour Rhine River cruise and half touring Heidelberg, an historic university city with a beautiful old town and a castle dating as far back as the 14th century.  The next day they switched.

"The Chinese love shopping," Liu says. "The highlight of the whole journey was shopping in Metzingen." So in Frankfurt, the groups were dropped off for free time after their tours at the Frankfurt opera house, near many department stores.

Monday May 22 was the really challenging day, with the group departing Frankfurt for a four-hour visit to the Mercedes-Benz Museum followed by the Metzingen shopping excursion.

While factory tours are a popular tourist activity in Mercedes-Benz's Stuttgart headquarters, they were clearly impossible with a group of 2,700, so Liu rented out the carmaker's museum, which is normally closed on Mondays. The group was too big for guided tours, so they were able to wander the galleries and bring box lunches to the Museum's 1,000-person atrium, where a young pianist from Stuttgart played while they ate. Even that required careful and involved planning, Liu says, noting that the box lunches had to allow for a variety of diets, including beef-free and full vegetarian. In order to manage that for a group so large, attendees were asked about their diets before the trip and given color-coded tickets for the correct lunch box.

With Mercedes a very well regarded brand in China the group enjoyed a welcome by Jutta Benz, a granddaughter of Carl Benz, for a meet-and-greet photos and autographs. Stuttgart's head of tourism, Armin Dellnitz, was also on hand to welcome them.

Then it was on to Outletcity Metzingen for shopping, which Liu says was handled very professionally and smoothly. The management decorated using with Jeunesse's company color, special information and orientation materials were provided. Food trucks were brought in to fed the shoppers, and 60 extra staff were on hand, including all able to speak mandarin and other Chinese dialects. "They are very professional and know how to work with groups," Liu says, adding that her group was provided with discount cards.

In Frankfurt, castles were the order of the day, with a visit to magical Neuschwanstein, the model for Cinderella's Castle in Walt Disney World -- especially appropriate as Jeunesse is headquartered in Orlando.

The final night gala was held in Kaltenberg castle, which Liu says was one of her best decisions. "We chose Kaltenberg after inspecting many other places, including a winery and a stadium," Liu says. "They are very experienced, and if you work with people who are not it costs a lot of energy and causes a lot of problems."

Kaltenberg has its own brewery, and an Octoberfest theme was used, with a huge tent -- which the castle uses for the actual Octoberfest -- set up and activities ranging from a boy band in the courtyard to photos in traditional German dress to a contest revolving around sliding beer steins down a wooden bar. The Jeunesse Beer Festival also served to "bring everyone together," Liu says. "That matches the Jeunesse slogan: One Team, One Family - One Jeunesse."