by Matt Alderton | May 31, 2019
Some places will always be popular destinations for incentive travel -- Hawaii, Las Vegas, Paris, Cancún and Monte Carlo, to name a few. Others, however, are dark horses that arrive on the scene from left field, simultaneously delighting and surprising incentive travelers with their underrated offerings. Aix-en-Provence, France; Valencia, Spain; and Qingdao, China, are three of those places, according to destination and event management company Pacific World, which last week published the latest installment of its "Emerging Destinations" report.

"We all know what's possible today, but what are the places that are rising in popularity -- destinations who have invested in developing capacities catering to the business events industry?" asked Selina Sinclair, global managing director of Pacific World.

Launched last year, the Emerging Destinations report was created to help meeting and incentive planners identify up-and-coming sites for future programs. Chosen locales, according to Pacific World, are "under-explored destinations" with "upcoming government investments in infrastructure," "event venues that facilitate deeper engagement that would lead to driving stronger business results" and "opportunities for engagement and interactions with local industry and communities to create meaningful content."

"Incentive travel today is multigenerational. Exploration, uniqueness, authenticity and traveling outside of comfort zones are key factors for creating effective and engaging meetings and incentives programs," Sinclair continued. "As we look ahead and consider the next generation of audiences, we take into consideration things like Instagram-ability, authentic engagement opportunities and access to undiscovered experiences."

Pacific World said Aix-en-Provence, Valencia and Qingdao are primed to host groups as soon as this year:

• Aix-en-Provence, France. Pacific World called this city "a great choice for corporate retreats and intimate groups." Located in the south of France, it inspired many of Paul Cezanne's paintings and has a diverse mix of culinary, historical and architectural attractions, not to mention unique venues like the Le Carrieres de Lumieres (Quarries of Lights), a temporary art exhibition projecting works of art onto stone walls near the village of Baux-de-Provence. Located near better-known cities like Cannes, Nice and Saint-Tropez, it's surrounded by little-known villages where attendees can interact with locals and participate in curated experiences like a Catamaran sail around the Calanques cliffs.

• Valencia, Spain. The third most-visited destination in Spain, according to Pacific World, Valencia is gaining ground as an alternative to Barcelona and Madrid. The city is ideal for incentives, the company said, because of its "strong incentive travel infrastructure," including nearly 3,000 hotel rooms. Along with the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences -- one of the largest scientific and cultural complexes in Europe -- highlights include curated experiences like an exclusive dinner party on one of the city's many rooftops or a private tour of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house.

• Qingdao, China. Qingdao is "one of the most active MICE areas in China," according to Pacific World, which said the city has the seventh largest seaport in the world, making it an economic hub. Experiential offerings for incentive groups include learning about Taoism in the shadows of China's largest coastal mountain range and learning how to make the Jiaozi dumplings for which the region is known. The city also is home to unique venues like the Qingdao Beer Museum and Lalu Qingdao China, a new five-star property with sea views and a private beach.

Although they're not yet fully baked, Pacific World also presented four destinations that incentive groups should consider for programs in 2020 and beyond:

• Incheon, South Korea. As the third largest city in South Korea, Incheon offers "world-class conference centers and hotels" as well as daily international flights, according to Pacific World, for whom a highlight is Songdo, a newer district that's known for its futuristic architecture and eco-friendly designs, including venues like the Songdo Convensia convention center.

• Inle Lake, Myanmar. Surrounded by fishing villages and the Shan Mountains, Inle Lake is "rich in culture and tradition," according to Pacific World, which said its "natural, slow pace of life" and its focus on environmental protection make it especially ideal for meditation and wellness retreats.

• Gujarat, India. The historic coastal state of Gujarat used to be home to Mahatma Gandhi and has therefore become a popular "spiritual destination" for travelers who want to partake in its many rituals, festivals and celebrations, according to Pacific World. The state offers diverse experiences across numerous backdrops, including dense forests, stark white salt plains and cosmopolitan cities, including the state's capital city, Ahmedabad, which is home to numerous international hotels and venues.

• Liverpool, England. Most people know Liverpool as the birthplace of the Beatles. But the waterfront English city also is "an informal conference destination with impressive sporting, musical, historic and artistic cultural offerings," according to Pacific World, which said Liverpool is a solid alternative to London for groups that want to partake in the British experience. Venues include the Titanic Rum House on the waterfront and the historic Liverpool Cathedral.