by Donna M. Airoldi | May 18, 2017

Cities that connote luxury, like Monte Carlo and Dubai, make for incredible incentive programs. But what about other locations where a VIP environment doesn't immediately come to mind? There are a few ways that smart planners can create a sense of luxury in their programs regardless of the destination.

The first thing to remember is that luxury today does not mean the same thing it did 20 years ago.

"It is no longer about the acquisition of 'things' but about being in the know, appreciating the best of the best, about the experience, and the story of the experience," says Cindy Hoddeson, director, North America of the Monaco Government Tourist Office. "Today's incentive participants relish the hunt of the experience, and discovering a destination's hidden gems. They may also perceive unstructured time as a luxury."

Work closely with a property, such
as Caesars Las Vegas, to customize
its event space to your group

It's also less about the destination and more about what planners can do in that destination.

"People aren't going to [second-tier cities] and saying, 'Ooh, this is going to be high luxury,'" says Sarah Ethridge, account director for incentive house Madison. "But it's where you house them and how you treat them from beginning to end that creates that sense of specialness and luxury."

The Welcome Experience
One thing experts agree on is to make sure attendees feel welcomed as soon as they step off the plane, especially with how frustrating travel can be these days. Have a personalized meet-and-greet at the airport. When possible, use black cars or other smaller vehicles, rather than large coaches, to transfer guests to their hotels. Have bottles of water available and towels -- warm or cool, depending on the location -- "so they feel they are being taken care of," says Jane Scaletta, general manager for Allied PRA South Florida, who often uses orange-scented towels to bring in the aroma of the region.

When guests arrive at the hotel, provide a refreshing beverage, a cocktail or mocktail, using a local syrup, flavor, or distiller. Then provide the product as a room gift along with a recipe. "Create a sense of place throughout the program," says Ethridge. "Little details are the things that tip over into luxury."

Creative Transfers
Long drives and coaches sometimes can't be avoided, but the time can go quicker and the transfer made more memorable with a storyteller or performer along for the ride. For groups heading to Key West, Scaletta has hired a musician who plays the role of a hitchhiker with guitar that the bus driver picks up en route. He then entertains the guests by singing songs, and, ideally, makes the trip feel shorter. Or provide guests with a photo book on the region that they can peruse on the drive.

Elizabeth Powers, service design and event producer for Allied PRA in Dallas/Fort Worth, hires a company that puts on a train robbery show for vintage rail transfers between Fort Worth and Grapevine, TX. She also makes use of a replica Blues Brothers--mobile from the House of Blues, as well as local car collector clubs for classic automobiles. "A lot of rental companies won't have that access," she says.

Another popular option is to provide a police escort, especially if you weren't able to secure VIP vehicles. It gives the attendees a sense of importance, and helps eliminate getting stuck in traffic, says Powers.

For a walking transfer in Miami to a restaurant for one client, Scaletta hired a Junkanoo band for a Caribbean-style parade. "Police closed off the section of the street between the hotel and venue, and everyone danced to the music on their way to dinner," she says.