by Donna M. Airoldi | May 18, 2017

The Hotel Experience
This is obvious, but find the best hotel your budget will allow. If high-end brands aren't in the destination, there are ways to spruce up the hotel experience.

For small- to medium-sized groups, find a boutique property and buy it out for exclusivity. Where that's not possible, talk to management about having poolside perks just for attendees, such as water spritzers, popsicles or ice cream, and cabanas available for full-body massages.

Selecting a property infused with local
culture, such as The Highland Dallas,
helps enhance an incentive trip

Properties that tap into the local culture or history bring their own grandeur. For example, the recently enhanced Highland Dallas infuses Texas charm into every amenity, including its on-site steakhouse Knife; or the Casa Marina Resort in Key West, FL, which puts its century of Florida history (and luxury) front-and-center.

Even if you have a tight budget, look for destinations where luxury hotels have opened recently, because that probably means the older hotels have availability, and the overall destination has had to step things up, with new activities, restaurants, and an improved airport. "A luxury hotel coming on enhances everything about that destination, whether you're staying at the new hotel or not," says Joanie Miskowiec Phillips, director of purchasing and industry relations for MotivAction.

She also suggests tiered programs, "where the top winners get suites or an extra activity, spa treatment, or private cocktail party with the CEO," she says. MotivAction research shows when an employee wins a lower tier, it makes them work harder the following year to win that extra award.

Off-Site Event Experiences
This is where planners can really infuse a "wow" factor, especially by including hard-to-get experiences or unusual locations.

Broadway shows offer a great opportunity
to create memorable moments and a VIP
experience for incentive groups

For New York, today luxury is getting tickets to see the megahit Hamilton and getting to meet a cast member, says Cosimo Bruzzese, vice president for business development at Briggs, Inc., a New York--based destination management company.

It's also about looking for unique venues -- which can be found in any city.

"It's renting a multimillion-dollar penthouse or loft space that's on the market and creating an experience that can't be replicated because that apartment is going to be sold," says Bruzzese. That private event can include famous local mixologists, chefs, and entertainment.

For an event in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, one of Ethridge's clients created a dinner event in a cenote -- an underground cave -- and hired William Close and the Earth Harp Collective for music. The next season the group finished third on America's Got Talent, and guests had bragging rights about seeing them before they made it.

In Miami, groups have taken over the Marlins baseball stadium and played a ball game with former managers and players coaching them, says Scaletta. They followed it up with a multicourse dinner on the field.

What about iconic locales? For people who haven't experienced them, it might be enough just to have an event in that space. But for those who are used to such places, enhance them. For the Rainbow Room, "bring in the Roots from The Tonight Show downstairs or a Broadway performer for a one-on-one music session," Bruzzese says. "The Rainbow Room is an amazing option, but people will talk about 'we did this.'"

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the May/June 2017 issue of Incentive.