by Deanna Ting | October 01, 2014

Westward Bound
A number of other Western states were strong contenders for the top domestic incentive travel destinations in this year's "Travel IQ." They include Arizona (18 percent), Texas (13 percent), and Colorado (nine percent).

Doyle says many of his clients love to head to Scottsdale, AZ, for relaxing golf-and-spa incentive programs. "With world-class golf and spa, top-notch hotels, and great weather all winter, Scottsdale is always a front-runner among domestic destinations," he says. "Airlift is good from most of the U.S. and our local partners provide a very high standard of service. Activities like hot-air ballooning, helicopters to the Grand Canyon with champagne and hors d'oeuvres, and desert Hummers with eco-friendly driver guides in the Sonoran Desert, offer unforgettable options for participants. Evening events can range from a traditional, casual hoedown al fresco to elaborate gala events at a multitude of modern venues."

In Colorado, groups can also head to a number of properties that specialize in accommodating groups. Gateway Canyons Resort, in the Unaweep Canyon near the city of Gateway, a five-hour drive from Denver, was designed to be an adventure resort by Discovery Channel Founder John Hendricks. On-site activities include driving experiences, an auto museum, air tours, curiosity retreats, horseback riding, hiking and climbing, mountain biking, wine tours, river rafting, and fly-fishing, among others.

The famous, AAA-Five-Diamond Broadmoor in Colorado Springs has also emerged from a $130-million reinvention of the 779-room historic property with a brand-new, all-inclusive luxury camp offering, as well as a rustic Ranch at Emerald Valley.

Here's a closer look at the top international incentive travel destinations for 2014:

The Caribbean Beckons
Not surprisingly, the Caribbean was ranked as the No. 1 international incentive destination region in this year's "Travel IQ" survey with 39 percent of the votes. Ease of access, beautiful beach resorts, warm weather, and rich cultural experiences make the region particularly popular for incentive programs.

A number of Caribbean islands are undergoing major additions and renovations. The upcoming $3.5-billion Baha Mar mega resort complex is slated to open next spring. "That will be interesting to watch," says Stagner. "It'll be the first time to be put together with all those different hotels companies and different levels of companies all in one area. It will be very interesting to see how that will affect the Caribbean."

Stagner's clients, Grand Cayman in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, are "the most popular because of the ease of flying in and out." She also sees a continual increase in interest in Aruba.

In Puerto Rico, Meet Puerto Rico is investing heavily to market to meeting and incentive groups, and a number of properties, including El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, are in the process of renovating to accommodate groups. The 500-acre property is currently redoing its ocean-view Las Corrales Ballroom and its Club 21 Lounge. The ballroom is getting re-carpeted corridors, and new lobby furniture. Recently, the resort's spa was also rebranded as a Waldorf Astoria Spa. In 2008, the resort built a brand-new convention center and a new water park for both children and adults.

Dittman Incentive Marketing's clients, says Doyle, enjoy St. Thomas as a Caribbean incentive destination. "In the high season, it's an easy flight, especially from the East Coast, and there are a good number of direct flights daily. After a recent major renovation, the Marriott Frenchman's Reef has inspired renewed interest in St. Thomas and can provide the quality needed for a larger incentive program. The nearby Ritz-Carlton offers a more intimate and luxurious experience for smaller programs with a higher budget. Local on-island partners have responded to the incentive market and now offer high quality activities, including ziplining, day trips to St John, and special custom sailing and snorkeling excursions to the nearby British Virgin Islands. They are also able to partner with us on excellent décor and event production elements that meet the expectations of incentive clients."

At The Performance Group, Rice's clients have recently traveled to Anguilla and Nevis. And at CWT Meetings & Events, Wagner is seeing high demand to the Dominican Republic, Turks & Caicos, and the Cayman Islands.

The island of Bermuda continues to be a top 
incentive travel destination for groups

 "The Dominican Republic continues to grow," he says. "There are some air carriers that have added lift to the Dominican Republic, and we have a couple big groups, including a group of 2,300 going this winter. They couldn't have accommodated that without additional lift from one of our preferred partners. Punta Cana is popular, and there are many new and newly renovated properties our clients consider, including the Melia and Paradisus properties in addition to Hard Rock, Secrets Resorts, the new Westin, and the Tortuga Bay Resort. Another popular property, which is outside of Punta Cana proper, is the Casa De Campo. It has 185 rooms and is roughly an hour and a half drive from Punta Cana via motor coach, which was made possible by the construction of a new highway. Puerto Plata is another popular destination in the Dominican Republic, but is too far of a transfer from Punta Cana. There is airlift directly into Puerto Plata."

And while technically not considered part of the Caribbean, the isle of Bermuda continues to see strong interest from incentive groups. It received a total of 11 percent of the votes in this year's "Travel IQ."

More to Mexico
Approximately 31 percent of respondents to this year's "Travel IQ" survey chose Mexico as a top international incentive travel destination.

"After a number of challenging years as a destination, we are glad to report that we are seeing increased interest in Mexico, particularly around Cancun and Riviera Maya where beautiful resorts provide sincere hospitality and a sharp focus on top quality service," says Doyle. "Still recovering from the recent downturn, Mexican properties continue to offer good value. Combine that with direct flight access to Cancun from many U.S. cities, and this quickly becomes a destination that we can strongly recommend."

Rice echoes Doyle's sentiments: "As far as popular destinations for 2014 and 2015, we've seen a big resurgence in Mexico which hasn't been on the table for quite some years," she says. "The Riviera Maya and Punta Mita areas are particularly popular with our incentive groups."

CWT Meetings & Events' Wagner sees Cozumel, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Punta Mita, Playa del Carmen, and Los Cabos as the most popular resort areas for incentive groups. All-inclusive resort brands such as Fiesta Americana and Hard Rock Hotels & Resorts are also becoming increasingly popular option for incentive groups. Earlier this year, the new 1,264-room Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya opened.