IN A MEETINGS and events market marked by restricted travel and tight budgets, there's no question that incentives still sell. According to results of a recent SITE study, the $27 billion incentive industry continues to thrive due to the effectiveness of incentives, with programs aimed at employee teams reported to increase performance by 45 percent — a “stunning” find, SITE says. What's less of a surprise is just what makes a premier incentive program venue motivate guests: gorgeous grounds, cosseting accommodations and a selection of activities aimed at every imaginable taste. On these pages, we profile a selection of North America's prime incentive properties — all winners of 2002 Paragon Awards awarded by our sister publication Corporate Meetings & Incentives to hotels and resorts that exhibit excellence in atmosphere, services and amenities.
THE WRIGHT STUFF
Built in 1929 by Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect Arthur Chase McArthur and operated for 44 years by the family of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix offers up a healthy serving of history with its ample incentive amenities. When not treating top performers to the resort's available 36 holes of championship golf, incentive clients at the 39-acre property can stage events in landmark spaces including the Aztec Room, where celebrities Bing Crosby, Clark Gable and Ava Gardner once gathered around the piano to sing, says director of incentive sales Patti Lownsbury.
While it preserves the past, the Arizona Biltmore is looking toward to the future of incentive events, Lownsbury adds. In addition to recently refurbishing its conference center with new carpet, window coverings, furniture and lighting, the Mobil four-star property is now constructing the 25,856-square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom, scheduled to open in June.
Regular upgrades are just one way the Arizona Biltmore works to maintain appeal in a competitive incentive market, Lownsbury says. “Budgets are being scrutinized a lot more closely. Clients are bringing in a lot more input from the financial side, with CFOs signing off on deals. Clients are looking at upgrades, complimentary accommodations, food and beverage concessions,” she explains. The key, she says, is “partnering with the [client] company.”
HIGH AND DRY
Working with major incentive houses including St. Louis-based Maritz, Minneapolis-based Carlson Marketing and Newport Beach, Calif.-based Ambassadors Performance, The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, Colo., draws about 50 incentive events annually, according to director of insurance and incentive sales Jack Gage. What brings in the big guns? “The beauty of the region, and the physical resort property — its condition, its layout. It just sparkles,” Gage says.
Multiple gathering spaces at the 3,000-acre property include the 600-guest-capacity Mountain View Terrace, the 500-capacity Cheyenne Lodge, situated 400 feet up Cheyenne Mountain from the hotel, and the intimate Golden Bee — a reconstructed pub featuring 17th-century wood salvaged from a London warehouse. For those planning al fresco fetes, Gage explains that the area's average 13 inches of rain per year mean “low humidity and very few bugs — you can have meal functions outside and not be pestered.”
While top-notch venues and vistas are a huge selling point, “The trick with incentives is having a lot of activities,” Gage says. He cites local mountain biking, horseback riding, fly-fishing and river rafting as some of The Broadmoor's most appealing options. And, he adds, “You can fall out of bed and onto the golf course.”
With more than 70,000 square feet of event and meeting space, the Fairmont Banff Springs, nestled in the soaring Canadian Rockies of Banff, Alberta, accommodates between 50 and 100 incentive events annually, says director of catering and conference services Ellen Barrow. Many of these take advantage of the heritage hotel's ornate Mount Stephen Hall and its signature “medieval feast” event package, she adds. Also appealing to incentive clients are the area's recreational possibilities: hiking, biking and golf during the warm months, skiing, skating and dog-sledding in the winter — and, year-round, luxuriating in the hotel's Willowstream Spa.
According to Barrow, the Fairmont Banff Springs' new 22,000-square foot kitchen space includes a butcher shop, pastry kitchen and banquet kitchen, adding to the property's value as a premier event destination. Also a plus: “The hotel has partnered with [locally based] Peak Events, which is a preferred supplier and offers a full range of event planning and production services.” For independent-minded incentive clients, she adds, “It's not a problem to bring in a producer. Peak is preferred, not exclusive. The hotel has worked with a wide range of production companies.” Ultimately, she says, it's all about “being able to satisfy the whole realm of needs for groups from 25 to 900.”
“Our guests can do as much or as little as they want,” says Ken Broom, director of sales for the 450-acre J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, Calif, which handles close to 60 incentive events annually. On the action side, he names multi-surface tennis, 36 holes of golf, jeep tours and hot-air ballooning as choices. As for inactivity, a 30,000-square-foot spa offers many relaxing options, he says.
According to Broom, the property's elegant entrance sets the tone for incentive groups: “They turn into the drive and they're immediately surrounded by the golf course, lakes and an island with pink flamingos,” he says. “There is a breathtaking atrium where the lake comes into the lobby.”
Exciting events complete the picture, he adds, describing a recent incentive group's “Arabian Nights” bash on the property's driving range, where Arabian horses with costumed riders galloped over a hill down to the dining area, delighting guests. To help incentive groups get the most out of their events, the resort will accommodate clients' preferred vendors or will provide complete event production services, including audiovisual, transportation and theme design, he adds.
While sprawling beach may be her property's No. 1 selling point for incentive clients, director of destination services Pam Russell says there's a lot more to the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, in Naples, Fla.
Other outdoor spaces such as the 100-guest-capacity Tea Garden, surrounded by native vegetation, and 500-capacity Center Court, which features a “gorgeous fountain — like a movie set,” are two more reasons for clients to consider the Mobil five-star hotel, she adds.
But conditions are prime indoors as well, Russell insists. Three ballrooms offer a range of atmospheres, from the chandeliers and silk-covered walls of the Ritz-Carlton Ballroom to the high-tech possibilities of the Pavilion Ballroom, which features a grid-work ceiling that can be lowered to three feet off the floor “to load in every piece of special effect lighting equipment you could want,” she says.
Options like these are essential in today's incentive market, Russell explains, where budgets are limited and demands are high. “My clients have to know that I will do whatever it takes to do a memorable event,” she says. “But they also have to know that one year their budget may only be $60,000, the next year it may be $120,000, the next year it may be $30,000. They have to know whatever they come here with, they're going to get more than they could have possibly gotten anyplace else.”
Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, 602/955-6600; J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, 760/341-2211; The Broadmoor, 800/634-7111; The Fairmont Banff Springs, 403/762-2211; The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, 941/598-3300