Prior to 2009, destinations such as Monaco, Dubai, South Africa and Bermuda were alluring settings for U.S. groups. Following are insights from three suppliers in these luxury spots on how they were affected by the events of the past year and how they are approaching the U.S. meeting and incentive market today. (For the insights of tourism officials in these destinations, as well as Hong Kong, see "In Defense of Glamour.")
Philippa Durant is managing director for the DMC Group, a New York City-based company that represents nine destination management firms including Dragonfly Africa, which offers DMC services in South Africa, and Gulf Dunes, which handles events in Dubai.
M&C: Which of these two luxury destinations was hit hardest by the events of the past year?
Durant: Dubai was more affected by the downturn in the MICE market. South Africa was not so affected; it is in the unique position of hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The interest from the North American market, surprisingly, has been building in the last year. We are several months out, and the demand from U.S. corporations is strong.
M&C: How has business changed in the past year?
Durant: We find ways to creatively work within a client's budget and still deliver a quality product. Some programs have included fewer components and more free time, but we are then still able to include a sublime "Arabian Night" in the desert in Dubai, or a catered breakfast on a deserted island on the Zambezi River next to Victoria Falls.
M&C: Are you changing marketing plans to showcase value? Or do you feel that the high-end elements are what make the destinations unique and will remain selling points when the market comes back?
Durant: We do highlight the value to be found in all of our destinations, and we do negotiate more with our suppliers and pass on this value to our clients, but we are not offering the four-star experience for incentives -- we're still providing a five-star experience. We continue to sell the unique high-end international events. The interest is there.
is director of group sales, North America, for Monte Carlo SBM, which has a portfolio that includes four hotels and five casinos in Monaco.
M&C: How has SBM fared in the past year? Williams:
We have experienced a complete cycle, all in the last 12 months, from cancellations to postponements to rebooking, including the development of new markets/clients and the return of new requests for business.
M&C: What challenges have your clients had to face?Williams:
The biggest challenge for clients, both intermediaries [third parties] and corporations, is working with a limited staff and delayed budget approvals. There is a hesitancy to move forward, which permeates every action in an office. More specifically, when it comes to planning a meeting or incentive program, the biggest hurdle appears to be board approval for the entire program: budget, destination, star rating [of hotels] and price.
M&C: How are you marketing yourselves now?Williams:
Our biggest shift in marketing and promotions this year has been a movement away from some traditional trade shows, which have been replaced by private events. This type of entertainment provides a genuine opportunity for discussion and collaboration. In our world of multimedia, I find the face-to-face time refreshing and essential. We have always promoted SBM as a creator of emotions, and one definition of luxury is "a pleasure out of the ordinary." We will continue to strive to deliver out-of-the-ordinary experiences.
Mark Sergot is global vice president, sales, for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. Included in Fairmont's portfolio are two properties in Bermuda, one in Dubai and one in Monaco.
M&C: How has your meetings and incentives business fared in the past year?
Sergot: We've had a 25 percent decline in group business globally, as well as for new leads. For our properties today, we are looking at substitute business during this interim period. Until the U.S. market changes, we are looking at the leisure segment [of travel] to fill in gaps.
M&C: What are your marketing plans going forward?
Sergot: In Bermuda, we are going outside the focus of Fortune 500 accounts and looking at b- and c-level accounts, such as privately held firms, small firms and those that may not have been able to afford Bermuda before. In Monaco, we are looking at European meeting and incentive business to fill the gap, and in Dubai, our hotel there was primarily leisure, but now we are going after meetings. In general, we are working closely with third-party partners for new business.