by Lisa Grimaldi | August 01, 2004

Chris Lynn

Last summer, international suppliers were less than enthusiastic for their prospects of U.S. incentive business. Many firms shied away from sending top performers outside of the United States for several reasons: SARS, the war in Iraq, politics and the slower-than-expected recovery of the economy.
    Now, it seems the tide is turning, and groups are once again heading overseas.
    “For the first time in a few years, the outlook for incentive travel outside the United States is positive,” said Mary T. Ryan, CMP, senior sales planner for Minneapolis-based Carlson Marketing Group. “No matter how well traveled winners are, there is a preference now for the old Europe standards London, Rome and the South of France.” 
    That’s music to the ears of suppliers such as Chris Lynn, North American sales director for VisitLondon. “Business definitely is picking up,” said Lynn, who recently concluded a nationwide tour of U.S. incentive firms. In the Great Lakes region alone, 17 of the 20 firms Lynn visited had programs to England this year. “Their clients are getting a bit of cabin fever from domestic destinations,” he said. 
    While safety is still a concern with planners, Lynn said the devalued British pound is more of an issue. (At press time, one pound was equal to US$1.85.) To help entice groups, he said, British hotel chains like Thistle, Millennium and Radisson Edwardian were offering guaranteed dollar rates for 2005. 
    France, which lost business due to its opposition to the Iraq war, also sees incentives on the upswing. “Business has improved a lot in the last few months,” said Anouk Thiebaut, the French Government Tourist Office’s manager, USA, for meetings, conferences and incentives. “We have noticed a much bigger interest.”
    Europe is not the only beneficiary of the revived interest in international programs. Last month, James LaValle, manager of conventions, exhibitions and corporate events for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, held a fam trip for 30 incentive buyers, whom he said felt “very positive” about selling Hong Kong programs in the long and short term.