by Jonathan Vatner | December 01, 2006

Caren Bigelow


Caren Bigelow

Ten years ago, Kuulei Stockman brought an incentive group to China. She found the hotels were first-class, but the off-site venues were not up to par. Her staff had to arrive early to clean bathrooms and send back any dirty dishware, and the group couldn’t go anywhere without a police escort, a translator and plenty of American cigarettes with which to barter. “They had no understanding of what incentives were about,” says Stockman, president of Alexandria, Va.-based Travelcorp.

Things have changed. In 2007, the Chicago-based Society for Incentive & Travel Executives will open new chapters in Beijing and Shanghai, signaling a growing interest in this rapidly advancing country.

Lex Granaada, president of SITE International, explained that because many multinational corporations have offices in China, those firms will hold “industrial incentives,” high-end trips in which employees can explore the region’s business potential.

Perhaps in anticipation of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, major hotel brands are leading a building boom. InterContinental Hotels Group, for one, plans to have 125 hotels in China by 2008; Starwood Hotels & Resorts has 10 incentive-caliber properties there, with 15 more to open by 2009.

But is China ready for U.S.-based incentive groups?

A spokesperson for Starwood in Singapore said gateway cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have sufficient infrastructure for international incentives, but secondary cities tend to focus more on the domestic market.

For her part, Caren Bigelow, manager, travel planning, for USMotivation in Atlanta, said a recent trip left her “amazed.” She added, “For companies that understand the true purpose and value of a travel incentive, it is definitely a destination they’re interested in.”