Flavors from all over Latin America -- including Cuba, Brazil, Peru and Puerto Rico -- are popping up on menus of top restaurants, according to The Food Channel (foodchannel.com). Consider small touches, such as replacing mashed potatoes with mofongo (a fried plantain dish), adding arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) to the buffet or serving pisco sours (made with the strong, colorless grape brandy produced in Peru and Chile) during the cocktail hour.
Most so-called sustainability "certifications" are self-policed. If sustainability is important to you, and you aren't equipped to conduct your own inspection, look for a credential that is verified by one of the following certifying bodies:
• Green Key Hotels (greenkeyglobal.com) offers a key rating of one to five, based on nine factors (e.g., energy conservation and indoor air quality). It lists hotels in the U.S. and Canada (and several properties in other countries).
• Sustainable Travel International (sustainabletravelinternational.org) offers a STEP certification that certifies cruise ships and shore excursions, as well as hotels. A list of certified members can be found here.
You don't have to send pricey bonbons to make a sweet gesture of thanks or appreciation. Several high-quality, affordable bars will hit the sweet spot. Among them: Chocolove's, in flavors such as Almond with Sea Salt and Coffee Crunch (price per case of 12 bars, $31.25), and Theo Chocolate's, infused with exotic ingredients like Coconut Curry and Fig, Fennel & Almond (prices start at $3.25 per bar). Note: If you're mailing chocolate, consider waiting until cooler weather arrives, as chilled packaging can be expensive.
Into the Wood
An environmentally conscious company might want to rethink giving out plastic incentive cards. Instead, consider Sequoia cards, made of sustainable wood fibers. The biodegradable cards, which leave a carbon footprint one-third the size of plastic cards, can be imprinted. They also cost approximately 30 percent less than PVC cards (call for specific pricing information). (203) 570-3630; awusa.com
The most difficult part of carrying luggage on a flight has to be the sticky, icky Ziploc toiletry bag. RuMe's new reusable, machine washable, TSA-approved Reveal bag lets you carry your toiletries in mess-free style. The quart-size bag costs $6.95. (303) 799-4256; rumebags.com
Tour de Force
MP3 players are now so reasonably priced; why not use them for pillow gifts? Tourz2Go.com will pre-load a logoed player with a welcome message and a tour of any U.S. city for $15 to $25 each. The company also can create customized city tours at an additional cost. (855) 486-8792; tourz2go.com
If you haven't seen a flash mob in person, then surely you've seen one on YouTube. Destination management company Shackman Associates New York (shackmanassociates.com) can set up a flash mob to appear for your attendees anywhere in the Big Apple. For those organizing mobs elsewhere, contact a local destination management company; the Association of Destination Management Executives (adme.org) has an online directory.
To facilitate a sense of community at an event, try replacing some banquet chairs with banquettes (upholstered benches). Taylor Creative's Social Banquettes, upholstered in white micro-suede, rent for $275 to $325, depending on size. (888) 245-4044; taylorcreativeinc.com
Windows on the Word
Send a gift that's also an inspirational greeting with Fortunes to Live By, a locket key chain that shows a different message on each side. The message can be switched out by recipients to match their mood or taste. The key chains cost $26 retail, $13 wholesale. (949) 215-1060; fortunestoliveby.com
You Look Smashing
Smashing's athletic shirts and skirts are sewn with an inner layer that slims, an added bonus for attendees stepping onto the golf or tennis court. The shirts retail for $80 to $90, the skirts for $100, and dresses -- the latest trend in golf clothing -- for $190. Orders of 30 or more qualify for a corporate discount. (847) 431-4264; smashingonline.com
At some conferences, attendees walk miles each day. In high heels, the pain can be excruciating. As a welcome gift for women, consider offering Spare Soles -- ballet flats and flip-flops that come in a compact wristlet case. Price, from $15; corporate discounts are available. (858) 354-1160; sparesoles.com
Look Ma, One Hand!
The iPad is commonly used at events to administer surveys and show off product photos. Trouble is, it's a little hard to hold without smudging the screen or launching an app. The HandStand for iPad lets you hold the device in one hand and swivel it around 360 degrees. It comes in black, white and pink and retails for $49.95. (855) 218-2980; thehandstand.com