Four Great Incentive Destinations

Top performers will be enchanted by this eclectic quartet of incentive destinations

Every year, M&C hand-picks incentive travel destinations -- some traditional, some up-and-coming --  that will appeal to a wide range of winners. This year, four fabulous destinations -- Bermuda, the upscale island steeped in British traditions; Calgary, seat of Canada's Wild West heritage; Panama, with its heady mix of sophistication and Central American sizzle; and Slovenia, a young European country with ancient roots -- are on our radar. See why these spots are perfect for your next program.


BermudaWhy now? In the Atlantic Ocean, due east of North Carolina, Bermuda is less than two hours by air from most major airports on the Eastern seaboard. With idyllic weather, beautiful beaches, historic sites, natural wonders and plenty of golf, there is much here to please incentive winners.

Britain's oldest colony, Bermuda has an air of formality and grace. African influences, too, can be found here in dance, music and food. Visitors will need passports, but the Bermuda dollar is matched to the U.S. dollar, and the two are accepted interchangeably. A plus for shoppers: no sales tax.

Accommodations. The stunning Rosewood Tucker's Point offers 88 luxurious guest units, as well as golf and tennis on its sprawling, manicured grounds. The island's two Fairmont properties -- the 593-room Fairmont Southampton and the 410-room Fairmont Hamilton Princess -- work in tandem to host large groups. A ferry, free for Fairmont guests, runs between the hotels.

In Paget, the Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort and Spa, with spectacular views of Hamilton Harbor, has 45 luxurious studios and suites. On-site is Beau Rivage restaurant, where master chef Jean Claude Garzia welcomes groups of up to 14 into the kitchen for dinner.

Activities. A nature reserve, Nonsuch Island, is 15 minutes by boat from Tucker's Point; Select Sites Group can arrange for permission to access the island. A guide leads groups of 18 to 24 through winding pathways and pink sand beaches, pointing out the cliffs where cahows -- seafaring birds once thought extinct -- live and nest.

Take able-bodied adventurers to Crystal Cave, a natural wonder 120 feet underground, followed by a visit to the 12-acre Walsingham Nature Reserve for a guided hike and the chance to swim in honeycomb caves. From there, stop for a cocktail at the Swizzle Inn, originator of Bermuda's signature rum swizzle.

Group venues. The Bermuda Maritime Museum is a 30-acre area that encompasses the Commissioner's House and a Dolphin Quest attraction. The Keepyard can be tented for receptions of up to 3,000 or dinners for 600. (View M&C's video from the site at mcmag.com/videos.)

Contact. Bermuda Department of Tourism; (800) BERMUDA (237-6832)

-- Loren G. Edelstein

PanamaWhy now? This once sleepy backwater Central American nation has been busy transforming itself into an energetic, modern metropolis. In 2014, the fabled Panama Canal will celebrate its 100th anniversary and unveil a new $5.25 billion expansion, along with new luxury hotels and cultural attractions such as the eye-catching Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo, set to open next year.

Accommodations. Among incentive-level properties here are the 1,500-room Hard Rock Hotel Panama Megapolis, with 24,250 square feet of meeting space; the 369-room Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower, with 48,000 square feet for meetings; and the 111-room Le Méridien Panama City, with 4,350 square feet of meeting space.

Scheduled to debut in early 2013 are the 198-room Westin Panama City and the 130-room Waldorf Astoria Panama.

Activities. A must-do for groups is a trip to the Miraflores Visitors Center, which overlooks the Panama Canal's Miraflores Locks. After touring an on-site museum devoted to the canal, participants can take in the awesome sight of huge container ships passing between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans as viewed from outdoor terraces.

Participants can spend a few hours strolling the narrow cobblestoned streets of Casco Viejo, Panama City's charming Old Quarter and UNESCO heritage site, to enjoy shady plazas and colonial buildings dating from the early 17th century.

Local native of EmberaAdventure-lovers will appreciate a guided canoe trip up the Chagres River to spend an afternoon at an Embera Indian village. Under palm-hatched huts, village elders introduce their best dancers, weavers, carvers and musicians. Attendees can enjoy a traditional meal of fried bananas and river fish wrapped in banana leaves, followed by platters of local fruit. EmberaTour can make arrangements.

Group venues. For traditional Panamanian cuisine, Diablicos is the place. Groups of up to 50 can enjoy specialties such as fresh, locally caught fish served with green banana mash and rice and beans, and sweet corn ice cream with sugar cane syrup.

You don't have to be a guest at Tantalo, a 13-room boutique hotel in Casco Viejo, to enjoy the sweeping view of the city from its rooftop bar, Encima, and its small-plates menu of house specialties like beer-battered Panamanian sea bass served with plantain chips.

Inside a historic colonial mansion, Manolo Caracol is a favorite with locals. Heavy on local fish and produce, Spanish chef Manolo's small-plates five-course lunch and 10-course dinner change daily. Groups of up to 60 are accommodated.

Day trips/extensions. The 200-room Gamboa Rainforest Resort, a 30-minute drive from Panama City, offers motorboat tours of the back channels, islands and bays that make up the Panama Canal. The resort also provides aerial tram tours of the surrounding rainforest as well as guided bird-watching hikes.

Properties at the nearby Pacific beach resort of Bonita include the 611-room Westin Playa Bonita, which opened in February with more than 66,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space, and the 303-room InterContinental Playa Bonita Resort & Spa, with 15,830 square feet for meetings.

Contact. Panama Tourism Authority, (507) 526-7000

-- Cheryl-Anne Sturken

Calgary, Alberta Why now? In the shadow of the Canadian Rockies, Calgary got its start as a quintessential Western town, complete with cowboys and cattle herds. An oil boom over the past 20 years has brought lots of growth, vigor and an influx of young residents. Today the city is a beacon of vibrancy and vitality, while staying true to its Western roots and charm.

Accommodations. Built in 1914 to serve tourists riding the then-rustic Canadian Pacific Railroad, the historic 407-room Fairmont Palliser is an elegant downtown property complete with its own health club and spa. For groups with a modern artistic sensibility, the 185-room Hotel Arts is a boutique property in the heart of downtown.

Other incentive-level hotels include the 525-room Westin Calgary, the 355-room Hyatt Regency Calgary and the 323-room Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire.

The annual Stampede festival In Calgary, AlbertaActivities. Nearly a third of Calgary's annual visitors come to experience the Calgary Stampede (view M&C's video at mcmag.com/videos). The historic 10-day event takes place every July and features a rousing opening parade, rodeos, exhibitions and the infamous chuck-wagon races. Treat incentive winners to the ultimate Stampede experience: infield box seats (which are fully catered), a "backstage" barn tour, and special access to live music and dancing in the Nashville North party tent. VisitCalagary or folks at the Calgary Stampede can make the arrangements.

At any time of year, consider private bull-riding lessons with Fantasy Adventure Bull Riding, a working rodeo ranch 15 minutes from downtown. Ski and snowboard lovers can get their fix at Canada Olympic Park, site of the 1988 Winter Olympics and just a 15-minute drive from downtown; in the summer months, companies such as WinSport Canada offer activities like zip-lining and biking.

Group venues. Like many cities in Canada, Calgary lives and breathes hockey. Treat lucky guests to the excitement of a Calgary Flames game from the comfort of a private box. The ScotiaBank Saddledome's luxurious Super Suites can seat up to 36, while Terrace Suites seat 16 to 20, and both offer customizable catering options.

At the top of Calgary Tower, Sky360 is a revolving restaurant and lounge offering unparalleled panoramic views of the entire city and nearby Rocky Mountains. Guests (up to 180) can take in the exceptional sights while savoring carpaccio of Alberta's famed AAA beef.  

Day trips/extensions. Banff, a popular resort destination in Canada's Rocky Mountains, is a 90-minute ride from Calgary. The picturesque town is surrounded by Banff National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 768-room Fairmont Banff Springs, modeled after a Scottish castle, offers luxury accommodations with mountain views.

Small groups can get a Western experience, Canadian-style, at the 18-room Rafter Six ranch resort or at the rustic Horseman's Lodge at Homeplace Ranch, a four-bedroom ranch converted from a historic family home.

Contact. Travel Alberta, (403) 648-1080

VisitCalgary, (403) 263-8510

-- Agatha Gilmore

More Details Online
Get great gift ideas from our Fab Four destinations, plus M&C videos and a colorful slide show, at mcmag.com/webexclusives.

SloveniaWhy now? Roughly the size of New Jersey (but with a quarter of its population), Slovenia offers top performers the best of Europe in a compact package of gorgeous Adriatic beaches, pristine Alpine villages and ski resorts, scenic vineyards, lakes and ancient castles.

There's also a sophisticated meeting and incentive infrastructure here, unexpected in a country just 20 years old (it was formerly part of the old Yugoslavia).English is widely spoken and the currency is the euro, which at press time was roughly equal to $1.26.

Accommodations. Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, has a number of incentive-level properties. Among them: the 401-room Grand Hotel Union, 214-room Austria Trend Hotel Ljubljana and 173-room Hotel Lev. Two boutique properties, the 26-room Hotel Cubo and the 13-room Antiq Palace & Spa, fit the bill for intimate programs.

On the Adriatic coast, 100 miles from the capital, are the 240-room Grand Hotel Bernadin and 180-room Grand Hotel Portoroz, both in Portoroz.

Activities. Let participants explore the charms of walkable Ljubljana. Destination management firm Intour will organize a "city safari" that's a combination tour and treasure hunt around the capital's Old Town, markets, river crossings and historic buildings.

Coastal city of PiranThe Slovenian slice of the Adriatic coast is less than a two-hour drive from the capital. After strolling the historic seaside towns of Portoroz and Piran, activities can include a half-day visit to the Skocijan Caves, a UNESCO natural heritage site, or a tour of the vineyards of the nearby Karst region, which produce excellent Teran wine. Arrange a tasting at a family-owned winery such Wine Cellar Stoka, which can host up to 40 people.    

Group venues. Give winners the royal treatment with a private dinner or reception at historic Ljubljana Castle, which has event rooms and a courtyard, and can accommodate groups of 20 to 800.

For a more rustic meal, one of the best spots is Sestica, where traditional dishes such as prsut (ham), pecenica (bratwurst) with sauerkraut and zganci (polenta), and prekmurska gibanica (a type of strudel) are served amid live folk music.

Day trips/extensions. Slovenia's Alpine region, about a two-hour drive from the capital, is known for its beekeeping farms. Participants can learn the history of this local tradition, as well as view the collection of illustrated beehive panels, a folk art unique to Slovenia, at the Museum of Beekeeping.

At crystalline Bled Lake, groups ride on a traditional pletna boat to the island home of ancient St. Mary's church. Panoramic DMC  can organize outings.

Participants also can bike, hike, kayak or go rafting on the Alpine rivers during the warmer months; skiing and other winter sports are available from late November until early spring.

Among incentive-level accommodations in Bled are the 217-room Park Hotel and 87-room Grand Hotel Toplice.

Contact.  Slovenian Convention Bureau, (011) 386-1-569-12-60

-- Lisa A. Grimaldi