Incentive Growth Overseas

While U.S. incentive programs are still in recovery mode, the industry is seeing record growth of incentives in several emerging global markets. Among the standouts cited by experts are Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico, all countries with a growing middle class with "a thirst for experiences that their U.S. and European counterparts have enjoyed for years," according to Barry Richards, vice president of events and communications for Grass Roots America, a division of Grass Roots Group, a U.K.-based meetings, incentives and events firm.

Brenda Anderson, CEO of Site, the Chicago-based association of incentive industry professionals, notes that China is one of biggest growth markets for incentive travel. Site's China chapter, launched in 2007, is one of the largest (with 100 members) and fastest-growing in the organization, she adds.

Christie Hicks, senior vice president, global sales, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, also sees China as a booming market. "The groups tend to stay within Asia now, but we think they'll have a significant global impact soon; we've already had Chinese groups in New York and Hawaii."

Starwood's incentive business from Brazil is growing, and "India is off the charts," particularly with programs going to Starwood properties in Europe and Thailand, says Hicks, who also notes shortening lead times: "We do an expo in India every year, and our properties always book incentive programs that will happen in a matter of just three to six weeks, for groups of up to 100."