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Be Different

Event organizers are finding themselves under increasing pressure to make their events stand out and deliver real value for their clients. It’s no longer good enough to do things the way you’ve always done them. This is especially apparent in the MICE sector, as customers demand more from their programs, regardless of whether it’s a simple meeting, a major conference or an incentive program.

Among the sub-sectors of MICE, incentives is probably the one with the greatest opportunity to differentiate, what with the various elements that go into an incentive trip. It comes down to creativity and thinking outside the box. But where to begin?

Start the creative juices flowing by looking at trends in the industry. For example Incentive magazine recently identified five specific global trends it believes are shaping incentive travel across the world:

• Experiential Travel – these are one-of-a-kind experiences unique to the destination

• Wellness Travel – experiences that leave travelers healthier when they check out

• Bespoke Transportation – charter companies can set an itinerary, schedule and aircraft type

• All-Inclusive Properties – simplify things from a strategic and budgetary point of view

• Event Technology – social media has changed the way we communicate. Mobile apps are expected.

What these trends don’t tackle is the issue of reduced spend and how incentive trip organizers come up with fantastic programs within the constraints of a budget that has a lot fewer zeros on it than the year before.

“Incentives have always been about being different,” says Themba Mthombeni, CEO of Duma Travel, based in Johannesburg. “Declining budgets are compelling us to re-evaluate our product offering to include fresh concepts and innovative ideas.” That, many would agree, is a good thing, with incentive trip organizers really having to ‘earn their keep’ by offering clients a fantastic incentive trip for their staff, but even without the big budgets to throw at it.

Bottom line? “Clients will never scale down on their expectations and will continue to look for the ‘wow’ factor,” says Mthombeni. “This makes it very challenging for MICE operators to deliver above expectation, within a lower budget and margin.”

Conclusion: Whatever you do – even within the constraints of challenging budget conditions – you just have to be different. And Africa is rich with opportunities to set your incentive travel apart.

Sun City and Balloon Safari

South Africa’s answer to an integrated resort (in the vein of those in Macau and Las Vegas), Sun City in the North West province of South Africa, incorporates four hotels, two championship golf courses, gambling, a man-made beach and waterpark, wildlife viewing and hot-air ballooning, to name just a few attractions.

The resort is extremely popular with Chinese tourists year-round, says Nokuthula Nkosi, media relations officer at Sun City. “Our biggest market comes from Asia – China predominantly. Our Chinese market is so huge that we’ve even incorporated Chinese New Year into our events calendar,” Nkosi explains.

“Gambling is obviously a draw for the large groups that come,” she adds, “but we are happy to be able to offer game tours to see the ‘big five’ at Pilanesberg National Park, which is malaria-free so no vaccinations are required.”

The big five refers to the African lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros (white or black), which can be seen on drives across Pilanesberg’s 1,500-acre reserve, and from the awesome vantage point of a hot-air balloon. Rides can be organized through Sun City, with pick up from the hotel at 4:30 AM for an early morning game drive before a 6:00 AM balloon flight.

One balloon can hold 10 to 15 people depending on the weight of passengers. Once airborne, the balloon bows gracefully to the whims of every gust and, helped along by fiery bursts from the burner, bobs across the horizon – sometimes low enough for passengers to spot herds of wildebeest, white rhino poorly concealed behind shrubbery and giraffes in full canter.

Sun City’s four hotels offer 1,351 rooms, which can be booked out in their entirety. Boasting palatial stucco interiors and hand-painted murals, the resort is modeled on an African palace, offering enormous grounds navigable by private minibuses. Teambuilding activities can be organized for groups, but Sun City is more appropriately a haven for parties who want to build bonds through leisure, with a bit of golf, a safari and time spent poolside.

A Middle East Option: Abu Dhabi

“Abu Dhabi is employing a strong focus on meeting the demands from the meetings and congresses sector through first-class products – air travel, hotels and luxury retail,” says Jean Martins, TCA Abu Dhabi South Africa country manager. “The variety of Abu Dhabi’s products, hotels and attractions are a key driver behind the MICE sector so that the destination can deliver not only a venue, but a destination experience.”

The Abu Dhabi Convention Bureau also promotes Abu Dhabi by offering incentives to organizers such as free consultation and discounted accommodation rates. “Abu Dhabi has a clear target for 2018 and that is to be listed among ICCA’s annual rankings of the business association meetings cities,” says Martins. “There is a growing demand for unique and different activities, from business to leisure, and organizers are looking for destinations that cater to work in the day and after-hour leisure activities.”

According to Martins, Abu Dhabi offers a trio of benefits: accessibility, diversity and quality – “all with a difference.” If you’re looking for some Abu Dhabi pointers, Martins offers the following proposed MICE itinerary:

Day One: Fly in early morning and take a two-hour transfer to the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. This is not only a 200-room resort, but a museum where authentic Arabian artifacts are on display. Have your welcome cocktails on the Royal Pavilion under the stars and indulge in Arabian cuisine, Bedouin-style.

Day Two: Experience camel trekking at dawn and watch the sun rise over the Empty Quarter dunes. After breakfast, make your way back to the city where you will have the opportunity to take in the culture of Abu Dhabi by visiting the Heritage Village and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Check into one of Abu Dhabi’s top hotels and enjoy dinner at Saadiyat Beach Club, an Ibiza-style private beach club.

Day Three: Assault your senses by having your conference at Ferrari World, the world’s largest indoor theme park, sporting the world’s fastest roller coaster as well as the highest looped roller coaster. Combine your conference with a treasure hunt team-building activity in the park, ending with a ride around the F1 racetrack. Have a leisurely dinner in the landmark Emirates Palace hotel and round out the evening with a gold-leafed cappuccino with your company logo on it.

Day Four: End your experience with an Arabian Gulf cruise on the Belevari catamaran. Enjoy an onboard dinner and sundowners after a dip in the warm Arabian waters. The Abu Dhabi skyline at night is a unique experience in itself.

Reunion: An Island to Remember

Are you looking for a ‘different’ Indian Ocean island option for your incentive trip? For so long now, Mauritius has been the go-to option in this space. The Seychelles is another attractive proposition, particularly for those with bigger budgets, although it often finds itself priced out of the market.

So, what else is there to choose from? Another ‘African’ island option is Reunion. Located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and southwest of Mauritius, it is an island and region governed by France. Its tourism authority is keen on properly tapping the incentive market, particularly out of South Africa.

According to Reunion Tourism, the island is growing in popularity “thanks to its exceptional experiences in culture, romance, gastronomy, well-being, adventure and outdoor activities.”

Strengthening the Reunion proposition, according to the tourism authorities, are the following:

• Delicious food with a tasty mix of European and African influences

• Breathtaking scenery

• One of the world’s most active volcanoes

• A destination for all – couples, families, young and old

• France at your doorstep, with an island twist

• Leisurely times on the beach

• Safe, secure and top-notch medical facilities

• Great weather all year round