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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Incentive Destinations: A Job Well Done

Everyone loves to be rewarded.

Whether you prefer a backdrop of sun-soaked vineyards, majestic mountains or the rhythmic rush of the surf, there’s a wide variety of destinations that can serve to reward and impress a company’s top team members. Cities with tropical climates and beaches are logical destinations for incentive travel. But some places offer lesser known and equally rewarding incentive experiences for attendees.

From classic spots to surprising finds, planners can look to these cities across the country for exciting domestic incentive travel destinations.

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

With 32 miles of white sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and the delectable flavors of the ocean in its cuisine, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, promise an alluring and leisurely experience for travelers. A plus for planners is the area’s affordability and accessibility from locations in the Southeast and Midwest.

“It’s really just a smaller destination with great Southern hospitality, a great place for people to lay back and relax,” said Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “We’ve got a great culinary scene because of all the fresh seafood. We just have a great small-town feel with great beach amenities.”

Perdido Beach Resort recently underwent a $20 million renovation, updating its 344 guest rooms, three restaurants and 44,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space. This includes two outdoor beachfront decks. The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, has 350 guestrooms and 40,000 square feet of meeting space, including the largest beach-view ballroom on the Gulf of Mexico with over 12,000 square feet. The Orange Beach Event Center at The Wharf is another banquet option for groups, in addition to restaurants like Big Beach Brewing Company, Zeke’s Restaurant and COASTAL Orange Beach.

In addition to enjoying the spacious, clean beaches, activities for incentive travelers can include sunset cruises with dolphins, glassblowing and pottery classes at the Coastal Arts Center, and sandcastle-building classes. Fishing, golf and shopping are other popular leisure activities.

Napa Valley, California

As one of the best-known wine regions in the world, Napa Valley is a top destination to impress and reward attendees. With warm, sunny California weather, more than 150 restaurants and hundreds of wineries, it’s a dreamy destination for an incentive trip.

“Napa Valley is an amazing combination of inspiring business meeting locations with plenty of interactive and experiential options to supplement your meeting format,” said Linsey Gallagher, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley. “The culinary, wine and outdoor experiences we have are perfectly situated for an incentive group.”

Napa is a boutique destination with about 5,700 hotel rooms. Popular choices for meetings and events include the Meritage Resort and Spa, which has 467 guestrooms and 80,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, and the Silverado Resort and Spa, with 355 rooms and 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

Wine tastings and pairings at any of the hundreds of wineries open to the public are a must; some favorites that are also popular for meals and banquets include the Lewis M. Martini Winery and B Cellars Winery. Popular restaurants for gourmet group meals are Brix, which has a great patio for watching sunsets, and Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, which offers a farm-to-table experience. At the Culinary Institute of America at Copia, highly trained chefs can curate interactive experiences for groups in the demonstration kitchen. Other rewarding activities include hot air balloon rides through the valley or a ride on the vintage train cars of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Asheville, North Carolina

From visiting its nearly 70 craft breweries to doing mountaintop yoga, there’s a refreshing range of experiences for travelers in Asheville, North Carolina, an artsy town tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The city has a reputation for attracting outdoor enthusiasts, creatives and those craving adventure, which gives it an invigorating energy.

“It’s an exciting time to meet in Asheville, as many historic buildings are witnessing a renaissance of sorts, attracting new businesses like hotels and restaurants and even a vinyl-pressing factory,” said Cass Herrington, PR manager at Explore Asheville.

The Restoration Asheville features 60 guestrooms and private event spaces such as a rooftop bar and a bowling alley in the basement. Wrong Way Cabins and Campground is a unique collection of accommodations, with 16 cabins, a 1,200-square-foot event space, and wellness and voluntourism activities for guests. Four more hotels are slated to open in 2023-24, including a 185-room Embassy Suites by Hilton with 7,000 square feet of meeting space.

Rhubarb, a restaurant owned by James Beard Award-nominated chef John Fleer, offers farm-to-table cuisine. Other local favorites include Cucina 24, Eldr and Cultura, each of which can accommodate groups.

Exploring Asheville’s vast collection of art shops and galleries in the River Arts District is a must for visitors. Workshops ranging from glass blowing to jewelry making are offered and make excellent team-building activities. The city’s surrounding mountains are prime environments for ziplining, ATV riding, paddling and hiking.

Honolulu, Hawaii

When it comes to incentive events, Hawaii is a classic destination. Its beaches, turquoise waters, tropical climate and hospitality draw millions of visitors to Honolulu, its capital city, each year.

Honolulu has a long list of hotels and resorts where attendees can relax and enjoy the island’s amenities. Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort has an impressive 2,860 guestrooms, which can accommodate large groups with blocks of up to 1,500 rooms. It also has 150,000 square feet of meeting space. Thanks to its five pools, Waikiki’s longest waterslide, 18 restaurants and bars, and an assortment of shops, the resort is fully stocked with everything attendees could need. Additionally, activities such as yoga, snorkeling and paddleboarding are offered. Another option, known for its colorful pink exterior, is the Royal Hawaiian Resort Waikiki, a Marriott property. It has been open for nearly a century and has over 500 guestrooms and suites, 12,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and several large outdoor spaces stretching the property’s beach and gardens. It also has a selection of restaurants, two pools and a spa.

Off the resort, incentive travelers can experience many activities, such as sunset cruises, swimming with dolphins and snorkeling. They can try their hand at surfing, take a guided tour of the island to see its gorgeous nature and wildlife, and try Honolulu’s eclectic cuisine.

Whitefish, Montana

Breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains and a wilderness that takes visitors back to the frontier days can be just as rewarding, if not more, than a beach vacation. A trip to Whitefish, a Montana town just 45 minutes from the entrance to Glacier National Park, is the ideal way to experience the beauty of the Rockies, warm weather not required.

“I hear ‘I’ve never been to Montana, but it looks so beautiful; I want to experience it,’” said Dan Hansen, director of marketing and sales at Explore Whitefish. “We’re still new to a lot of people, so incentive trips here are a perfect way to experience something new and relax and check something off that bucket list.”

Popular stays include the Lodge at Whitefish Lake, which has over 150 overnight accommodations ranging from hotel rooms to luxurious rental cabins. The property also features 13,700 square feet of meeting space and a marina, where guests can take chartered cruises or boat rides. Grouse Mountain Lodge has 144 rooms and 11,000 square feet of meeting space. It’s situated on the 36-hole Whitefish Lake Golf Course. Whitefish Mountain Resort, a ski lodge, is also popular with incentive groups visiting during winter months.

Downtown Whitefish consists of several blocks of dining and nightlife experiences. Herb and Omni, which serves upscale fare, has a second floor fit for banquets and other events. Craggy Range, a bar and grill, is another great option for groups. Outdoor experiences such as whitewater rafting, hiking, fly fishing, wilderness tours and biking (or e-biking) in Glacier National Park are some of the biggest draws for travelers in the area, but they can also catch performances at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center or the O’Shaughnessy Cultural Arts Center.