As corporate meeting and event professionals, we’re always on the hunt for new and unique destinations, experiences and options for our groups. I’d like to share three destinations that I believe would leave your guests smiling.
THE MAGNOLIA CITY IS MAGNIFICENT!
Back in the spring, I traveled to Houston for a client meeting. She’d selected the downtown hotel I was to stay in and I had no idea what to expect a mere eight months after Hurricane Harvey raged through one of America’s most expansive cities (600 square miles!) and left horrendous flooding and endless heartbreaking tales of folks who’d lost everything.
My, oh, my. What a delightful surprise.
After checking into the Marriott Marquis, I quickly realized how centrally located the property was in a fantastic, in-town neighborhood. The hotel was spotless after its recent multimillion-dollar makeover, service was excellent, and meeting space very impressive. It overlooks Discovery Green Park and there’s also an elevated skywalk connecting the property to the George R. Brown Convention Center. There are other nearby hotel properties, including the Intercontinental, Hilton and an Embassy Suites so you’ve got plenty of rooms in the area.
Venturing out on foot, I was really impressed with how fresh and clean the downtown area was so soon after Harvey (I guess out of tragedy comes rebirth) as rickshaws trundled up and down the streets, ferrying passengers to nearby shops, restaurants, bars and bistros. There’s also easy access to Minute Maid Park where the MLB Houston Astros play, and to NRG Stadium, home of the NFL Houston Texans. (And as a huge Clemson University fan, I must point out, the Texans’ starting quarterback is Deshaun Watson, a Clemson Tiger!) This little corner of downtown, situated smack dab in a large city, actually felt, well, cozy. I would say “The Magnolia City” is now high on my list of walkable downtown areas.
Houston isn’t quite a Tier-1 destination for corporate meeting and event professionals but I’d hesitate to call it a Tier-2. Let’s just say, if you’re looking for an awesome “Tier-1.5” destination for your next meeting or event, Houston is definitely worth looking into.
Best time of year: Spring and fall. Houston can get quite toasty and humid during summer months.
“HAVANA OOH NA-NA …”
If Camila Cabello’s smash song Havana hasn’t gotten you in the mood for a taste of Cuba yet, maybe the mystery and romance of the old city combined with the convenience and amenities of a modern cruise ship docked nearby will.
While Cuba is a hot destination these days, most corporate meeting and event professionals would agree the island isn’t ready for prime time just yet. There are layers of government-mandated, strict guidelines and conditions for travel to the Communist island that lies a mere 89 miles south of Key West, America’s southernmost city. Infrastructure is sorely lacking after decades of economic embargos and cash-strapped operations. Hotels are Olde World, and not always in a charming way.
But the lively spirit, food, music and charm of the Cuban culture is alive and well and worth experiencing. There are a number of cruise options, typically out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, that give you the best of both worlds: Explore the island by day, dine and dance the night away, then return to the ship for first-class comfort and services. Most itineraries are five-days, four-nights but that changes almost weekly as travelers’ curiosity and intrigue for Cuba grows.
If you’re brainstorming options for your next employee incentive travel program, consider Cuba. It’s probably safe to say very few (if any) of your trip winners have previously experienced the island known as “The Pearl of the Antilles” since access has only recently been granted. I strongly recommend you plan your program with a hotel-based, extra day in your departure city on the front-end to accommodate any inbound travel delays … because once the ship has sailed, it’s time for a refreshing Cuba Libre and there’s no turning back.
Best time of year: The best time to visit Cuba is December-May, when you can expect dry, sunny days and plenty of blue skies. The wet season begins in June, as well as hurricane season (June 1-November 30).
I’LL BE DOIN’ JAIL TIME IN IRELAND THIS FALL …
Now, it’s time to shift from the tropics to the Emerald Isle and another great option for your upcoming employee incentive program: Ireland!
In September, I’ll be traveling to “the Ould Sod” for a site visit in advance of an incentive program planned for fall 2019. I’ll be on a whirlwind, four-day tour of hotels, museums, pubs, cathedrals, Kilmainham Jail (on purpose), castles, mansions, trains, a brewery (Guinness Storehouse, why of course), famed Trinity College, a pottery, even a working farm. Needless to say, we’re scouring the country for the right mix of the obvious stops and the not-so-obvious stops to build an itinerary that’s exciting and memorable for our guests. Along the way, we’ll experience Dublin, Killarney, Kerry, Dingle, and Slea Head. I look forward to sharing details with you after the site visit.
Then it’s homeward bound on a Saturday. Hope I get home in time to watch Clemson beat North Carolina State (assuming I can keep my eyes open, that is).
Best time to travel: Ireland has a mild, temperate climate and although rainy at times, you can visit any time of year. Best months are March-May and September-November.
Houston’s back, Cuba is mysterious and alluring, and Ireland is flat-out charming. Toss these destinations into the mix for your next corporate meeting or event, or employee incentive travel program.