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For Incentive Travel, Get Off the Beaten Path!

With all due respect to posh Caribbean resorts, the Hawaiian islands and traditional European destinations, there’s a trend afoot among those who plan corporate incentive travel …

Maybe it’s a general itchiness for something different or simply a case of “been there, done that-itis” but many who host, research, select and plan incentive travel to destinations as a reward for high-achievers seem to be moving in a new direction the past few years.

Elegant travel that’s often out of reach for most household budgets but affordable for corporations equates to truly memorable, unique experiences in addition to allowing hard-charging sales professionals the opportunity to rest, relax and play for a while … on someone else’s dime.

During the pandemic, it was understandable that incentives quickly shifted from heavily populated areas and oft-crowded resorts or cruise ships. But once the “all clear” was sounded in early 2023, the trend towards lesser-known-but every-bit-as-lovely destinations endured.

Suddenly, countries such as Croatia, Iceland and Portugal were in play like never before while other off-the-beaten-path, multi-city stops also increased in popularity. Typically, incentive winners take direct flights to major cities, spend a few days then “spider off” to additional charming, smaller cities and villages for a more granular local experience.

Let’s take a look at four such options …

Munich, Germany — Salzburg, Austria

Tucked in the Bavarian region of lower Germany, Munich is the country’s third largest city and features numerous lakes for recreation, as well as stunning vistas. In the urban areas, there are great shops, cafés, castles, cathedrals and museums to explore, including one of three locations of the Deutsches Museum. Marienplatz is the 900-year-old heart of Old Town and is a great spot for strolling.

Without a doubt, traveling from Munich to Salzburg by train is the best way for those seeking an amazingly scenic journey through beautiful Austria. The 2.5-hour passage is full of mountain lakes, tiny villages, and beautiful, rolling countryside. Once in Salzburg, you’ll be captivated by Medieval, Romanesque and Baroque buildings that line the cobbled streets, as well as the stunning mountain scenery surrounding the city. Think The Sound of Music and, yes, you can also take guided tours to explore filming locations such as Mirabell Gardens, Nonnberg Abbey, and the von Trapp family home. Salzburg is also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most influential composers of classical music. His birthplace is now a museum called Mozart’s Geburtshaus and attracts music enthusiasts from around the world. The Mirabell Palace and its beautifully landscaped gardens are famous for their Baroque design and its gardens offer a picturesque setting with sculptures, fountains, and spectacular floral arrangements.

Paris, France — Luxembourg, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

There’s likely not much I can tell you about the City of Lights that you don’t already know, what with all the movies and travel programs that have featured Paris, as well as the increasing hype before the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. But even the well-known, well-documented locations are worth a visit, a re-visit or, heck, a trip you want to take every few years. Le Tour Eiffel, Le Louvre, and L’Arc de Triomphe, as well as all the streetside café options, museums and galleries never grow old. There’s a reason why Paris is one of the world’s top destinations for vacationers, art aficionados, culinary types, and romantics.

After a few days, hop a Rail Europe train and travel 288 kilometers to Luxembourg, the capital of what’s formally known as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Twice named the European Capital of Culture, Luxembourg is loaded with museums, including the National Museum of History and Art [NMHA], the Luxembourg City History Museum, and the new Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art [Mudam]. The National Museum of Military History [MNHM] in Diekirch is especially known for its representations of the Battle of the Bulge. Luxembourg has been heavily influenced by the culture of its neighbors, retaining a diverse array of folk traditions after a long history as a profoundly rural country inspired by bordering countries Belgium, Germany and France.

Venice, Italy — Pula, Croatia

High in the northeast portion of the boot of Italy, Venice is a city comprised of 126 islands separated by expanses of open water and canals. There are 472 bridges, 125 piazzas and countless gondoliers to move you through the archipelago at a relaxing, leisurely pace. At one point in history, wealthy Venetian families aggressively tried to “one-up” their neighbors by having more gondolas or multiple drivers who used a single rowing/steering oar to propel the vessels. Hulls were lavishly and artistically painted and decorated before the government stepped in and mandated all hulls be painted a uniform, sleek black, symbolic of elegance in the city.

For something different, travel southwest by ferry across the Adriatic Sea [2.25 hours] to Pula, a lesser-known Croatian destination than Dubrovnik, Porec, or Rovinj. Pula’s surrounding natural environment, countryside, and turquoise waters of the Adriatic have made the city a popular summer holiday destination. The pearl nearby is Brioni Island or Brijuni National Park visited by numerous world leaders and once was the regal summer residence of Josip Broz Tito. Roman villas and temples still lie buried among farm fields and along the shoreline of the dozens of surrounding fishing and farming villages. The coastal waters offer beaches, fishing, wreck dives to ancient Roman galleys and World War I warships, cliff diving, and sailing to unspoiled coves and islands large and small.

Zurich, Switzerland to Vaduz, Liechtenstein

The largest city in Switzerland, Zurich features a multitude of options for tourists, including exploring the historic Old Town with its narrow cobblestone streets, medieval buildings, and charming squares. Learn about the country’s cultural history at the Swiss National Museum through a diverse collection of artifacts, art, and exhibits, or shop on one of the world’s most exclusive shopping streets, Bahnhofstrasse, home to high-end boutiques, luxury brands, and department stores. Art enthusiasts can visit the Kunsthaus Zurich, a museum housing an impressive collection of Swiss and international art. For panoramic views of Zurich and the surrounding Alps, take a hike or a train ride up to Uetliberg Mountain and enjoy the fresh air and stunning overlooks. Hungry and perhaps having a sweet tooth …? Indulge in Swiss culinary delights, including world-famous Swiss chocolates and cheeses.

Once again, a comfortable 1.5-2-hour train ride can whisk you off to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein and a charming town in the Alpine region. While relatively small, there is much to see and do, including a visit to Vaduz Castle, the official residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein. While the castle itself is not open to the public, the surrounding area offers panoramic views of Vaduz and the Rhine Valley. Visit Vaduz Cathedral, a neo-Gothic church that dates back to the 19th century and is dedicated to St. Florin, Liechtenstein’s patron saint of protection from fires, floods and other natural disasters. Explore Städtle, Vaduz’s charming old town and filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants, making it a pleasant place to stroll and soak in the atmosphere. If you enjoy outdoor activities, consider hiking in the nearby Alps where many trails offer stunning views of the landscapes.

More than ever, hard-charging, high-achieving sales professionals [especially as Millennials and Gen-Zers make up a larger percentage of the workforce] are hungry for meaningful recognition, memorable experiences and awesome adventures. So give it to them! [As an example, dynami produced one incentive in which attendees enjoyed breakfast in Italy, lunch in Monaco, and dinner in France – all in the same day. And I guarantee you, 40 years from now, each one of them will still be sharing that unique experience with friends and family.]

One final point …

The more you dangle unique, artfully curated incentive experiences, the harder your superstars will want to work to qualify for your program. And don’t be surprised when a significant number of them elect to arrive a few days early and/or extend a few days after the program ends on their own dime, creating even more great memories!


Kenneth Jones