Planning an incentive trip? Here's our five top destinations
Based on enquiries we have received, the places we have visited recently and where we are taking clients to in the coming months, we have compiled our top five en vogue destinations for incentive travel, including our tips for where to stay, where to eat and what to do while you are there.
There are trends in just about everything, from baby names to what people are searching for on the internet this week. Incentive travel is no different. These trends come from the most visited incentive destinations, new destinations emerging, or a previously popular destination becoming a bit of a has-been!
So, here are our recommendations…
1. Cape Town
Cape Town consistently rates as one of the perennial favourites for savvy incentive buyers. It has the favourable rand, new hotels, fantastic restaurants and all the classic ingredients, such as an epic coastline and awesome scenery, to make it our top selling long haul destination. Night flights and minimal time change make it perfect for avoiding jet lag. British Airways offer daily non-stop flights from London Heathrow.
Stay: One & Only Resorts
For luxury and style in Cape Town, our favourite hotel is the One & Only Resort. Two restaurants, run by acclaimed chefs -Michelin-starred chef Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa and local celebrity chef Reuben Riffel – are connected by a bar and lounge, all with incredible views of Table Mountain.
The hotel is central to just about everything, making it easy to experience the wildlife safaris and wine country excursions that Cape Town has to offer, along with Robben Island and so much more. After all those excursions, you’ll probably want a bit of calm, so we recommend you try the hotel spa, situated on its very own private island and offering every treatment you could possible want, and a few you may not have thought of!
Eat: The Test Kitchen
For a top dining experience (the best in South Africa, let alone Cape Town!) The Test Kitchen is definitely the place to go. Chef and owner, Luke Dale-Roberts, has been called ‘a truly fantastic chef’ by Heston Blumenthal, which we think is quite a good recommendation!
British chef Luke trained in Europe and has launched restaurants all around Asia. These influences are very apparent on his delectable menu, and the high quality wine list complements perfectly!
If your last supper was eaten at The Test Kitchen, you’d die happy!
Do: Beach BBQ
There are so many wonderful things to do in Cape Town, but one party we took to Cape Town was very happy with the beach BBQ we organised near the spectacular Cape Point, where surprise kayaks turned up to transport guests to speedboats for a riveting speed ride around the ‘tip of Africa’.
Combine Cape Town with a safari!
A safari, either combined with Cape Town for a larger budget/longer duration, or as a standalone trip, is a very popular experience in the incentive market. Just a short, light aircraft hop from Johannesburg, and incentive winners can be under the African Skies, dining around the camp fire and following the greatest wildlife encounters in the private safari adventure drives.
Safari experiences at some of the most spectacular private game reserves remain one of the most desirable bucket list experiences. Award winning lodges such as Singita Lodges, Londolozi or Richard Branson’s Ulusaba are amongst the most intriguing, all offering ‘the big five’ experience.
Seeing ‘the big five’ – the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and white/black rhinoceros – in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. Singita is among the safaris that offer this not-to-be-missed opportunity. Singita, meaning ‘place of miracles’ has a core vision to “preserve and protect large tracts of wilderness in Africa for future generations”, a job they seem to be doing very well!
Londolozi is one of the original pioneering game reserves in South Africa. A family-run operation, the reserve is internationally recognised for its far-sighted and progressive management of land and wildlife rehabilitation, as well as productive community involvement. Even the root of the word Londolozi is the Zulu word for protect, and means ‘protector of all living things’.
A private game reserve owned by Richard Branson? Well, you expect it to be incredible straight away, don’t you? And you aren’t disappointed…just look at it! (Second picture in the gallery above) Ulusaba is set in the heart of the Sabi Sand reserve on the border of the Kruger National Parkhas and has 21 rooms and suites spread over two lodges, complete with swing bridges and tree houses! If you get bored of the luxury of the swimming, spa, fine dining etc etc, you could always take a walking safari or twice daily game drive.
Vietnam is a destination that is capturing everyone’s attention right now. It’s a country blessed with a ravishing coastline, emerald-green mountains, breathtaking national parks, dynamic cities, outstanding cultural interest and one of the world’s best cuisines. It truly seems to have it all!
Vietnam’s small but elegant capital, Hanoi, lies in the heart of the Red River Delta in the north of the country, and is a city that assaults the senses, from thousands of moped cyclists amassing in the streets, to the tangle of streets known as the Old Quarter. Take a cyclo ride to make your heart race, and visit Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the beautiful Temple of Literature to experience some true Vietnamese culture.
Stay: Sofitel Legend Metropole
Despite fierce competition from its newer luxury rivals, the Sofitel Metropole Hotel remains the most prestigious address in Hanoi.
Open since 1901, the hotel has been frequented by the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Jane Fonda and Angelina Jolie. No doubt, they couldn’t resist the old-world charm of the hotel, with its wooden floorboards, period furniture and bamboo wall coverings.
The hotel offers everything you would expect from a 5* hotel, from numerous restaurants to a spa and fitness centre, impeccably dressed staff and first class service.
For a fusion of French and Vietnamese food, Madame Hein Restaurant is our recommendation. A delightfully authentic restaurant, one whose popularity is based on word of mouth – if you’ve eaten there, you will tell others about it!
The presentation of the food is almost as good as the taste, and the service is friendly and efficient. The Lonely Planet guide describes the menu as “street food without the street” and we couldn’t disagree. If you’re in Hanoi, you should definitely pay a visit.
Do: Halong Bay
There is no better way to escape the hustle and bustle of Hanoi for a couple of nights than visiting Halong Bay, a Unesco Heritage site often referred to as the 8th wonder of the World.
Stay onboard a traditional junk boat that sails around the beautiful rock formations that make up the Bay. A word of warning – you have to be careful on which vessel you choose! The newest kid on the block, and setting new standards with a variety of deluxe cabins and suites, is The Auco.
Halong Bay is just a four hour drive from Hanoi, or even better, if budget allows, an even shorter helicopter flight. With its turquoise waters and distinctive rock, Halong Bay has become one of the country’s most well-known destinations, especially since it was used as a location in the Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies. We suggest exploring the bay’s 2000 islets by kayak – the kayak sets a tranquil pace for a great experience.
Visit the floating fishing villages by local rowing boat and see how the locals live and work. Try your hand at making fresh spring rolls with the onboard chef. Finish the trip with a gala evening dining in the caves lit, by hundreds of candles – a magical evening!
Combine Vietnam with Cambodia
For a larger budget/longer duration incentive, why not combine your trip to Vietnam with Cambodia? This emerging incentive destination is more emerged than when we visited in 2012, thanks to the recently added direct flight access, but is still a unique and humbling experience, steeped in history and tradition.
Following an incentive trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2012, for which AYMTM were delighted to receive the 2013 Eventia Award for Best Incentive/Motivation Event, we have received an unprecedented number of enquiries about these destinations, prompting it into our top five list.
So what to do and where to stay in Cambodia?
Stay: Raffles Hotel Le Royal
The central market, National Museum, river cruises and the former capital of Cambodia, Udong, are all within easy reach of Raffles Hotel Le Royal, making it the perfect venue for an incentive trip to Cambodia.
Offering the 5* amenities and service befitting an incentive winner, this hotel is as authentic and colonial as you can possibly get. With a luxurious spa, five bars and restaurants to choose from, beautifully landscaped gardens and private dining, there is plenty to entertain your delegates.
Eat: Temple dining
Well, dinner in a temple, obviously! Spend the day exploring the vast range of temples of Angkor, spread over 400km sq between the Tonle Sap Lake and the Kulen Mountains, and then spend the evening dining in one of those majestic temples. It is such a tranquil and beautiful setting, that you cannot fail to enjoy the views, the atmosphere, and of course, the mouth-watering traditional cuisine.
Do: Give something back
Sodexo hosted a ‘Top Gear’ style moped test (which had never been done before) and a monk blessing for delegates, something that is usually sacred to the Cambodian people. Both of these activities left our guests in awe and delight.
Something a little different you may wish to consider on a trip to Cambodia is the opportunity to give something back to this beautiful country. Sodexo and the delegates of the 2012 trip chose to sponsor a local orphanage, home to over 30 children aged six months to 14 years old, and genuinely in need of help.
Those taking part in the trip raised $18,000 (£12,000) to safeguard the orphanage, as well as donating clothes and gifts. Visiting the orphanage became the highlight of the trip, and delegates were treated in return to an enchanting performance from the children themselves.
3. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Brazil has become particularly popular since hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, but we have always loved it! This culturally diverse country offers everything you could ask for from an incentive destination, from dazzling beaches, rainforests and historical cities, to bustling urban centres and temperatures of up to 38°C. Brazil’s capital, Rio de Janeiro, is one of the most exciting incentive destinations in the world for a host of reasons.
It is a beautiful city with its dramatic coastline, spectacular mountains and famous beaches. It is exotic, exciting, pulsating and colourful – a non-stop assault on the senses. There is so much to see and do, with something for everyone – an amazing travel experience.
Our vote for the best incentive hotel in Rio would go to Belmond Copacobana Palace – yes, the Cococobana Palace made famous by Barry Manilow. Love or hate the song, you can’t hold it against the hotel! This glamorous, 5* landmark is right on Copacobana Beach, with a wonderful history of welcoming the rich and famous – it is THE place to stay!
Open since 1923, the Art Deco-style hotel houses everything you could possibly need – pools, spa, tennis court, gym, boutiques and a choice of bars and restaurant.
We loved Aprazivel in the Santa Teresa district. It is an exquisite outdoor restaurant, particularly suited to exclusive groups and private dining. It's set in terraced gardens on a steep hillside, with great views and traditional cuisine – try the fresh fish stew!
Do: Christ the Redeemer at sunrise
The tried and tested excursions include taking a cable car up to the top of Sugar Loaf, or the funicular (tram!) to the Christ the Redeemer statue. Go one better by enjoying a private visit to Christ the Redeemer at sunrise, which is pretty remarkable. Not available to everyone, this adds an exceptional touch to an already special experience.
Combine your trip to Rio de Janeiro with a night or two in Iguassu Falls
Iguassu Falls are the waterfalls of the Iguassu River on the border of the Argentina province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. Legend has it that a deity planned to marry a beautiful woman named Naipí, who fled with her mortal lover Tarobá in a canoe. In a rage, the deity sliced the river, creating the waterfalls and condemning the lovers to an eternal fall. Well, thanks to them, the world has the amazing Iguassu Falls to behold!
Access to the waterfalls may be limited to specific opening hours for most, but if you stay at the Hotel das Cataratas, you can enjoy the spectacular sights anytime you like, as the hotel is literally a short walk from the waterfalls. Sunrise and sunset are particularly worth it!
Add to that the thrilling expeditions you can take part in from the hotel – white water rafting, helicopter trips over the gorge and jungle treks to view amazing wildlife including colourful toucans and giant butterflies – and you can see why we have selected this as our venue of choice for Iguaza Falls.
Eat: Bespoke lunch by the Falls
For a phenomenal dining experience, a private, bespoke lunch set up right by the Falls is as good as it gets! Special just isn’t the word. The sounds and sights of the nature surrounding you make it a memory to cherish.
Do: Over and Under
Take a helicopter trip over the Falls, followed by a power boat trip under the Falls, for an invigorating activity that will delight your incentive winners.
4. ‘The Coldest Most Secret Place’ – ice driving in the Arctic Circle, Sweden
If you love snow and ice, then this is the place for you. Arejplog is a hidden gem, and home to European car manufacturers for winter testing. It’s also our answer to an adrenalin-fuelled adventure, set amidst frozen lakes and virgin forests in the heart of Swedish Lapland.
You will find ice driving simply at its best:
- enjoy a range of adrenalin-fuelled driving activities at the Arctic Ice Driving school;
- drive the latest Audi and test your skill at power slide and track handling;
- take a high speed icy spin in a Porsche or car of your choice.
Stay: Hotel Silverhatten
Hotel Silverhatten is located just outside of Arjeplog town, and offers stunning views at night over the town and over Lake Uddjaur.
Hotels in this area are not 5* properties, nor do they offer the same high service levels. They are Scandinavian in design – clean and functional – and staff are helpful at all times.
For this kind of adventure it’s not about the hotel – it’s about the experience and the magic of ‘The Coldest Most Secret Place!’
Do: There’s plenty!
If ice driving is not enough for you, there are plenty more activities. You could don your arctic weather gear and head out to explore the unspoilt wilderness. You could climb aboard a snowmobile for a high-speed trek through the winter wonderland. Try your hand at traditional net ice-fishing on the frozen lake. Warm up in the arctic sauna and outdoor hot tub while the fish is cooking for dinner. Or just meet the locals and learn about the Sami people, whilst enjoying dinner cooked on an open fire in a traditional tepee. Whatever you do, you won’t be bored!
5. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul has been voted No. 1 destination in the 2014 Travellers’ Choice® awards on travel website, TripAdvisor.co.uk. And for very good reasons! A perfect fusion of European and Asian cultures, Istanbul is a place where you can find both ancient history and modern life in the same street. From the city’s mosques and hammams (Turkish baths) to the many restaurants and the nightlife, diversity can be found in every corner.
Turkish Airlines flies to more destinations than any other airline in the world, making travelling to Istanbul easier than ever. Once there, a wide variety of luxury hotels and resorts already populate the suburbs and villages of this vibrant city, with Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus Istanbul and Fairmont Istanbul to name just two.
The following recommendations may change very quickly with so many new venues in the pipeline, but for now, these are our top picks for Istanbul.
Stay: Shangri-La Bosphorus
The Shangri-La Bosphorus opened In May 2013 in the financial district of Istanbul. A former tobacco warehouse rescued from dereliction, the hotel is now virtually unrecognisable, with 186 rooms, two ballrooms and nine conference rooms.
This beautifully exquisite hotel offers everything you would expect from a 5* luxury venue and more – superb service, a welcoming atmosphere and bars and restaurants offering an impressive range – everything from Cantonese, Asian and Mediterranean cuisines, to a Japanese sushi bar and tapas.
Eat: Rumelihisari Iskele
Suitably located on an old boat pier on the Bosphorus strait, away from the hectic pace of the city centre, this traditional fish restaurant serves the most appetizing dishes and the most lethal raki! The restaurant has a pleasantly relaxing atmosphere, great views and fantastic, friendly service.
Do: City tour
It would be criminal to visit Istanbul and not take in the sights and wonders of this amazing city. It has a fantastic array of important historic buildings, exciting new art galleries and museums to offer. We would recommend an orientation tour of the city, taking in at least the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Underground Cistern.
Follow this with a visit to the delightful Caferaga Medreseh, an arts and crafts centre made up of 15 studios, where traditional Turkish handicrafts such as calligraphy, ceramics and jewellery are taught, made and sold. It is also the perfect venue, away from the crowds, for an exclusive casual lunch.