|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 1, 2006
July 1, 2006
The reward for a job well done for employees of one of America’s fastest-growing private companies is an all-expense paid trip to paradise: Paradise Island in The Bahamas, that is. Earlier this year, 240 staff and family members of Pennsylvania-based Coventry First checked in for a four-day stay at the Atlantis Resort in recognition of achieving their company’s annual financial goal.
“The owners of the company treat all employees and their families to a four-day holiday as a thank you for all the hard work,” says Constance Buerger, president and chief operating officer of the company, a pioneer in the secondary insurance market that’s been ranked as the US’s tenth-fastest growing private firm in the annual Inc 500. “The trip is a highly worthwhile investment in return for the exceptional efforts made by our employees over the course of the year,” Buerger says.
“Due to its popularity with employees, this also marks the third consecutive year Coventry has selected Atlantis as its destination,” Buerger adds.
This kind of repeat, corporate visit shows the powerful lure of The Bahamas as a destination for international event planners, whether it’s for work–a meeting or convention–or well-deserved play–as an incentive reward. Meetings, conventions and incentive travel are a lucrative niche of the travel industry, where companies can lavish anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 or more on each trip participant for accommodations, banquets and activities that promote team-building and reward top performers.
Resort hotels in Nassau, Paradise Island, Grand Bahama Island and the Out Islands are expanding, renovating and under planned development to serve the discriminating needs of these business-driven travellers. Cable Beach Resorts has allocated $85 million this year and next to upgrade its Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino and rebrand a renovated Radisson resort as a Sheraton. These are first moves in a planned $2-billion-plus project called Baha Mar Resorts, with partners Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc and Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc, to redevelop 1,000 acres on Cable Beach and introduce brands including St Regis, W, Westin and Caesars Resort. Atlantis is set to open a 600-unit, all-suite hotel addition early in 2007, plus a new convention centre. Ritz-Carlton has announced intentions to put its name on two exclusive beachside retreats in The Bahamas that would appeal to the high-end incentive market, one in partnership with the newly opened Abaco Club at Winding Bay, the other to be built on Rose Island near Nassau. The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama at Our Lucaya, which share the largest convention facilities in Freeport, just reopened 200 guest rooms at Lighthouse Point after a makeover that enhanced the rooms and improved the grounds.
“The Bahamas has a lot of things going on, and I just don’t see that happening in the same way in any other island destinations,” says Trish Adams, director of industry relations with Maritz Travel based in St Louis, MO, referring to the expansions and announced developments.
Maritz Travel organizes events all over the world on behalf of global companies in the automotive, insurance, telecom and pharmaceutical sectors, among others. In 2005, the organization ran 18 programmes in The Bahamas for its US-based clients, both for business meetings and incentive travel, Adams says, bringing more than 4,000 people to The Bahamas last year alone. “[The country has] really got the growth, it’s got new things to talk about. For us, outside of Mexico, The Bahamas gets the majority of the Caribbean business.”
This wave of interest to meet on Bahamian shores is also getting a boost from the nation’s tourism authority, which has renewed marketing efforts to get corporate and association events on the books.
“The Ministry of Tourism is back in the group travel business in a major way,” says James Malcolm, recruited into the new role of executive director of group travel in 2005. He’s a Bahamian who has worked in the incentive travel industry in the US and in the exclusive hotels of Harbour Island in The Bahamas.
The timing of Malcolm’s arrival at the Ministry was, in part, to help promote news of a tax incentive available as of Jan 1, 2006 to US taxpayers who plan or attend business meetings in The Bahamas. As a condition of a Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) signed between The Bahamas and the US, the US Internal Revenue Service now allows US taxpayers–including corporations–to deduct costs incurred for attendance at conventions and business meetings held in The Bahamas in the same way that they can deduct the cost of events held in the US.
“This is really important for profes-sional groups and associations hosting events, particularly when the individuals from the US will be paying their own way to attend,” Malcolm says. However, under the TIEA, high-end reward or incentive travel is generally treated as taxable benefits by their homeland tax authorities.
Malcolm says his most important goal is to tell meeting and incentive organizers around the world that The Bahamas is not just a single destination. “It’s a bit of a geography lesson; people don’t always realize the incredible variety of islands here in The Bahamas, and the great resorts hidden away throughout,” Malcolm says. Each island community leaves visitors with a sense of having travelled somewhere special and off the beaten path, yet they’ll never be more than a couple of hundred miles off Florida’s coast–important for groups that can’t waste time in transit or afford long-haul trips.
Islands to discover
There are more than a dozen inhabited Out Islands among the 700 or so cays strung throughout the Bahamian archipelago. Some of the most well-recognized outside the country include Eleuthera, the Abacos and Exuma. All feature charming resorts and luxury retreats tucked away in idyllic, subtropical settings for small corporate meetings, client hospitality events, strategic sessions and incentive travel.
The largest resort in the Out Islands is the secluded Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay near George Town, which became an instant hit with group travel planners when it opened in 2003. The 183-room hotel has 13,000 sq ft of meeting space, as well as a Greg Norman-designed golf course, set in a lush Bahamian landscape overlooking miles of unspoiled white beach.
Harbour Island, off north Eleuthera, is known for its remarkable 3-1?2-mile pink-sand beach, laid-back lifestyle and chic boutique resorts that attract a celebrity set. Notable retreats include the ocean-view cottages of the 29-room Pink Sands Resort and the tiny but glamorous 10-room Rock House Resort, recently renovated by the same South Florida builder who has designed homes for the likes of Cher and the late Gianni Versace.
No matter what the setting, group travel organizers have to consider factors beyond sun and sand to keep meetings running smoothly and on budget. Skilled hospitality workers, unique off-site venues and activities, and experienced destination management on the ground are all important items on the checklist prior to travel.
“For most of the clients we work with, there are several advantages to coming here, especially from the US,” says Lio Mograbi, vice-president of sales and marketing/DMC with Bahamian-owned Cacique International Ltd, which operates a destination management company that arranges and runs group travel program-mes throughout The Bahamas. “We’re located in the Eastern Time zone; we speak English; money is at par with the US dollar and US currency is accepted; there’s great accessibility with direct flights.”
While meeting planners want a wild and wonderful resort experience for participants, they also demand that their groups be kept safe, says the head of conference services at The Bahamas’ most well known destination resort.
“Corporate groups are getting more and more sophisticated, and their standards are getting higher, so we are always trying to offer something more,” says Alex Kim, vice-president and general manager of conference services at Atlantis. Besides the unique attraction of the marine-themed aquatic resort–where guests can see 50,000 sea creatures in one of the world’s largest open-air, salt-water aquariums, slide through a shark tank in a plexiglas tube and will soon be able to swim with dolphins on site–Kim says meeting planners value the resort’s controlled setting. “The number one issue for a lot of these companies is security, and I believe The Bahamas is considered a safe location.”
Who to call
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism’s group travel experts are stationed around the world:
Maxine Lockhart, Senior group sales manager
For more information, see Meetings link at www.bahamas.com
Teamwork, island style
There’s never a dull meeting in The Bahamas, especially if you treat your group or business associates to activities that motivate and invigorate. The following are a few ideas sure to inspire team spirit, hone a competitive edge and create great memories.
SAIL FAST: Introduce clients and peers to the elite world of professional yacht racing with an authentic America’s Cup sailing experience by being part of the crew. Charter the majestic yachts NZL 10 and NZL 12, operated by Sail Nassau and originally built for the 1992 America’s Cup in San Diego, for a match race in which passengers get a chance to take the helm, call tactics and trim the sails.
CATCH THE BIG ONE: Even the most experienced freshwater fishermen will have an unexpected challenge on their hands trying to catch the quicksilver bonefish, one of the most popular sports fishing species found in the crystal-clear flats of The Bahamas. These small but mighty fighters – catch and release only, please – often navigate in schools of 100 or more, so the action can be fast and furious. Organize your own tournament, with an awards ceremony and beachside bonfire to celebrate the victors (most often, those wily bonefish themselves).
EXPERIENCE THE RUSH: Hold your own street party in the spirit of Junkanoo, the famous Bahamian festival filled with music, dancing and flamboyant costumes held each Boxing Day and New Year’s. In the real thing, groups compete to be judged the best performers: Do your own Junkanoo by dividing your group into teams to build the best costume, pound the drums and out-shuffle your peers.
BUILD A BETTER SANDCASTLE: Even Type A go-getters can have their day at the beach when you give them the challenge to engineer the best sandcastle. A popular group event held on the shores of The Westin and Sheraton Grand Bahama at Our Lucaya, is a sand sculpture competition that inspires teams to work smart and unleash their creativity. Bring sunscreen.
Facilities at a glance
Atlantis Paradise Island
Guest rooms: 2,228 (adding 600 new suites in early 2007)
Meeting space; 80,000 sq ft (expanding to 150,000 sq ft in 2007)
Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino
Guest rooms: 845
Meeting space: 30,000 sq ft
Radisson Cable Beach Resort
Guest rooms: 691
Meeting space: 25,000 sq ft
Sandals Royal Bahamian
Guest rooms: 405
Meeting space: 10,700 sq ft
British Colonial Hilton
Guest rooms: 291
Meeting space: 7,500 sq ft
The Westin/Sheraton Grand Bahama at Our Lucaya
Guest rooms: 749 (Westin)
Guest rooms: 475 (Sheraton)
Meeting space: 90,000 sq ft
Viva Wyndham Fortuna Resort
Guest rooms: 276
Meeting space: 9,250 sq ft
Four Seasons Resort at Emerald Bay
Guest rooms: 183
Meeting space: 13,000 sq ft (indoor) 12,000 sq ft (outdoor)