Club Med Sandpiper Bay Few things encourage attendance and create excitement among meeting and incentive attendees like a warm weather destination with beautiful beaches and tall palm trees. That’s pretty much a given. But the variety of hotel product is another matter, ranging from small independent boutique hotels to internationally branded, full-service resorts. We checked in with resorts in each of the different product categories from South Florida to the Southern Antilles to see what’s new and why planners should take a closer look. CLUB MED SANDPIPER BAY, FLORIDA Set along St. Lucie River about one hour north of Palm Beach, the 337-room Club Med Sandpiper Bay lures energetic groups with a complete menu of outdoor activities ranging from golf to a flying trapeze and circus school. The convenient all-inclusive meeting packages make it easy for groups to focus on the meeting at hand in the conference center, recently renovated last December, which can host groups up to 1,000 attendees. For larger groups, planners can choose the “rent-a-village” buyout option and take over the entire property. “We’re able to tailor the offerings based on each individual group’s needs,” says Sherri Gibson, business manager. “Some popular teambuilding activities include cocktail mixing lessons and wine tastings, as well as tennis, sailing and group paddle boarding lessons.” There are also opportunities for bonding offsite. Groups can go on airboat excursions aboard a hovercraft on Lake Okeechobee, the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the source of the Everglades. Here, attendees will see the Florida alligator and birds such as the American Bald Eagle and white stork. For thrill seekers, a 3-hour Harley Davidson motorcycle tour is available. Nearby Disney World, Universal Studios and the Kennedy Space Center are also an option if the schedule allows for daytime outings. PARADISUS PLAYA DEL CARMEN Ever since opening in November 2011, the adults-only Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla continues to attract both corporate and incentive groups with its rich architecture matched by one-of-a-kind resort amenities. Located in the heart of the Riviera Maya, the 394-suite property reflects the area’s Mayan ecological history, surrounded by a tropical mangrove preserve. Meeting planners have taken particular interest in the resort’s all-inclusive model, which “combines attributes of luxury through an all-inclusive attractive financial package,” says Carmelina Iannarone, director of corporate groups, meetings & events. “LUXEclusive eliminates guests’ payment responsibilities while on property allowing them to simply focus on the experience.” That lack of payment responsibilities is especially helpful for any guests staying in one of the 60 swim-up suites (the most of any resort in Mexico), with direct access from the room to the pool. Other favorite group experiences include sushi making, tango dancing, windsurfing and painting activities—all of which are part of the all-inclusive fee. Between the 12 restaurants and eight bars available—with capacities ranging from 90 to 1,000 people—Iannarone recommends the Gabi Club for a combined restaurant, bar and beach experience. The restaurant chef serves up fish and chips for dinner, while guests can appreciate the warm ocean air sitting in either the open-air dining room or outside on the wooden deck. On March 1, the property debuted the Kosher Kitchen to meet the demands of a growing Jewish group population visiting the resort. It caters exclusively to groups of 50 to 1,000 people and follows all Jewish dietary practices. Meeting planners contracting the kitchen will be responsible for calling a Rabbi to certify and kasher the kitchen before cooking begins. The food can be catered in the property’s 25,000 sf of meeting space. Inn on Fifth NAPLES, FLORIDA In late 2012, the 119-room Inn on Fifth in Naples, Florida completed a $1.7 million renovation and $18 million expansion project, adding 32 club level suites and upping the boutique property’s luxury factor. The club level offers an exclusive concierge and check-in, a private rooftop space with a hot tub and sunbathing area, and a top-shelf bar including 80-year-old Scotch. The addition includes two new 1,100-sf presidential suites for top execs and small meetings or receptions. A 700-sf executive boardroom was also part of the expansion with complete audiovisual capabilities and large TV monitors. “As far as our club level goes, there’s not a product like it in this market,” says Cathy Christopher, director of sales/marketing. “And we’re very competitive price-wise compared to bigger destinations around Florida.” The renovation includes a contemporary design palette of grays, creamy whites, black and accents of red. All guest rooms feature new custom-made furniture and artwork, as well as crown molding and large balconies. Apart from the new design, Christopher says the service is what keeps people coming back. The property only books one event at a time, and the group has their own personal concierge to guarantee continuity throughout the process. The property’s location on Fifth Avenue in the heart of Naples is another major draw. Meeting planners don’t have to worry about transportation or planning activities for attendees or their guests because 32 restaurants and more than 50 retail shops await them, not to mention the fact that the beach and river are situated on opposite ends of the street. For a true Naples experience, though, meeting planners should take their group out on the water. “The real Naples experience is about the waterways, the river, the Gulf and the canals,” says Christopher. “From the boat, you see what you cannot see from the road, and the experience is extraordinary…. For small groups, I like to put them on a catamaran or there’s also luxury yachts for a dinner cruise at sunset.” GRAND VELAS RIVIERA MAYA The 5-diamond Grand Velas Riviera Maya is the largest meeting facility in Mexico’s Yucatan, with 91,500 sf of indoor and outdoor space. It has redefined the meaning of all-inclusive for meetings. “The perception about all-inclusive is equal to low quality of food and service, and that it’s an atmosphere for Spring Breakers,” says Jorge Meraz Ibarra, groups & conventions sales manager. “But every single penny that meeting planners spend, they will receive back in food and service and quality because it’s the hotel’s duty to make planners look excellent in front of their clients.” The 5-diamond experience starts in one of the property’s 491 suites—the smallest being 1,100 sf—each with an ocean or jungle view. But the real attraction is the cuisine. Attendees can take off on an international culinary tour of the property’s seven restaurants, offering authentic fare from France to southwest Asia. And each restaurant has its own chef who creates the seasonal, innovative menus. For instance, Frida Restaurant has a Mexican menu including a nopal cactus salad with kastacan pork pancetta from Valladolid. The Grand Velas brand, which includes a sister property in Riviera Nayarit, recently launched a meetings website: velasmeetingsmexico.com. Planners can submit RFPs and find photo galleries and meeting space specs. FIESTA AMERICANA GRAND, CANCUN The 602-room Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancun is one of five properties that make up the Fiesta Americana Grand Meetings Mexico portfolio. The Mayan Calendar “new beginning” theme has posed a popular idea for meeting planners. The resort can support the theme with colorful Mayan decor, food and beverage, and even a Mayan shaman who performs Mayan rituals to bless the opening of large and small meeting and incentives program. This is just one of several ways the property works with meeting planners to give attendees a cultural experience they’ll remember. The 40,000-sf Gem Spa (the largest in Cancun), for instance, uses the healing power of gems to provide therapy techniques. While the spa offers a traditional buyout option for spa treatments, it also offers the opportunity for groups that buyout the hotel to use it as a nightclub venue. The outdoor spaces are perhaps the most flexible, providing blank canvases for one-of-a-kind events. “Our audiovisual team can create some truly magical displays outdoors,” says Jason Glascock, director of group sales. “At Coral Beach we’ve had sunken treasure ships, Mayan pyramids and giant sand castles. Any ideas that one can come up with, we can help bring to life.” Located adjacent to the Cancun Convention Center, the resort is designed for group business with a host of custom meeting packages. It’s also available for buyouts, “which few all-inclusive properties are able to offer, allowing groups to customize the property and brand the hotel,” Glascock says. Also, Posadas Hotels & Resorts, the parent company of Fiesta Americana, partnered with Aeromexico in 2012. Group planners can now reserve discount flights for their attendees from anywhere Aeromexico flies. Once the group signs with a Fiesta Americana property, they will receive a code that can be given to their attendees in order to redeem the discounts. SANTA BARBARA RESORT, CURACAO The newly managed and renamed Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort Curaçao is located within the 1,500-acre Santa Barbara Plantation community. Aside from the golf and luxurious 350-room hotel, guests here get a taste of Curaçao’s culture known for its eco-tourism, indigenous history and sophisticated Dutch influence through a variety of amenities and activities available. “Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort incorporates an authentic Caribbean experience into much of what it does here,” says John MacMullen, director of sales/marketing. “This includes indigenous foliage throughout the resort grounds, the use of natural herbs in spa products, and above all, energy conservation in much of the public areas.” The Atabei Spa offers holistic treatments stemming from rituals of the Arawak, the original habitants of the island. The spa was named after Atabei, the mother earth, using organic products and ingredients from the area. Guests can even create their own custom body scrubs using local sea salts, herbs and aromatic oils from the spa’s Lama Salt Bar. Each treatment begins with an herbal water foot cleanse using a Calabash bowl, made from the native Calabash Tree. To get a feel of the area’s history, groups may want to explore the 200,000-year-old Hato Cave, with 45-minute tours available every hour starting at 9 a.m. Meeting planners can even organize an event in the Hato Caves’ terrace accommodating up to 600 people reception-style. For more traditional meetings, organize a tournament at the resort’s Pete Dye-designed Old Quarry Golf Course, known as one of the top courses in the Caribbean. It follows the plantation’s conservation efforts with paspalum grass on the fairways and greens that can be irrigated with recycled water. Planners can opt for the Santa Barbara Golf Package, which gives players 25% off green fees and rental clubs.