Skift Take

North American companies are investing more in incentive travel programs across Europe, so travel brands like InterContinental are attempting to capture that with compelling content, with varying degrees of success.

InterContinental Hotels launched a new Incentive Options content program last month, which marks a return for the brand toward promoting luxury corporate incentive travel in major European markets.

The fact that InterContinental developed this campaign now supports data showing that U.S. corporate incentive planners are returning to medium-haul travel destinations overseas, following a precipitous decline that has had lasting effects well after the recession.

According to Christopher Koleros, European director of sales/marketing at InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), incentive sales for 2015 are up 16% across the continent over 2014.

The Incentive Options content is downloadable as an 85-page Apple iBook or PDF showcasing the brand’s 30 European properties. There are also 2-5 content pieces for each hotel profiling destination experiences applicable for incentive travel programs, which generally demand a certain level of exclusivity, individuality and cachet.

That can be a challenge to achieve in a group environment for people who have often participated on a lot of these types of trips, so this is designed to spark planners’ imagination and pivot their focus back on Europe.

An example of one of those experiences is a behind-the-scenes tour of the Fabrica Sant’Anna factory in Lisbon, where participants can meet the few remaining artisans who still hand paint ceramic tiles in 18th century Portuguese tradition.

Most of the destination experiences have a somewhat cultivated timbre focusing on food, wine, architecture, history and culture. There’s room there for perhaps a few more technology or media-based experiences to keep InterContinental Europe from feeling too much like a baby boomer brand.

‘Back To Europe’

According to the latest 2015 trends research coming out of the Incentive Research Foundation, North America and the Caribbean are the top two preferred destinations for North American incentive planners.

Following those: “Europe comes as a popular third option with over a third of planners choosing it for incentive travel. Third parties seem to be driving the push back to Europe with over half of incentive houses using Europe, compared to only a quarter of corporate end users doing so.”

The fact that only one out of four in-house corporate planners is looking at Europe shows the reservations that many companies still have toward the continent regarding value for spend. That cautious outlook is also helping drive new awareness toward destinations like Portugal and Hungary, which tend to have significantly lower room, venue and F&B pricing than the iconic incentive countries.

“Lisbon and Porto in particular are seeing an increase in demand among incentive travel buyers due to InterContinental’s recent expansion in the country,” says Koleros. “The cities in Portugal tend to be seen as authentic and unspoiled, giving incentive guests a unique flavor. Paris, London, Rome, Madrid, Berlin and Vienna remain key favorites, and we’re also seeing interest in Davos now because of the new InterContinental there.”

Good But Could Be Great

InterContinental Hotels was actually one of the first big hospitality brands to promote local experiential travel over a decade ago with its Insider Experiences content and Insider Concierge video series, although it has since fallen behind the content initiatives at some of the other large corporate brands.

As an ebook or PDF, the Incentive Options program works well for a sales tool for InterCon executives, and it helps meeting planners sell European incentives programs to their procurement departments and C-suite.

But from a planner user experience perspective, this would potentially be more effective and user friendly as a responsive microsite, because then it could evolve every season with updated content. It could also pull in all of the video content, like the Portugal hotels’ video above, and special promotions across the portfolio to drive excitement around the IHG brand.

Meanwhile, the InterContinental David Tel Aviv created its first-ever dedicated incentive travel program this winter to build on the new Incentive Options content.

The group programming showcases the culture of the surrounding Neve Tzedek district, considered the “SoHo” of the Middle East, where some of Israel’s best writers, artists and other cultural luminaries have lived. The program also includes a fashion and design tour, and an exploration of Old Jaffa.

David Cohen, GM of the InterContinental David Tel Aviv, told Skift, “Due to the ease of experiencing Tel Aviv that this program provides, we expect to see an increase in bookings for incentives trips next year.”

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Tags: europe, ihg, intercontinental, meetings, travel

Photo credit: The InterContinental Davos in Switzerland is one of the brand's few non-urban properties in Europe. IHG

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