What does it take to ice the competition for a prestigious incentive travel industry award coveted by many, won by only a select few?
Perhaps some things you’d expect, and others you wouldn’t… not in your wildest dreams quite likely (keep reading, we’ll get to it).
All things being equal, a winning incentive travel program will include these expected and essential components:
- A sought-after, incentive-worthy destination like Barcelona, Spain. Check.
- A luxe hotel, like the five-star Hotel Arts Barcelona on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Certainly.
- Mouth-watering Catalonian cuisine prepared by celebrity chef Sergi Arola. But of course.
- Entertainment by Diego Cortes, considered one of the world’s best guitarists. You bet.
- A dimly lit gala dinner that suddenly explodes in light and sound as the National Flamenco dancers take the stage. Absolutely.
But what happens when outside factors threaten to derail the whole thing?
Like a labour demonstration, vigorously simmering right outside your hotel doors.
Before we tell you what happened, let’s consider what was at stake here: we had 548 guests attending a program that cost in excess of $3 million and which had been in the works for 16 months.
On that eventful night, we had planned two separate events: 1) Travelling by luxury coach, 530 participants were scheduled to leave the hotel around 5:30pm for a festive party at Codorniu Winery. 2) The remaining 18 were going to join the CEO for an exclusive dinner at an off-site restaurant, which, this being Europe, opened at 7:00 p.m.
“If you are not out of the hotel by 5:00 p.m., you and your entire group will be trapped,” warned our hotel contact.
With the help of MTZ Destination Management Company, our long-time DMC partner, and accompanied by two off-duty police officers and a squad of riot police, we whisked the group of 530 through the hotel doors right around 5pm, half an hour earlier than scheduled. By doing so, we managed to slip just ahead of the demonstrators, who would soon be numbering in the thousands.
The second group, made up of elite territory managers and the CEO, required more of a Mission Impossible-style escape because we simply couldn’t leave any earlier than planned. The hotel’s rooftop suite, where we were enjoying cocktails and conversation, presented a panoramic view of the city, and on this particular evening, a clear view of the demonstrators.
Moving en masse like a giant wave, they poured toward the hotel, holding placards and banners, smashing windows and burning cars. Black smoke clogged the streets as they pushed closer to their target, our hotel, which the labour demonstrators viewed as a symbol of the wealthy and powerful and everything wrong with the system.
“This is not a drill,” one of our team called out, as we shepherded the group of 18 through the churning undertow of demonstrators. The two off duty police officers who assisted with the larger group stepped in again, along with the riot squad; together they held back the mob on both sides to create a protective channel through which our group passed, all without incident. We whisked the group into our luxury van, which was parked on the other side of the Olympic Port, approximately 400 yards away.
As we pulled away, we looked back to see our protectors, still on guard, as protesters and smoke swirled around them.
While the demonstrations were intense, thankfully they were brief and no one was seriously injured. By the time our groups returned to the hotel, it was all over.
So, what does it take to ice the competition?
The expected: experience (we have over 30 years), deep knowledge (of the client and the destination), unbridled creativity and enthusiasm (our team has both in spades), a lot of hard work and supplier partners who stand by us, and stand strong, whatever may come.
This last point is critical, because when the going gets tough in this unpredictable world of ours, the tough are tapped in.
The Five Ws
Who: 548 top sellers from US Foods
What: A five-day luxury incentive travel program highlighting the destination and Catalonian cuisine
Where: Barcelona, Spain
When: May 2014
Why: To reward the company’s overall 17.5% sales increase (thanks in large part to the previous year’s incentive program, which we planned to Rome, Italy).