Destination trends: Where’s hot in 2019?

Find out the top ten destinations planners are booking for luxury events this year, according to our exclusive research…

Off-the-beaten-track destinations such as Rwanda, Columbia, Georgia and Laos are increasingly on the radar for luxury event planners as clients seek to reward their teams with once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities according to our research. “There’s certainly a move towards some more intrepid and adventurous destinations as clients are searching for more experience driven incentives that delegates wouldn’t ordinarily go to,” says Top Banana director of incentives Elliott Grant.

Yet despite the urge to explore new exotic destinations being stronger than ever, it’s the tried and tested options that remain the most popular in 2019. We asked luxury planners which destinations they are booking for 2019 to create our first-ever inSPIRE destination hotlist for high-end events and incentives.

Top 10 destinations for luxury events in 2019
1. Spain
2. Portugal
3. Italy
4. Southern Africa
5. London
6. Berlin
7. Paris
8. Dubai
9. Thailand
10. Croatia

The top ten is dominated by well-established destinations, with southern European countries Spain, Portugal and Italy leading the pack and old favourites South Africa, Paris and Dubai also experiencing a boost in bookings.

Tried and tested

Sunshine, safety, ease of access and an ever-expanding portfolio of luxury hotels all contribute to Spain’s unwavering popularity as an events destination. It also works equally well for both meetings and incentives. While Barcelona remains the darling of the MICE industry, capital city Madrid is snapping at its heels for business with a wealth of luxury openings on the horizon, including new W and Four Seasons properties expected this year.

Four Seasons Hotel Madrid is scheduled to open in 2019

Barcelona is also seeing increased competition from neighbouring Portugal according to several agencies. “Barcelona is always popular – it’s a very vibrant destination and has that lovely combination of city and beach and a great climate all year round. But we are also seeing more interest in Lisbon, which has everything, but beats Barcelona on price by quite a margin,” says Absolute Corporate Events managing director Chris Parnham.

Jan De Ridder, owner The Boosting Group agrees that Portugal offers better value for money than other European cities. “It’s a great value destination and the five-star properties in Portugal offer much better rates than France or Spain,” he adds.

Alfama, Lisbon

Italian intrigue

In third place behind Spain and Portugal is Italy, which comes as no surprise to Italia Connection executive vice president David Vogel. “Italy will always be on the top list because it has the special extra for every event and journey. The unexpected experience is always part of any trip you take to Italy, because the country has so much to offer,” he says. “The energy you feel in the cities is infectious. It makes you want to explore and try new things. In combination with the incredible calm that hundred years old masterpieces radiate, it is a recipe which makes you always to come back.”

Black Tomato Agency is among the incentive specialists seeing increased demand for Italy, however co-head David Heron says clients are demanding new and unique experiences. “Europe is proving more popular for clients that would typically have budget for long-haul. They are going back to older destinations but recreating that experience. There is a renewed appreciation that you don’t have to go far to create something that is truly unique,” he explains. “We’re selling Italy a lot and working with some great suppliers that are offering really interesting group options.”

Outside of the established destinations in Italy, lesser known regions such as Puglia, Sicily, Emilia Romana or Piemonte are also on the radar. “They all offer wonderful destinations either on the coast or in the mountains, with castles, folkloric events, hidden wine and dine treasures and much more,” adds Vogel.

Comeback kings

Event destination trends are often cyclical with hot favourites coming in and out of vogue every few years. While Paris never really went out of fashion, a flurry of major refurbishments and new luxury openings over the last 18 months has put it firmly in the spotlight. Global DMC Partners named the French capital the most popular international city for meetings and incentives for 2018 in its recent Global Destination Index and it came seventh on our 2019 hotlist.

Paris

“A few new openings in a city or destination can generate interest again and bring people back,” says CWT M&E Vice President EMEA Ian Cummings. “For example, we are hearing a lot of noise about Amsterdam – it has several new properties including a Soho House, where Prince Harry had a party last year, as well as a new Park Inn by Radisson.”

The same could be said for Thailand, which made number nine on our hotlist. There has been a flurry of luxury developments in Bangkok, with a new Waldorf Astoria and EDITION debuting in 2018 and a Rosewood and Four Seasons planned to open this year.

Other destinations back in vogue for 2019 include Greece, Turkey and Morocco. Marrakech in particular, which went from being a hot favourite to pretty much dropping off a cliff due to client concerns over safety and security, is seeing business pick up again – SevenEvents and Clogwork Orange are among the agencies taking groups there in 2019.

Marrakech is back in vogue for incentives

“After a few years in the wilderness the likes of Marrakech and Istanbul are back at the forefront of client’s minds again which is great news as they’re both fantastic destinations for incentives, well connected and exceptional value on the ground,” says Top Banana’s Grant.

African adventures

With ‘spotting the Big 5’ an experience on most people’s bucket lists, African safaris seem hotter than ever right now. Dragonfly Africa CEO Mike Waller believes this is in part due to the encroachment on wildlife habitat increasing at an alarming rate resulting in more species being poached to the brink of extinction. “Through increased awareness via social media, people are realising that there may come a time when they won’t see any of these magnificent animals or cultures and tribes or the wide-open spaces in quite the same form as they are now and so, the safari experience is being moved up their priority list,” he explains.

Our survey put Southern Africa in fourth place on the destination hotlist, with South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana all named as destinations luxury planners are placing business this year.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

“Off the back of a tough year… Cape Town bookings have picked up favourably. It continues to be voted ‘Best City to Live In’ along with numerous other accolades. The diversity of activities, product available, scenic beauty and culture in a relatively small space is difficult to match,” says Waller. “Personally, we are seeing interest in more outlying areas especially safari reserves which were previously unexplored by international tourists – Madikwe, Waterberg, Chobe and South Luangwa for example.”

Concepts Collection Group meanwhile, has seen a big resurgence in the popularity of Victoria Falls and new luxury properties in Zimbabwe and Zambia, according to CEO Richard Holt. “We’re also seeing a real Namibian interest and renaissance with stunning new lodges opening across the country at the moment. Mozambique is emerging as a hot new destination and Rwanda is really investing in its conferencing and MICE opportunities, which is having a knock-on effect into leisure business in neighbouring Uganda and Congo especially for trekking and the gorilla experience,” says group CEO Richard Holt.

Gorillas in Rwanda

On the horizon

Although Thailand was the only Asian destination to make the top ten, a number of destinations across the region including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and the Philippines, are emerging as potential incentive hotspots for 2019 and beyond.

Central and South America are also on the radar with destinations including Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Columbia and Argentina all named as up and coming destinations of interest in our survey results. “We are pitching South America a lot, but it often tends to be second place or runner up in most situations,” says Absolute Corporate Events’ Parnham. “We usually find that those destinations coming second tend to climb higher the following year, so I think we’ll be confirming more trips in the region in 2020.”

This article is part of our first inSPIRE: the ANNUAL edit – an in-depth report on current and future trends in the luxury events and incentives market, featuring exclusive research and interviews with industry experts from across the globe.

Stay tuned – the full report will be available to download soon, with further features, including the top six emerging destinations and our 2019 Hotel Hotlist to be published online throughout February…

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