From Cambodia to Costa Rica and Nepal to Namibia, we shine the spotlight on the top six emerging destinations that luxury planners are most intrigued by in 2019 and beyond according to our recent research. Expect to see these up and coming countries find their way onto more incentive pitch lists, if not this year, then certainly within the next couple of years. And here’s why…

1. Sri Lanka
2. Montenegro
3. Nepal
4. Cambodia
5. Namibia
6. Costa Rica

Sri Lanka
First up its Sri Lanka, which is increasingly popular for both leisure and business travellers, having been named Lonely Planet’s top destination to visit in 2019. From timeless ruins, to memorable beaches, sumptuous spiced cuisine to friendly hosts and a diverse wildlife, Sri Lanka packs a cultural punch for travellers searching for new adventures. With an impressive eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, the destination offers ancient sites to explore, legendary temples to visit and beaches galore for a touch of downtime.

Founder of Incent India and Incent Sri Lanka P.N. Nageshwaran (Nagesh) says that from being a pariah for nearly two and a half decades, Sri Lanka has become a darling destination because it is one of the safest destinations to travel in Asia, despite recent troubles, and it’s a beautiful tropical destination with great people and a Visa-friendly regime. “I personally love Sri Lanka, because I have understood the people there, they’re shy by nature and extremely friendly folks. And I like nothing better than a clean country, which Sri Lanka is,” he adds.

Accessibility continues to improve, and a new Shangri-La property opened in Columbo in late 2017, adding to the destination’s growing portfolio of high-end luxury brands, which already includes several Anantara properties and the Amangalla in Galle.

Penguins project manager, Incentives, Sophie Darbon, recommends climbing Sigiriya Rock, a visit to an elephant sanctuary/orphanage and Dambulla Cave Temple among the top activities for incentive groups. “Sri Lanka is an amazing country and I absolutely love it but it’s still an emerging destination, so it’s better for smaller groups as it’s not set up to handle larger group sizes. In order to see the best of the country, it does involve quite a lot of travel around, so it has to be the right group, and you need at least five nights to do it justice,” she says.

This beautiful Balkan country has been somewhat overshadowed by its popular neighbour Croatia in the past, but better air access and new high-end hotel arrivals make it an emerging luxury MICE destination to watch out for.

It boasts beautiful beaches, mountains, UNESCO-protected medieval towns and the stunning Kotor Bay, Europe’s southern-most fjord. There’s a slew of activities on offer from exploring the quaint narrow streets, squares and old churches of Kotor Bay’s old towns such as Kotor and Perast, to jeep safaris through the Piska Mountains, stopping at a local village for traditional Montenegrin meal, and white-water rafting in the Tara River Canyon – the world’s second deepest after the Grand Canyon in the US.

For luxury incentives, Aman Sveti Stefan is a private seaside hideaway set on its own island with cobbled lanes, shaded courtyards and perfect pink sands. The opening of The Chedi Lustica Bay last summer was big news, and it’s the first of seven hotels planned for the massive €1.1bn Lustica Bay development, which will also include two marinas, a golf course and an entire village.

This year will see the opening of a One&Only property in Tivat Bay (see our Hotel Hot List) and further ahead, Oberoi Hotels & Resorts will open The Oberoi Luxury Resort and Spa on Skadar Lake.

The landlocked Central Himalayan country of Nepal has had a tough few years recovering from the devastating earthquakes of 2015, but its appeal as a bucket-list destination has never wavered. It’s ideal for planners looking for unique, authentic experiences that immerse groups into the local culture and is also a destination that people are less likely to have visited.

DMC Pacific World describes it as a “beautiful ancient country that assails the senses with its myriad sights, sounds and scents. The towering Mt. Everest and some of the other tallest mountains in the world offer countless unforgettable panoramic treats.”

Top Banana director of incentives, Elliott Grant, who has visited the country a number of times for both business and leisure, believes that Nepal guarantees an unforgettable experience. “Flying into Kathmandu over the Himalayan foothills fills me with excitement every single time I go. On arrival, you’re immediately overwhelmed by the organised chaos of the city of Kathmandu – the colours, the noise, the smell, the number of cars, bikes, people and animals everywhere is nothing like you can imagine,” he says.

“For an incentive group, there are plenty of hotels to choose from with a few well-known brands such as Radisson. But for me, the stand out option is Dwarika’s just a short drive from the airport. The hotel is a beautifully designed, family owned property which offers a peaceful haven from the busy Kathmandu streets and works perfectly as a base for exploring the city.”

Like its neighbours, Cambodia has seen a surge in luxury hotel development, increasing its appeal for high-end exclusive events, but unlike Thailand and Vietnam it remains off-the-beaten path and relatively unexplored.

Penguin’s Darbon says: “Despite the dark history, Cambodia’s people have an infectious optimism and unbreakable spirit meaning that this destination is continuously rewarding for all who visit. Siem Reap has reinvented itself as the heart and soul of the new chic Cambodia yet step just outside and you hit authentic countryside with a traditional and simple way of life.

While capital Phnom Penh and Siam Reap remain the most popular places to visit – Rosewood made its debut with a luxury property in Phnom Penh last year and Angkor Watt boasts a number of high-end brands including Raffles – new developments are opening up more remote corners of the Kingdom from private islands to mountain regions.

Recent arrivals include Six Senses Krabi Island, Cambodia, offering 40 secluded pool villas on a 30-acre private tropical island located 5km off Ream National Park in southern Cambodia, and Alila Villas Koh Russey, a boutique resort also set on its own private island in the Koh Rong archipelago. Meanwhile, with a bold claim to offer the “most extravagant tented camps imaginable”, Shinta Mani Wild by The Bensley Collection, recently opened in the remote wilderness of the Kirirom and the Southern Cardamom Mountains.

Namibia has been nominated numerous times in the last several years as the best country to visit for leisure travellers due to its rich and diverse offerings – from the oldest desert in the world to the Big five in the Animal Kingdom. And it seems the events industry is finally catching on, with Pacific World naming the destination as one of its top five emerging destinations for meetings and incentives in 2019 and our survey respondents putting it in their top six.

The global DMC group says the surge in interest is due to Namibia’s increased international flight connections, quality accommodation and venues, an untouched abundance of wildlife, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and diverse landscape featuring natural hot springs, petrified forests, dunes and rock formations.

New in 2018 on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, Shipwreck Lodge features eight shipwreck-shaped chalets with a view of the Atlantic Ocean, while 2019 will see the opening of a contemporary hillside camp surrounded by a 35,000-hectare reserve by Habitas, an hour away from Windhoek’s airport.

Pacific World also recommends a new one-day Namib Desert Trek through the ancient canyons of the Moon Valley, one of the most fascinating areas of the Namib Desert. Journey back millions of years to when these undulating desert lands were formed, while keeping an eye out for wildlife such as springbok, ostrich and swallow-tailed bee-eaters before lunch amid the dunes.

Costa Rica
With coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific, the Central American country boasts stunning beaches, rugged rainforests, volcanoes, and high-adrenalin activities, Costa Rica is ideal for creating unique and memorable group itineraries.

Despite its diminutive size, Costa Rica is proudly home to about 5% of the global biodiversity – roughly a quarter of its area is made up of protected jungle, teeming with wildlife including sloths, spider monkeys and quetzal birds – so rainforest trekking to spot some of the weird and wonderful birds and creatures is a must. With 29 national parks, 19 wildlife refuges and eight biological reserves to choose from, groups are spoilt for choice.

The country opened its first purpose-built convention centre last year, signalling its intent to become a contender in the international events market and a viable option for large meetings as well as incentives.

Luxury international hotel brands in the destination include Four Seasons and Andaz, while November saw the W brand made its debut in Reserva Conchal in Costa Rica. There’s plenty of new properties on the horizon too with Hard Rock International planning to open the all-inclusive 294-room Hard Rock Hotel Papagayo this year.

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 our 2019 Hotel Hotlist and Sustainability focus to be published online over the next few weeks…


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