President and Founder of Incentive Travel Solutions, Kevin Devanney, was interviewed by Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine for their January 2012 edition. (article below)
By Karen Brost
When planning meetings and incentive programs in Europe, it sure helps to know the territory. “About 90 percent of what we do is in Europe,” says Kevin Devanney, president and founder of Incentive Travel Solutions in Charlotte, NC, “so we’re pretty familiar with the market.”
Devanney explains how the current financial situation in Europe is impacting meetings and incentives. “The dollar has strengthened in 2011 just slightly, and it’s helped a little bit with business to Europe,” he says. “That’s certainly a positive for us and for Europeans in the incentive travel business. I think Europeans like a strong euro, however it really helps them when the dollar strengthens because they certainly see an uptick in business. The hotels and DMCs all survive primarily off the U.S. business.
“Spain, Italy, England and France are the big four incentive destinations in Europe,” he continues. “Meetings-wise, you can throw Germany into the mix, because there’s so much commerce and business taking place there. If you’re including meetings, Germany raises the bar a little bit. We do a little more in Germany for that fact.”
Devanney says that Barcelona was a popular destination for a lot of American companies in 2011. He explains why: “No 1, they have great restaurants over there. The influence of Gaudi on the city of Barcelona (also) has a big impact. You see that through the entire city.” Antoni Gaudi was a celebrated Spanish architect in the late 1800s and early 1900s whose innovative designs continue to capture the interest and imagination of visitors to the city today.
A few of Gaudi’s most famous works can be found near the 98-room Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, which opened in late 2009. The hotel is located on the city’s prestigious Passeig deGràcia in an area filled with fashionable boutiques and restaurants.
One of the Barcelona hotels Devanney likes is El Palace, a 125-room luxury property set in the heart of the city. “It’s a five-star property that has some meeting space and is in a fantastic location. It was recently renovated, and it’s a great location for incentives,” he says. The building was constructed in 1919 at the height of the city’s cultural renaissance, and the hotel continues to reflect an air of Old World elegance.
“London is very strong right now,” Devanney comments, citing Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee upcoming in June as well as the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. “In 2012 we’ve got some interest from our clients for all of those reasons,” he says. “It’s not necessarily for the Jubilee or for the Olympics, but because the city will be really decked out and highly decorated through the year in anticipation (of these events). It’s really a great location.
“They’re doing a lot of building,” he continues, “but some of the old hotels like the Grosvenor House and Claridge’s are still fantastic hotels. There’s a brand new InterContinental and Four Seasons. All of the hotels along Hyde Park have recently renovated, like the Hilton and the Sheraton. That location is great for both meetings and incentives.”
The 420-room Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, has been hosting royalty, celebrities and business leaders since 1929. “It has a 19th century ice rink that was incorporated into the hotel,” Devanny says. The ice rink was converted into what is now known as the Great Room, billed by Marriott as the “largest hotel banqueting space in Europe” with nearly 20,000 sf of space. In total, the hotel offers more than 60,000 sf of meeting space including 31 meeting rooms.
Claridge’s, which has a heritage dating back to the 1850s, is one of London’s most iconic hotels. Of its 203 guest rooms, 67 are suites. Half of the hotel’s accommodations are decorated in an art deco style, and the rest are Victorian. As proof of just how chic this historic hotel is, it features a series of rooms and suites designed by Diane Von Furstenberg.
The Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane opened in early 2011. Located in the heart of the city’s prestigious Mayfair area, it features 147 guest rooms, 46 suites, and more than 8,500 sf of meeting space, including the Heritage Travel Group based in Angels Camp, CA. His company is currently in the process of planning several European sales incentive trips, one of which will be held in St. Moritz. “Sometimes people play down Switzerland as being too predictable, and they’re usually mistaken,” he says. “This is going to be a fun mix of the summertime in the Alps and the heritage of the Olympic Games there.” One of the group’s stops will be to see the historic bobsled tracks that have been used for Olympic events.
Tichenor noted that Switzerland also has a heritage of group travel. “It began with Thomas Cook taking groups to St. Moritz,” mountain range in the Swiss Alps, is being developed into a year-round destination. The expansion project calls for the construction of six four- to five-star hotels, including The Chedi Andermatt, a 50-room, five-star property expected to open in time for the 2013 winter season.
“For companies that really want to raise the bar and continue to raise the bar for their top performers, they understand that Europe is a destination that is worth the increasing cost.”
Europe Is a Top Choice
The German Convention Bureau reports that Europe is the most important foreign destination for U.S. planners, and that approximately 50 percent of all foreign events staged by U.S. planners take place in Europe.
For Devanney’s company, the percentage is much higher. “We will probably have about 90 percent of our incentive business going to Europe this year,” he notes. “I think it’s great. I think the dollar has strengthened and at the same time, people are recognizing that it’s not fluctuating that much. It’s just something that we live with now. For companies that really want to raise the bar and continue to raise the bar for their top performers, they understand that Europe is a destination that is worth the increasing cost to keep their top performers motivated and coming back for next year.”