Incentives travel has been disrupted by the global pandemic, but destinations and resorts in the Southeast U.S. are adapting to the new realities.
Dunwoody Anticipates Drive-to Incentives
“With health and safety a top priority for consumers, I think we will see an increase in interest for drive-to destinations and “second-cities” for incentive trips,” says Steven Schumacher, interim executive director and director of sales at Discover Dunwoody. “2020 saw a large increase in road trips, and even once the pandemic has passed, people may still be reluctant to travel long distances and would rather explore a smaller destination they can safely drive to. Dunwoody, for example, is within a short driving distance to major cities like Nashville, Charlotte and Jacksonville, and offers visitors the opportunity to discover unexpected treasures around every corner without having to travel too far from home.”
The City of Dunwoody has implemented safety measures and supported local businesses in their efforts to protect residents and visitors. One such initiative is the Al Fresco Grant, which allowed local restaurants to purchase additional outdoor dining furniture, and items such as heaters, tents and dining bubbles, to help diners feel comfortable outside. The city also launched the Painted Picnic Table Project in 2020, which provided picnic tables painted in creative ways by different groups in the community to encourage more outdoor dining and social distancing.
“An incentive trip to Dunwoody could be the steppingstone that travelers need to kickstart their goals and realign their habits,” says Schumacher. “The destination’s parks and trails are an ideal place to clear the mind and get active with a two-mile multi-use trail at Brook Run Park and a secret hammock garden to unwind in at Dunwoody Nature Center. After a morning run, visitors can visit an assortment of healthy and delicious local restaurants like Sweet Kitchen and Nai Thai Cuisine to continue nurturing the habit of healthy living or stop by Spruill Gallery to appreciate and be inspired by local artists’ creations. Spruill Center for the Arts also offers art classes for those who are looking to learn a new skill or continue one they picked up while sheltering at home last year.”
Dunwoody’s ninth hotel will open in summer 2021, when the new 156-room AC Hotel by Marriott opens its doors. The seven-story property will feature the area’s first rooftop bar, a library supplied with novels picked by guest curators, a seventh-floor lounge for gathering with colleagues and a fitness center.
“We are seeing destination stewardship as a big trend for the upcoming year as well, as travelers desire to leave a positive impact on the destinations they visit, and Dunwoody is a great place for travelers to give back to the community,” says Schumacher. “Many of our businesses and restaurants are locally owned, so visitors can feel good about giving back to the community as they dine, shop and play.”
Wellness Incentives at Sea Island
Sea Island is a private island on the coast of Georgia boasting five miles of private beach, 65,000-sf spa and fitness center, and 93 outdoor experiences including nature activities, three golf courses, and more.
“Incentives travel is more important now than anytime I can remember,” says David Furnish, vice president of sales, Sea Island. “Since many people have been working remote, isolation and confinement has taken its toll. Rewarding performers through incentive travel is one of the best motivators an employer can deploy during a time when travel has been elusive.”
Wellness offerings for groups at Sea Island include Self-Care Workshops to promote overall wellbeing. Classes can be tailored to meet specific needs, such as stress-relief, enhancing sleep, muscle and joint health. Groups can also participate in a Herbal Sleep Lab that teaches how to give the mind and body time to rest and recuperate down to the cellular level. Attendees can choose from aromatherapy recipes to make their own personalized bath oil, and then wind down as a yoga instructor leads the group through a guided meditation. Nutrition and wellness lectures by health and fitness professionals offer customized, interactive group discussions focusing on developing and maintaining healthy lifestyle practices. Cooking demonstrations can also be arranged as part of the program.
“The wellbeing of our members, guests and team members is our top priority,” says Furnish. “We’ve implemented enhanced health and hygiene measures, and our Conference Services team communicates our meeting guidelines and protocols to each individual meeting planner. Through this process, and incorporating safety measures, we partner with the incentive meeting planners to creatively execute extraordinary memorable events. The unique surroundings and expansive grounds, including numerous outdoor venues and experiences, create the opportunity for natural physical distancing at Sea Island.”
Perdido Beach Resort Renovates
Perdido Beach Resort in Alabama is currently undergoing a total renovation of all guest rooms and meeting spaces after experiencing significant damage from Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Zeta. Many of its improvements came as a direct result of feedback from guests and meeting planners. The renovation will add a new state-of-the-art Grand Ballroom, exhibit hall, and various additional breakout rooms that have all received floor to ceiling updates. All guest rooms have been renovated, the exterior of the hotel has been updated with fresh paint and given a new roof, and the hotel’s pool and pool deck have been completely refinished. The renovations are expected to be complete in May 2021.
“Adjustments have been made since the pandemic began based on recommendations from professional organizations in our industry, such as AHLA and NRA respectively,” says Larry Morris, director of sales, Perdido Beach Resort. “One of the most significant changes for us was the introduction of temperature checks for all staff and contractors entering the property. We also made changes to our process of cleaning the guest rooms and reduced the occupancy percentage allowed throughout the hotel. We expect for these changes to continue through 2021. Over time we believe that some things will go back to normal, while other new practices will remain. For instance, contactless check-in and check-out is definitely here to stay.”
For incentives guests seeking an exclusive experience, the resort offers a dedicated Club Level on its 8th floor. The Club Lounge, accessible only to guests staying on this level, features complimentary breakfast in the morning, refreshments and snacks throughout the day, plus a daily happy hour for adults in the evening. Socially distanced outdoors activities that promote health and wellness can include bicycle tours of area’s Hugh S. Branyon trails; water sports such as kayaking, snorkeling and parasailing; as well as many sailing, fishing, and golf options located only minutes from the resort.
“We believe that regional destinations will see an increase in incentive travel programs, while it will take longer for international incentive trips requiring flights to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” says Morris. “At this point, travelers feel more comfortable staying closer to home. We may also see the trend of incentive programs breaking up experiences into multiple smaller events over various sets of dates, rather than bringing everyone within the organization together at one time.”
For more on Southeast incentives read the article in Prevue Mar-Apr 2021 here.