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Team Building

The Essence

The legendary Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne said it all: “The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team. As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven.”

Vince Lombardi, no slouch himself at putting together great teams, said: “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

Another football great, Joe Paterno, offered this insight: “When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.”

Henry Ford knew a little about building teams when he said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

No one wanted to argue with Steve Jobs when he said: “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

One of the greatest team players in history, Babe Ruth, said this: “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”

Team building is the third leg of the human resources triumvirate – RECRUITING – TRAINING – TEAM BUILDING. Until very recently, team building was an afterthought usually left up to the training function or the department heads themselves. Office morale and efficient work flow were seen as every manager’s responsibility. After all, wasn’t it the boss’s job to motivate and lead?

Recruiting and training the best and the brightest and molding them into efficient work groups is now seen as a highly refined professional skill. Back in the day, only charismatic leaders like Henry Ford and Steve Jobs possessed this apparently inborn talent. It was called, “building a great company” and only outliers like Ford and Jobs could do it. Today, the human resources triumvirate is considered an essential in competitive companies, and the team building function now falls to professionals.

Premier Meeting Services designs and executes team building activities and events that seek to:

• Invite new employees to feel like part of the group.
• Instill a sense of mutual benefit in defined work groups.
• Transform company goals into personal goals for all employees.
• Create a common sense of purpose among diverse individuals.
• Encourage employees to have fun at work.
• Help employees feel comfortable depending on one another.
• Help independent personalities learn to trust the team.
• Help Type A employees consider the “other”.
• Promote a deep sense of loyalty in all team members.

Humility is no longer considered a virtue among high-achievers. All successful teams, however, depend on separate, independent individuals seeing themselves as part of something bigger and understanding that they can only accomplish their personal goals by helping the team accomplish its goals.

Can team building events teach today’s employees to replace narcissism with humility? That is the challenge facing every human resource department in the country. It’s a big ask but at Premier that’s what we aim to do.

Interview With a Master Planner

I recently had lunch with my mentor, an old-school wedding planner who expanded her agency beyond weddings to plan some of the most notable national events held in Florida in the 90s. She is a true planning pioneer who, for all practical purposes, invented planning and introduced the world to the face-to-face marketing potential of national association meetings, product launches, and $1,000/plate nonprofit fund raisers. She’s a little old lady now and, as I watched her eat in silence, I began to wonder how this quiet, tidy, little lady grew to be one of the biggest event planners in the country at the end of the 20th century. Here’s a few minutes of the conversation that ensued. What wisdom!

ME: Sally, how did you get started as a meeting planner? I mean, there wasn’t any such thing when you started your agency, was there?
SALLY: My college roommate was getting married in 1968, and she was completely undone about it. She was so excited that she couldn’t even set a date after her fiancé told her to pick any date she wanted. I was so excited for her that I began to help her pick the date and the venue and the band and the caterer and the florist and even the clergyman. What started as two best friends screeching at one another turned into a six-month avocation. I did nothing else. I was working at an insurance agency as a secretary and every day at 5:00 I’d shift gears and work into the night on Joan’s wedding. Well, it went well. Everything went off without a hitch, and at the reception Joan’s cousin asked me if I would help her plan her impending nuptials. One thing led to another and before you know it I started working from my apartment planning weddings full-time.

ME: What was it about that first wedding that made you think you might want to do this for a living?
SALLY: The thing I loved about that first experience was that it was personal. I really loved Joan and really cared about her wedding. I never had that feeling in the insurance office. I thought…Wow…I really love doing this for people I care about. This isn’t work. This is fun. This is personal. And I was so gratified at Joan’s wedding when everything went so well, and she was so pleased that I realized I needed to do something I really cared about for people I cared about. I kept that personal commitment throughout my entire career, even after I started working for big corporations. I made sure I really cared about a client before I would take a commission. I recommend that “personal attachment” to every planner of every event. You won’t care about your work if you have no personal attachment to your clients… and it will show. You won’t be happy in your job and your clients won’t be happy with your performance. That “real caring” is the magic sauce for event planners. That’s what separates the greats from the run-of-the-mill.

ME: How did you go from planning weddings for friends alone in your apartment to planning big corporate events?
SALLY: Well, I began to get a reputation as someone who could handle all the details and knew all the local vendors. So, the first skill I had before I even realized it was that I was learning my way around venues and caterers and bands and florists. I could put a good team together to pull off an event. That’s still the main skill I recommend new planners develop. A great planner is only as good as the team he or she can pull together.

ME: How did you transition from being a wedding planner to a corporate event planner? I mean, what made you think you could do big events? Is it the same skill set in your opinion?
SALLY: Aside from really caring about your client and having a personal relationship with them, I think that big corporate event planners need two other skills that I think came naturally to me. The first is fanatical attention to detail. I might be OCD for all I know.

ME: Oh, you are. Take it from me.
SALLY: Well, I’m glad of it. As the size and complexity of events grew, on one level I never even noticed. Each event was its own story, and I would handle every detail as they came up. It never occurred to me to consider the amount of detail. Every detail got the same amount of my attention. That frame of mind is a must for a big event planner. No stone goes unturned. It’s just natural to people like me.


I will publish a little more of my interview with Sally next week. The more we talked the more I realized that Sally was a legendary event planner not because of what she did but because of who she was. Next week she explains how we can all rise above run-of-the-mill, as she calls it.

How to Keep Them Coming

Premier Meeting Services collaborates with Athena Education Group, LLC, as the continuing medical education provider to plan, develop, and implement live CME conferences, meetings, and symposia at the local, regional, national, and international levels. Over the years, our main challenge has been to keep medical education meetings up-to-date and attractive to an often repeating but ever-evolving audience of medical professionals.

  • The Baby-Boomers in the audience who have been to many CME programs are “old-pros” who attend for very different reasons than their younger millennial colleagues. Often senior practitioners come to network with old friends, recruit employees, and find out “what’s new”.
  • The Millennials, on the other hand, come not only to learn but often to find a job, make new friends, and develop a feeling of belonging to their professional practice group.
  • Differences in motivation are not only generational. Attendees at CME conferences also have a unique personality profile. Medical professionals are often scientists who tend to be more introverted than the typical attendees at a national sales meeting. It is becoming almost mandatory for planners to design networking opportunities that ease the uncomfortable face-to-face component that natural introverts tend to avoid, otherwise they will continue to lose attendance to online learning.

Diverse attendee motivations are the medical meeting planner’s marketing challenge. Make no mistake, attendees expect a customized experience. They will go to the expense and inconvenience of attending a CME program only if they feel it answers their unique needs. What, then, can planners do to uncover these preferential differences in CME audiences from year to year and from seminar to seminar?

5 Steps of Effective Research

Premier Meeting Services follows a step-by-step program when planning each CME program.

  1. Collect available client data – Most clients have attendee preference data gathered from previous trainings. Premier planners analyze available data to extract preferential differences from varying stakeholders. Clients rarely take the time to analyze the data they already have and often aren’t sure what they are looking for. Planners can collect and analyze already collected data.
  2. Interview internal stakeholders – Every member of the organization has a slightly different objective for each CME program. To design effective trainings planners must understand the needs of both young and old, journeymen and rookies, national and international participants, teachers, students, experts, medical media, and medical organization principals.
  3. Design new exit questionnaires for each training – keeping data up-to-date is essential for an accurate knowledge base going forward. If you want to know why people choose your CME offering, the best way to find out is to ask them.
  4. Refine data points to discern – net satisfaction levels – segmented attendance statistics – social media response reports – participation levels – negative elimination reports. These segmentation studies can be converted into action plans for designing the next CME program.
  5. Macro-market research –Refined data points must be viewed in the context of overall market research to truly understand who your target client is and what he wants from your training. Recent market research, for example, reveals that content is no longer king. Contact is king. Attendees are motivated more by making face-to-face contact with colleagues and experts in their field than they are by whatever specific content is being offered.

Not the Same Old Thing

One of the dangers in planning CME programs is to rely solely on content to attract an audience. While it is true that the learning experience is at times compulsory, the choices of where and when a medical professional can get the required continuing education certificate are multiplying algebraically. Planners must be prepared to answer the question, “Why would I attend an event rather than learn online?” When you can answer that question for a varied constituency, you are on the road to success at your next CME event.

Don’t Forget to – VIDEO IT!

At Premier Meeting Services we are advising clients to revise their AV budgets to include a professional video production company. Like most meeting planners who produce continuing education programs and company training sessions, videotaping high profile presenters and breakout sessions is nothing new for us. But, recently, we have upped our game.

We realize how valuable a complete video record of every event is to attendees, clients, and meeting planners alike. Professionally produced video re purposes and magnifies an event as follows:

  • Educational sessions and trainings can be turned into webinars.
  • Customer interviews can become case studies.
  • Recorded content can be streamed for a blended event of live and online. In member-driven associations, for example, members who cannot attend the event are often willing to pay to attend online. This is a great additional revenue source.
  • Your event never really starts or ends; it just takes place over four or five days and the other 360 days it lives on as you drip-feed the content out to people who went to the conference as well as to people who didn’t.
  • The most valuable information is captured on tape. Whether it’s a recent medical breakthrough or an educational session for certification, when it’s captured on video it’s value to your organization is expanded dramatically.
  • Your marketing department can broadcast your event’s culture via YouTube or Vimeo.

Do you need a Pro?

Each of these different uses requires different content and production value. Only a professional video production company can replicate the true value of your event. We have found, for example, that if your video production company can make content available immediately after a breakout session, the people who just walked out of the session often want to go back and watch something they may have missed or need a reminder of. If you wait two weeks to make it available, very few people will watch it.

Yes, You Do!

We have all noticed the difference between the videos we take on our iPhones of our child’s holiday pageant and the latest Hollywood blockbuster. The difference, of course, is production value.

  • Filming with two or three cameras
  • HD sound recording and dubbing
  • Editing and producing for a wide variety of uses
  • Adding AR/3D/Special effects, etc.

Because we have found so many professional applications for our event videos, home production is out of the question for us. Putting your camera on a tripod and turning it on will give you a record of your event, but shooting with a mixture of wide and tight shots then editing it together will give you a significantly better product that only a pro can produce.

For example, pros shoot what is known as B-Roll – other stuff which could conceivably be happening at the same time as the main event action (audience reaction – slides on the screen – crowds coming and going at your event – an aerial view of the venue – etc.) that adds drama, texture, and context to your event narrative.

The video pros we work with often suggest stage lightening. Stage lighting isn’t about accuracy, it’s about mood – and for that reason pros often use unique colors to light action at an event where the whole set may be bathed in blue, or red to create an effect that will alter the narrative in ways that you would never have imagined.

Whatever You Do – VIDEO IT!

A professional video recording of your entire event is no longer an event extra – it is an essential. Check with your event planner to make sure that they have a professional video production company they work with and gladly include the cost in your budget.

Trends That Currently Impact the Event Industry

When planning your event this year, it is important to be mindful of the latest trends. With advances in technology, a changing geo-political landscape, eco-travel, natural food fads, alternative lodging and transportation choices, planners must carefully research meeting and event trends to avoid putting on “dated”, “same-old-thing” events. Let’s start with AV.

  • AV Innovation is currently all the rage. Audio Visual technology is advancing rapidly and if you don’t participate your event can go stale sitting on the shelf for even one year. Planners must carefully study the competition and keep abreast of the latest AV technologies being employed to add POP and WOW to the events they are now planning.
    I recently attended an event that combined LED displays and 360-degree wireless sound to create a natural environment inside a convention hall that made you feel as if you had walked through a jungle ride at Disney World. It was very effective at selling natural agricultural feeds and creating an unforgettable WOW factor. It was costly to design and build but was definitely the hit of the show.
  • AV Budgets Are Growing– It is time to review AV budgets carefully. Innovative AV is fast becoming a “must have” to stay competitive in this highly innovative market and avoid being labeled “boring”. AV is no longer an area to pursue “thrift”. Loosen up when it comes to AV and keep your budget in line with quality.
  • The Battle with Cellphones for Attention – Incorporating smart phones into AV productions is making the most of attendees focus on their devices. I recently saw a live-feed map of America projected onto a screen behind a presenter, and as each person in the audience took-action on their cellphone responding to the speaker’s crowd funding program a pin popped up in the city they lived in. It was powerfully interactive, engaging and motivating.
  • The Growth of Interactive AV – At a medical training a speaker used the Phone2Action app to allow attendees to answer questions that immediately became part of the graphic data he was using in his power-point presentation. The students were making an active contribution to the course as it was being presented by being part of the control group. You can imagine how effective that training was.
  • Professional AV Partners – At Premier Meeting Services we have found that developing partnerships with certain AV professional services can sometimes be troublesome because of the cost of travel and the logistics of working with onsite AV teams, but we find that having an AV team we know and trust is becoming more important to the success of our events. They are constantly innovating and keeping us abreast of what is possible. They meet with us during the planning stages as many times as it takes to design the latest in AV tech. They understand and get comfortable with our reasonable budget restrictions but fight us at every turn if they think our thrift will keep us from putting our best foot forward. They are more than just vendors, they are partners.

Next Week

Keeping up With will take a look at the trends in the changing geopolitical landscape and how they are impacting the meeting and event industry.

Letting the Air out of Airbnb


  • Ten years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the IPhone and, as he predicted, changed the world. The original device looks almost “cute” alongside the powerhouse cell phones we all use today, but it was a mighty disrupter that upended the music and publishing businesses forever. It even introduced the word disruption to business discourse.
  • Then Travis Kalanick imagined fellow citizens offering each other a lift and Uber disrupted the transportation industry reducing the word “taxi” to an historical reference.
  • After dealing a knock-out punch to the publishing and bookstore industries, Jeff Bezos unleashed Amazon on retailing and mighty department store chains like Macy’s and JC Penney’s could feel the ground give way under their brick and mortar retail palaces.
  • In 2007 Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia decided to blow up an air mattress and rent it out in their apartment in San Francisco to help pay the rent. When Nathan Belcharczyk showed them how to utilize the new IPhone and internet powerhouse combo to turn their air mattress into a business, Airbnb was born and the travel industry was put on notice.


At first Airbnb seemed like a boutique niche that would appeal primarily to thrifty vacation travelers who wouldn’t mind sleeping in somebody else’s bed. Millennial solopreneurs and traveling salesman might look to save a buck and join retirees bunked into spare rooms and garage apartments, but legitimate business travelers would never stoop so low. Or would they?

Chesky and Gebbia had their first customers in their apartment in the summer of 2008, during the Industrial Design Conference held by Industrial Designers Society of America, where travelers had a hard time finding lodging in San Francisco. By March 2009, the Airbnb site had expanded beyond air beds and shared spaces to a variety of properties including entire homes and apartments, boats, tree houses, and private islands. In February 2011, Airbnb announced its 1 millionth booking. In January 2012, the company announced its 5 millionth night booked internationally and, in December 2013, reported over 6 million new guests in that year alone. The travel industry was starting to smell disruption.


Rather than recoil from this new disruptive force, meeting and event planners have found ways to take advantage of this new force in the travel industry.

  • A shortage of available lodging in San Francisco during a large conference was the initial spark that ignited Airbnb. A shortage of available hotel rooms is still a problem in many convention cities and planners are turning to Airbnb as a solution.
  • Younger budget minded attendees are eager to stay in alternative lodging to save money. Planners are even including an Airbnb widget on event websites to make it easy for attendees to book their own alternative accommodations.
  • Smaller more intimate venues for incentive programs, board meetings and bonding programs, for example, are available all over the world and now listed on Airbnb. Planners must carefully research available services and insurance in these boutique venues, but once a planner understands the caution required when booking outside the traditional venue market a wide variety of properties tailored to specific needs becomes available on Airbnb.

As one planner said recently during a discussion of Airbnb’s role in the event industry, “If this is disruption, bring it on. Airbnb has expanded my options beyond my wildest dreams. It was just up to me to see the possibilities.”

No More Mom and Pop

The meeting and event planning industry was started by “solopreneurs” (entrepreneurs who strike out on their own) who started their careers as “frienders” (a creative friend who ends up your wedding planner). They are the rare creative people who are also well organized. They learn the event planning business working for you and then naturally strike out on their own, just like you did. The industry is populated by small to medium sized planning agencies started by “solopreneurs” that have thrived as the event planning marketplace has boomed out in front of them.


The explosion of the meeting and event market these past eight years has attracted competition from the big Madison Avenue advertising firms. Until recently, they were content to handle digital and traditional media marketing products. However, these big international agencies have recently begun to compete in the “face to face” meeting and event business. When signing new clients, they are offering live experience planning as part of their package of services. It’s a “one-stop shopping” solution for big international clients.


These international advertising agencies are beginning to disrupt the meeting and event planning business like Amazon disrupted publishing, music, and retail. Talented meeting and event professionals are vulnerable to these big agencies because the small firms do not create business structures and processes that can protect them from competition and take over. Let’s look at where we are vulnerable and see what we can do about shoring up our companies to compete against these new Amazons of event planning.


  • The first vulnerability of small to medium event planning agencies is dilution of talent. When a planner has a success or two they often decide to leave the firm and “go out on their own.” This is natural, but as the market evolves small entrepreneurial agencies must find ways to retain talent and bulk up their firm’s capabilities. Only then will the smaller event planners be able to compete for bigger and more complex events.
  • Another business technique that small agencies must consider is mergers and acquisitions. There is a time to compete fiercely with other planners in your space, but there is also a time to join forces to defeat a more powerful enemy. Combining firms with competitors is usually not the first tactic that occurs to “solopreneurs”, but as Dillion says, “the times they are a changin”. Advertising Amazons are on the march.
  • Transparency is the new integrity. Creative meeting and event planners can sharpen their business acumen by becoming more transparent. No more hiding appropriate fees because you’re afraid the client won’t like it. You have every right to charge for services rendered. Being shy makes you look less professional and vulnerable to a more professional agency.
  • If you’re depending on referrals to keep you in business, it’s time to rethink your marketing program. With these new Amazons marketing against you, it is time to design and execute an aggressive professional marketing program.
  • Sharpen up your vendor list. Smaller planners who have excellent relationships with the best vendors can often deliver higher quality service than a big ad agency that is new to planning. Vendor relations can make a solopreneur function like an international ad agency.


It’s time for individual and small partnership meeting planners to adopt big business strategies and tactics. Creativity, versatility, experience, and long-term professional relationships can still win the day if smaller firms recognize and plan for the dramatic changes that are coming to the meeting and event planning industry.

Diary of a Mad Planner

Mad as in Crazy – Not Mad as in Angry

DATE: June 3-7, 2017
EVENT: 49th Annual IPW travel conference in Washington DC.

DEAR DIARY – JUNE 4th – Great opening night party on the National Mall grounds in front of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – first time I’d ever attended a private event held on the National Mall in Washington D.C. – “How did IPW pull this off?” – Asked around and discovered that the association worked with Destination DC, the city’s local tourism office.
NOTE TO SELF: Research more carefully public/private partnership opportunities in host cities I use.

DEAR DIARY – JUNE 5TH – Noticed how big the crowd is at this year’s event – somebody estimated more than 6,000 – mixed crowd – not only meeting professionals but quite a few international travel buyers and journalists.
NOTE TO SELF: Improve my public relations skills in addition to developing new marketing techniques – put the word out to the media and interested parties and pay more attention to international markets – Don’t leave that to someone else!

DEAR DIARY – JUNE 6TH – 16,000 at tonight’s Aloe Blacc concert! – but only 6,000 attending the travel event – they opened the concert up to the general public!
NOTE TO SELF: Great idea! Why not? Helped pay for the costly venue – made the conference attendees feel special – What have I been thinking? – Consider this from now on.

JUNE 7TH ENTRY: Attended closing party at Nationals Park! The planner worked directly with M.L.B. to reorganize the Nationals’ schedule to accommodate the event! Now that’s innovative and bold planning. I love it! – Food from the whole region throughout the concourse level – took batting practice! – Fireworks over Washington!
NOTE TO SELF: Private/public partnerships are the way to go in great tourist destinations like Washington D.C. – Gain access to historic venues etc. – consider this possibility when planning future events.

RESOLUTION: Become more innovative.


After reading my diary entries, I realized that I need to attend more events outside my own. The meeting and event industry is full of creative, professional planners who are fiercely competing in my market. The U.S. Travel Association’s five-day conference in Washington D.C. showcased the professional skills of IPW, the U.S. Travel Association, Hello Washington DC, and Destination DC, the city’s local tourism office. These groups got together and hit the ball out of the park. They used 14 separate vendors to pull off the opening night party and another 12 for the closing night party at Nationals Park. My final take-away from the U.S. Travel Association’s conference was that recruiting a great team is crucial to creating a great event.

It’s Not What You Know… It’s Who You Know

Event Attendance

Competition for event attendance continues to heat up. Planners are charged with improving attendance year after year in a highly competitive event marketplace where it seems like more events are vying for attention every day. The pressure to include the latest innovation, to locate in a trendy location, to present A-list entertainment, and to offer gluten-free, farm-to-table, organic, low carb, vegetarian, pescatarian, low-cal culinary fare has never been more intense. However, recent research into what factors have the greatest effect on attendance indicates that influencers have a greater impact on attendance than any of the factors listed above.


People do business with people they trust. This mantra has been part of the planner’s lexicon for many years. In whatever ecosystem an event is taking place, there are always influential people that dominate the conversation. When an “influencer” endorses an event the positive impact on attendance is always substantial.

  • The planner’s first job, therefore, is to identify the top five or ten influencers in an event’s ecosystem (food-tech-medicine-autos-etc.). Who are the personalities that everyone potentially attending the event would love to rub elbows with? For example, if your event is a food event, a celebrity chef might be your “influencer”. The planner must decide who is a credible voice and then enlist them to promote the event.
  • The second step is to decide what role an “influencer” might play. If the obvious role of “presenter” is off the table for some reason, perhaps your “influencer” may be willing to play the role of ambassador. He/she may be willing to meet with other influential people in the field and spread the word by endorsing your upcoming event. Influencers may also use their social media network to “chat up” an event or even be a paid spokesman. There are many roles key influencers can play, and planners must decide how best to utilize the influencers they identify and employ.

Tribal Leaders

Tribal leaders are also important players in any event’s attendance program. A tribal leader is someone who already attends your event, but with a little encouragement, can be persuaded to bring along close associates (club members-employees-colleagues-family members). Non-profits have used tribal leaders as table captains for years by leveraging one interested party into a table for ten.

Tribal Analysis

An important part of pre-event strategic planning should be the process of tribal analysis. Not unlike the social selection process used in high school, planners analyze attendance lists, sorting people into groups of like interests. Who are the jocks? Who are the geeks? Who are the brains? Who likes to party? What planners know is that each social subgroup has a tribal leader. The planner’s job is to find a way to motivate the tribal leader to increase his following every year. There’s always room for one more, and the tribal leader always knows who that “one more” is. If ten “table captains” each add one more guest to their table, attendance increases.


Multi-level marketing may be a sleazy concept in certain circles, but not in event attendance competition. A simple MLM method for event planners is to identify perhaps 10 faithful attendees who can be encouraged to bring one more person with them to an event. Technically, these are neither influencers or tribal leaders, but are simply faithful attendees who have attended the event more than once. Usually they are targeted with an Email campaign offering them a gift if they bring a guest to the event. These ten guests can then be motivated with gifts or free tickets to bring a guest with them etc. etc. It’s amazing, if you persist year in and year out with a little MLM-like activity how attendance grows. Planners often assign this task to an associate who is learning the event planning business.

Who You Know

Understanding and utilizing the concepts of Influencers, Ambassadors, Tribal Leaders, and Multi-level marketing will help keep your event attendance growing. The event attendance market has become too competitive to leave it to traditional advertising techniques. Planners must make it personal.

Let’s Go Cuba 2.0

Last year, after President Obama relaxed travel restrictions to Cuba, this blog began to research incentive travel opportunities to the mysterious island 90 miles off our coast. Like many American travelers, incentive groups were captivated by Cuba’s promise of something new and different. Americans have been prohibited from traveling to Cuba since 1963, so curiosity alone has intensified the allure of our neighbor to the South.

Last Year

After extensive research, we concluded last year that although Cuba presented a colorful and entertaining culture, wonderful food, rhythmic music and dance, intricate history, soothing climate, natural wonders, and a curiously “stuck-in-time” joyful population, it still had a long way to go to compete with other Caribbean destinations. Many minor but annoying travel restrictions still applied, airline travel was spotty, no cruise ships could sail from America, hotel quality was erratic at best, the currency was complicated and undependable, and communication could only be considered primitive. We decided to take another look this year to see if Cuba was ready to accommodate large incentive travel groups.

This Year

Despite the easing of travel restrictions and renewed interest by all travel suppliers, Cuba remains a challenging destination in many respects. Tourism isn’t new to Cuba. Europeans and Canadians, for instance, have been visiting the island all along. Still, the infrastructure doesn’t yet exist to support a major influx of large American groups.

  • The entire island country of Cuba has only 15,000 to 18,000 hotel rooms. In comparison, Las Vegas alone has well in excess of 100,000. Cuba is not ready for big groups. Even if you have a small incentive group, you would do well to book your accommodations well in advance to insure availability.
  • As a planner, you are probably used to negotiating your incentive travel program by line item. You deal with the hotel for some free rooms; work down the cost of food and beverage based on how many onsite meals and affairs you book; negotiate extra luxuries for VIPs with the surface travel provider; convince the hotel to throw in some tours and activities for the large group you are sending. Not in Cuba! In Cuba, you simply tell them what you want included and they quote you one price for all. That’s just the way they do business.
  • Event planners must work through a licensed provider in the United States. In turn, that provider must use a Cuban counterpart. You cannot cut out the middle man.
  • Some arcane travel restrictions still apply. You still need to include an element of community service, cultural exchange, education, religious activity, public performances, clinics, workshops, or athletic competition to be permitted to travel from the United States to Cuba. Technically, Americans still may not visit Cuba for “tourist activities”.
  • Wi-Fi access is still scarce.
  • Credit cards are generally not accepted and ATM withdrawals do not yet work.
  • There is such a wide disparity of quality in accommodations, planners must conduct in-person site inspections. A Havana hotel may have refurbished its bar and lounge but you might be sleeping on the same mattress you would have slept on in 1959.
  • Finally, the good news – In 2017, Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian have started sending vessels to Cuba from the States.

Where We Stand Now

Not with standing these limitations, we believe it is time to consider sending smaller incentive groups to Cuba. They are not yet ready to accommodate larger groups. The novelty, the culture, the natural beauty, the music, the dance, and the food all recommend Cuba as a unique incentive destination.