Colombia: The only risk is…

Long gone are the days that Colombia only conjured up a frightening notion of Pablo Escobar-inspired drug cartels and street gangs. To break with that past, ProColombia had adopted the slogan “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay.” That slogan has never been truer than today. Colombia now enjoys a totally different reputation—one of exotic landscape with a vastly-diverse culture. No surprise, then, that the country has climbed up to one of the top must-see destinations and one that many corporations are now favorably considering as an incentive destination for their top-performing personnel. 


Notwithstanding its relatively-small size, Colombia is one of the most ethically and  linguistically diverse countries in the world, with its rich cultural heritage reflecting influences by indigenous peoples, European settlement, forced African migration, immigration from Europe and the Middle East. Urban centers are mostly located in the highlands of the Andes mountains and the Caribbean coast.

Colombia is among the world's 17 megadiverse countries, and the most densely biodiverse per square mile. Its territory encompasses Amazon rainforest, tropical grassland and coastlines along both the Caribbean and the Pacific ocean.

With that backdrop, when we were asked for our suggestions for our client’s next incentive program, we did not hesitate to suggest Colombia—which happily was quickly approved. With relatively short flight times from many US and Canadian gateways, the group easily made it to their first stop in the country’s capital, Bogota. At first sight, Bogota is another big metropolis, buzzing with maddening traffic. But much like many other colonial cities, to discover real Bogota, you have to walk everywhere.  Luckily, it was Sunday and most main streets in Bogota are closed to vehicular traffic—making it perfect for discovering many gems that would have otherwise been missed. 

 Upon arrival, the group was housed at the relatively-new Grand Hyatt with its many amenities and well-appointed guestrooms.  The group got to get acquainted with life in Bogota by spending their first night with their colleagues at the Huerta Bar Cocteleria Artesanal—abar is famous for its cocktails that feature sustainable and local ingredients.

One of the most recognized highlights of the cultural diversity of Bogota is in display in the historical center of the city at La Candelaria neighborhood, where the buildings and streets guided our curious group through the story of the capital of Colombia. With this colorful introduction to the city, it was time for a sumptuous lunch. So, we headed to Prudencia Restaurant, where the menu changes every Monday and is inspired by Colombian cuisine.

On day 3, the group got to see one of the main attractions of Bogota’s historic center—the Gold Museum, a massive, 3-story museum home to more than 20,000 pre-Columbian gold pieces and artifacts. 

From there we headed to the Monserrate Mountain—a must-go attraction. It was also a good excuse to make the group do some exercise by climbing up the mountain to reach the highest point in Bogota and a place with magnificent views of the city [although some still did opt for the cable car to make it to this amazing spot].

Having completed the first leg of their journey through Colombia, we boarded a short flight to Colombia’s famed city, Cartagena de indias.  From afar, Cartagena’s skyline is deceptive. Its white towers rise above the Caribbean from a peninsula of tan sand and concrete, making it look like a bigger, beachier metropolis than it is. But with fewer than a million people, Cartagena is a compact city. One might expect the crisp new skyscrapers in Bocagrande to be amid a vital, cosmopolitan downtown. Instead, Cartagena’s character—its lush plazas, fruit vendors and street art—is contained in two small, impossibly photogenic neighborhoods: the walled Old City and the rising barrio Getsemaní. There, in the birthplace of Gabriel García Márquez’s magical realism, are the city’s most refined restaurants, its museums and balconies that spill over with flowering bougainvillea. 

We arrived in Cartagena at midday. It was already time to explore the culinary treats of this historic city.  There is only one way to truly experience Cartagena: by walking its narrow streets.  From El Reloj, we took the walkway that passes in front of the city’s big convention center and into the Getsemaní neighborhood. On a narrow, block-long side street, La Cocina de Pepina is a pink-and-orange-walled dining establishment that is all Colombian.  It is run by a local food historian, who thankfully for our group, speaks fluent English. The restaurant celebrates Colombian coastal cuisine with a chalkboard menu of dishes like ajies rellenos (roasted, stuffed chiles), sopa Caribe (a Caribbean seafood soup), an appetizer of cabeza de gato (balls of yucca, cassava and plantains with a roasted red pepper sauce) and the hard-to-find Colombian craft beer Apóstol.


By the time we were done with lunch, it was already very steamy. It was time for a sweet afternoon. We took the group directly to La Paletteria, where a glass case contains dozens of paletas in flavors like tamarind, coconut and Milo, a locally beloved chocolate-malt drink. A few doors down, we stopped at Swikar that sells colorful hard candy. The storefront attracts onlookers who watch caramelo makers swirl, spread and shape sugar syrup into strawberries, watermelon wedges and orange slices. Around the corner, Gelateria Paradiso looks like an English teahouse, with upholstered benches and white wicker furniture, but its gelato tastes of tropical ingredients like hibiscus flower, passion fruit and the local plum, ciruela criolla.


With dripping paleta in hand, the group climbed the fortified walls and walked the periphery of the Old City, where vendors hawk Cuban cigars and icy cans of cerveza Aguila, and young couples swoon in cannon portals, looking out across the choppy Caribbean. For those who cannot resist lingering over the sunset, there are touristy, but enticing, outdoor cafes that serve cocktails and wines. Then, we traced the stone wall back toward Puerta del Reloj, the clock tower gate that marks the entrance to the “centro histórico.” On the way, we stopped at NH Galería, a modern-art gallery and museum with a small, intriguing collection of works by Colombian and international artists.


The night had fallen. It was time for some CSR and a closing dinner that group will likely never forget: Dinner at a women’s prison! 

Restaurante Interno opened in December 2016 and has already attracted a strong following in this tourist town. The group got to have dinner in a renovated hall which still has bars over the door but now is brightly decorated with pink paint, floral murals and comfortable cushions.  Interno is located inside the San Diego prison in the heart of Cartagena. It is staffed by incarcerated women.  The restaurant was created and is headed by Johana Bahamón who since 2012 has been working with her team of the Fundación Accion Interna to improve the quality of life in that prison and prepare the female inmates for reintegration into society. 

Thanks to the INTERNO project, the inmates are now able to receive the training and skill sets they need to prepare for their freedom.  These include gardening an herb garden, library, sewing machines, bakery, dining room, computer room, among others.

With a menu created by the best-known chefs, INTERNO has become a social experiment for the civilian population of Cartagena and visitors alike to play a key role in helping the servers (i.e., the inmates) slowly learn to taste freedom—a true second chance. We couldn’t have thought of a better CSR activity to finish our program than this visit (i.e., farewell dinner) to the San Diego prison.  To the amazement of our guests, we had to share with them that INTERNO was selected by the Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 greatest places 2018.

For suggestions for your next “out-of-the-box” incentive destination, call on professionals at the Maxxus Group.  

Lapland — The Case for an Incentive Trip to the Fantasy Land of Santa Claus

Lapland is made up of the Arctic region that caps the northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Lapland in Finland is often referred to as the fantasy land of Santa Claus and Christmas. But it is a lot more. While you are bound to come across Santa’s reindeer and elves, Lapland offers a wintery European destination for an incentive trip like no other. So, when we were asked by a client for a winter destination for their adventure-craving sales force, we immediately thought of this magical winter land. 

Much like the Yukon, Lapland owes part of its fame to gold. Gold was first discovered in the Lapland river valleys in 1868, resulting in a mini gold rush. There is still a little gold to be discovered in the Ivalojoki river valley for the determined prospectors.  But the more valuable gold lies in experiencing Lapland in all its awe-inspiring beauty.  


Lapland Incentive.jpg

The group arrived in Rovaniemi on a flight from Helsinki.  Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapland and the gateway to the region.  Despite its smaller size, Rovaniemi is a busy urban center packed with modern buildings, from the functional to the fascinating.  While ninety percent of the old town was destroyed in World War II, a redesign, led by famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, has given birth to an architecturally-vibrant Arctic community.

The new town plan follows a reindeer antler pattern, and today's Rovaniemi features many meticulously designed, environmentally-friendly buildings that have inspired architects all over the world. One building that survived the war is a 1930s mail truck depot, which has been converted into the Korundi House of Culture—and that’s where we stopped by for an introduction to Lapland. This is where Rovaniemi's heart turns into art, with exhibitions of local artists. This is also home to a small but perfectly formed concert hall, playing host to the Lapland Chamber Orchestra.

Wildlife Everywhere

Wildlife Lapland.jpg

Having learned a little about this fascinating Northern metropolis, the group was eager to discover what they had imagined as the main attraction of Lapland—its diverse wildlife, whose number exceed Lapland’s population of only 180,000. There are wolves, wolverines and brown bears roaming around the wilderness of this Arctic haven. So needless to say, our group was thrilled at the prospect of encountering such a varied wildlife while on a day excursion.

And of course, there is reindeer—everywhere.  Many locals keep herds of reindeer, which at over 200,000 exceeds the number of inhabitants. There are also huskies and white Samoyed that were brought in from Siberia as working dogs to pull sleds—which our active group found enjoyable as they explored the area on this unique mode of transportation. 

Outdoors to Your Heart’s Content

Nothing gets the adrenaline in an active group going than sporting activities in such a unique land. There's nothing you can do in Davos or St. Moritz that you can't do in the ski resorts of Lapland. There's downhill, cross-country and freestyle skiing and snowboarding—which our adventure-seeking group took full advantage of. For the more relaxed members of the group, there was walking the forest trails with snowshoes or those who had their faces whipped by the fresh mountain air courtesy of a snowmobile.

For a teambuilding activity, we planned a fishing expedition for the group. In Lapland there are hundreds of gorgeous lakes (the biggest of which is Lake Inari in the far north, which covers close to 400 square miles), all filled with fish—a fisherman’s dream.

 Even when the lakes are frozen, Lappish fishermen are on the ice with their ice fishing augers drilling through the ice by hand to catch pike, perch, rainbow trout and whitefish.

For our group, we had planned an ice fishing safari which included scooting off to a frozen lake by snowmobile. Though not many of our amateur fishermen came home with a catch, they got to enjoy a BBQ right on the ice—a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most. 

Dining à la Lapland

It was finally time to experience the sumptuous Lappish food again. Needless to say, reindeer features heavily in the local cuisine. It's fat free, healthy and wonderfully gamey—although for some it was too close to the notion of Santa Claus. For those, there were plenty of other Lappish delicacies to explore.  The highlight was reindeer food (lichen), which, when dried, makes a light, crisp garnish for all kinds of arctic fish, baby root vegetables, herbs, berries and even licorice.

The Light Show

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Of course, Lapland promises the chance to witness the magical sky show otherwise known as aurora borealis (Northern Lights). Everyone’s bucket list included experiencing this galactic phenomenon.

Since most of Lapland is situated within the Arctic Circle, it's an ideal spot to watch the northern lights. According to ancient legend, an arctic fox, whose swishing tail sends sparkling lights into the sky, creates the aurora borealis.  Dancing displays of green, red and blue lights can be seen on clear, dark nights when conditions are right—which luckily was the case for our group.

It’s All in the Heritage

Dog Sledding Lapland.jpg

No incentive trip to a far-away land is complete without some exposure to and understanding of the local culture. Lapland is rich with a thriving community of indigenous people.

The Sami originated in the Sapmi region of Lapland—a far-northern area comprising parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia—making them Europe's northernmost indigenous people. It is estimated that there are just under 10,000 Sami living in Finnish Lapland and our curious group got to learn about their culture, customs, costumes and languages by an organized visit we planned for them to the Arktikum Museum and Science Center in Rovaniemi.

Hot and Dry

Finland is almost synonymous with saunas. There are saunas at every corner and there is no hotel in Lapland that is not equipped with a traditional Finnish sauna. 

Sauna has a very special place in the hearts of the local people, to the point of fierce rivalry. A real Finnish sauna is insanely hot, can last for hours and is most commonly enjoyed nude.  There are electric saunas, hot stone saunas, smoke saunas and even an ice sauna. Locals meet in saunas, relax in saunas and some even give birth in saunas. They thrash each other with birch twigs in saunas.

This all was a fitting experience for the group to leave Lapland with. Our adventurous group even learned very quickly to follow the local tradition of jumping into a frozen lake after enjoying their very hot sauna. 

With this heart-warming experience, the group was ready to head back to the US armed with what could easily be characterized as the lasting memories of an incentive trip of a lifetime.

To plan a once-in-a-lifetime incentive trip for your high achievers, let the professionals at the Maxxus Group prove their resourcefulness.

Inspiring Destinations for Your Next Incentive Program

As a leading incentive agency, with reputation for unique and inspiring incentive programs, we are increasingly challenged by our corporate clients to come up with out-of-the-ordinary incentive destinations that can motivate their target executives to strive to attain their performance goals.  As enjoyable traditional ‘sun-and-sand’ destinations may be, some organizers are now more and more interested in incentive travel that offers their participants a truly exceptional experience with lasting beneficial impact. In what will be a series, we are pleased to present some truly unique incentive destinations that we have had the privilege to use for a few of our clients for their very ambitious and challenge-minded participants.  

Photo by    Filip Gielda    on    Unsplash

As one such destination, last summer we organized an incentive program for a small team of very active professionals in a little-known land. That destination was Greenland.  If that doesn’t ring familiar, you are not alone. Few people in the world know much about the destination—and fewer have ever traveled there.  Greenland is an autonomous constituent country but part of Denmark.  World’s largest island, Greenland has a population of just under 60,000 inhabitants. It is situated between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though geographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has always been politically and culturally associated with Europe. Most of its residents are Inuit, whose ancestors began migrating from the Canadian mainland in the 13thcentury, gradually settling across the large island. In 2009, Greenland was granted self-rule by Denmark.

Photo by    Annie Spratt    on    Unsplash

Greenland arguably tops the list of most “exotic” destinations for extreme Arctic adventures, such as thrilling heli-skiing, kayaking among towering icebergs, and dogsledding across the top of the world near Qaanaaq (Thule). Roughly 80 percent of the island is covered by the Greenland ice sheet, and no roads connect remote towns and outposts. One can sail or soar into the wild via charter boat, ferry, helicopter, or plane. Adventurous visitors can climb the solid rock walls of south Greenland’s fjords or witness stunning northern lights displays in remote Northeast Greenland’s National Park, the world’s largest, covering an area more than twice the size of California.

Sermersooq Municipality, Greenland

Sermersooq Municipality, Greenland

Nothing compares to Greenland for an epic Arctic adventure. Greenland summers are truly glorious.  In summertime, after the snow has melted, miniature wildflowers dot the tundra with color. Towards the end of summer, tiny lowbush blueberries and crowberries ripen as dwarf birch turns to gold and russet. Whales frequent the fjord, while icebergs, spawned from massive glaciers, glitter in the light of a late sunset. Beneath granite peaks that tower over deep inlets, Greenland’s east coast offers some of the best hiking and kayaking in the world.  


After much anticipation and preparation, our excited group arrived in Greenland’s capital Nuuk, on a private jet. The following morning, after a good night’s rest followed by a hearty breakfast, the group appeared ready to learn a little about this unique land.  Greenland’s largest city and capital is fueled on fresh air, strong coffee and diverse personalities.  On a city tour, the group learned about Nuuk as a city of vitality, surrounded by immense nature and filled with vibrant Greenlanders leading fascinating lives of old traditions, modern twists, and diverse influences.  After a quick visit to the Northern Lights-inspired Katuaq Cultural Center, and marveling at mummies in the Greenland National Museum, our knowledgeable local guide led us to the picturesque Old Harbor that clearly demonstrated the role history and traditions play in this growing city.  We wrapped up our tour with a tasting flight of local craft beers at Greenland’s largest microbrewery.

After lunch, the group seemed prepared for their first “workout:” Climbing Ukkusissat Mountain in Nuuk.  Greenland is a hiker’s paradise. In Nuuk, it is said that you are not a true ‘Nuummioq’ until you’ve climbed Ukkusissat (aka Store Malene), which is just outside the city center. Our fit group easily made it to the summit, where they were treated to a stunning view of Nuuk and the surrounding fjords. 

Day Two was here and the group boarded awaiting helicopters for a scenic transfer from Kulusuk to East Greenland’s small administrative capital of Tasiilaq and from there toAmmassalik Island, where their more-demanding adventures were awaiting.  Until just a few years ago, this region was accessible only by hiking or kayaking. East Greenland is possibly one of the most isolated places in the world.  Beneath granite peaks that tower over deep inlets, Greenland’s east coast offers some of the best hiking and kayaking in the world.  Here, for accommodation, we had planned a deluxe safari-style camp near the Greenland ice sheet—unquestionably a first for most of the group—where our lucky guests were about to experience this amazing Arctic landscape in complete comfort—with close-up views of the Greenland ice sheet. The camp’s location near the edge of mighty Sermilik Fjord provided the group with eye-level vantage point on huge icebergs floating by—and where they were lucky enough to spot a few whales and seals in the frigid waters.


Here, to get the group started on their discovery adventure, we set out to explore this magical land first by water. To create an action-packed teambuilding program for our energetic group, we first put them in what used to be the primary mode of transportation for the island’s Inuit population in centuries past—kayaks. Kayaks were once essential to the people of this region for hunting and fishing. Today, kayaks are making a comeback both as a symbol of national heritage as well as one of the active sports on the island. In fact, to celebrate the important historic role of kayaks, there is now even an Annual Greenland National Kayaking Championship.    

On Day Three, our group got a little close and personal with the Greenland way of life.  We took the group for an excursion to Kulusuk and Tasiilaq, the capital of East Greenland; and the tiny village of Tinit—a 20-minute boat ride from the group’s base camp—for a tour that outsiders rarely get to enjoy.  The group seemed to thoroughly enjoy meeting the locals and learning about the enduring culture and traditions of East Greenlanders. The walking tour—including a visit to the town museum in Tasiilaq—provided the group with a firsthand lesson in the local population’s history and way of life. Most of our participants later noted that the tour provided them with an educated insight into the challenges and rewards of life in modern Greenland—a lesson that they would have not otherwise ever learned.

Before you knew it, Day Four was upon us and, to the disappointment of the entire group, it was time for the long trek back home.  Luckily, we had good weather. So, onboard of helicopters again and over the snowcapped coastal mountains for the transfer back to Nuuk, and from there onward to North America equipped with the fondest and most enduring memories of a once-in-a-lifetime incentive trip.

Need inspiration for your next incentive program? Let the professionals at the Maxxus Group make a recommendation that is sure to wow your participants and measurably improve your ROI.

Racing Through the Dragon City

When we were asked by our client for a short incentive program to Beijing, we didn’t realize how short they had in mind. After finding out that the highend program had to be compacted into three days, we only then realized the magnitude of the challenge.  Thankfully, there is so much to do in this magical capital city that our challenge was to try to be very selective. After arriving in China’s Capital midday from the US, the group was checked in the centrally-located 5-star Waldorf Astoria Beijing. Hilton family’s upscale brand was the perfect fit for our VIP guests.  

Rich Chinese tradition and modern affluence flawlessly blend at the luxury Waldorf Astoria Beijing. We specifically chose Waldorf because it is located in the heart of the Wangfujing area, within walking distance of major milestones that we had to cover, including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  

Oriental charm meets contemporary luxury at Waldorf Astoria Beijing. From the sleek and stylish lobby to the opulent bathrooms, our guests were treated to a unique blend of modern elegance, rich Chinese heritage and dependable Waldorf service. 


Unfortunately for our travel weary guests, there was no time for recovery from the long trip.  Comfortable shoes on and box lunches in hand, the group was led to the “Forbidden City” as their first introduction to Beijing.


Operating under the official title of "The Palace Museum," the Forbidden City (also known as the Imperial Palace) has been a place of wonder and mystery for over 500 years. This massive complex sits on the northern edge of Tiananmen Square at the epicenter of Beijing. Beyond its towering fortifications, our guests found an intricate labyrinth of squares, halls, gates, pavilions, sleeping quarters, and temples. In some of the structures, curated art and historic relics have been placed; however, the greatest achievement is the compound itself. We made sure the group did not miss the highlights that included the Meridian Gate, the Turret, the Antiquarium, and the Imperial Garden.

After the tour and a short tea break, we headed to Tiananmen Square, which is among world’s most famous public square (think Time Square).  We were pleasantly surprised that most participants in the group recognized the Gate of Heavenly Peace—emblazoned with a portrait of Chairman Mao—as a symbol of Beijing. That recognition notwithstanding, it seemed our group was universally impressed by the vast size of the place. The square is the geographic, political, and tourist center of the Beijing, which makes it a must see. Although Tiananmen Square looks like a field of concrete, we wanted the group to see it for the surrounding attractions including the Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, and the National Museum of China.  We had to remind the group that taking a picture here is almost required to prove they had been to Beijing.

Given the massive size of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, not to mention the long-haul flight from the US, the group was in bad need of rest.  So after a quick dinner on the go, we rushed them back to the hotel for a well-deserved night’s sleep.

For some people, China conjures up only one image: The Great Wall.  Our group was no exception. So, naturally we had to dedicate Day Two to an excursion to the most famous monument in the world.  Located just north of Beijing lies portions of the Great Wall. Although it is impossible to see the whole thing (after all, it measures about 5,500 miles long), the intent was for the group to experience a portion of it. That begs the question: Which section?


For the novice to Beijing, only an hour's drive northwest of Beijing, the Badaling section is convenient, hosts a large souvenir market, and has a gondola to whisk visitors up and down the wall. However, the place is naturally overcrowded with tourists. This creates mob-like scenes that can spoil the experience for a VIP group. 

The Mutianyu section, close to two hour's drive northeast of Beijing, was our favorite section for our discerning guests.  Here, they discovered majestic mountainous vistas, a cable car for quick-and-easy access, a fun sled ride down, and (best of all) fewer tourists. With a good supply of water, sunscreen, and snacks, the group got to live this grand experience for themselves—although naturally some guests found the hike challenging and tiresome. 

By the time we returned to the city, night had already fallen and the group welcomed their readied beverages prior to their authentic Chinese dinner at the famed restaurant Zijin Mansion.

You can’t come to Beijing and not experience a shopping marathon. We had saved Day Three for just that. The group got to choose which direction to go: Some elected ritzy shops while others were more interested in authentic Chinese artifacts. But both groups agreed on one destination: The Silk Market. 

Silk Market Beijing, also known as Silk Street, Xiushui Street or Xiushui Market, is a prosperous shopping market in the city, located on Xiushui Street in the Chaoyang District. While it started as an outdoor market, the Silk Market is now a shopping mall, which accommodates over 1,000 retailers and is regarded as one of the symbols of Beijing. Many foreign visitors, including some celebrities, enjoy Silk Market Beijing for shopping or having their clothes tailor-made. Even the former president, George Bush, visited the Silk Market with his daughter to buy some silk robes.  Although there are a variety of goods in Xiushui Street, the most attractive goods are silk. Even a silk museum has been built on the third floor. 

After their shopping extravaganza, the group was treated to an authentic afternoon teatime before rushing to their rooms to fit their purchases in their bloated luggage for their trip home.

Next time you want to impress your high achievers, let the Maxxus Group suggest something more enlightening than the humdrum all-inclusive beach hotel. 

A Piece of Paradise in Indonesia

No, not Bali!

Earlier this year, Bawah Reserve, a private island resort, opened in Indonesia’s Riau Islands. By description, the resort sounded as a perfect fit for a small VIP client of ours. So, we had to check it to find out for ourselves. 

Bawah Reserve is an exclusive resort comprising six private islands in Indonesia’s Riau Islands, located 150 miles northeast of Singapore on the Anambas Archipelago. On arrival, we very quickly learned that Bawah Reserve is built on the philosophy of allowing guests to immerse themselves in the ecosystem, while enjoying “barefoot” luxury on-property.

Covered in lush jungle canopy, the private islands have three crystal-clear blue lagoons and 13 white sand beaches. Bawah Reserve’s waters and terrain allow guests to enjoy various marine-based activities and treks through the jungle. For those looking to relax, they can opt for the resort’s beachfront infinity pool or holistic wellness center.  The resort takes seclusion to new heights.

Accommodating up to 70 guests, Bawah Reserve has 35 suites; these are broken down into 11 overwater bungalows overlooking the lagoons, 21 safari-like tented beachfront suites and three garden suites set among the island’s green flora.  The suites are adorned with canvas and bamboo interiors.

With a strong commitment to environmental sustainability and ocean conservation, the recently launched Bawah Anambas Foundation has been established with the mission to preserve and protect marine life, indigenous flora and fauna and local communities living within the surrounding 200 islands. In the communities, the foundation will have a focus on literacy and access to education.  

Prior to the land being purchased by two foreign investors six years ago, the Anambas Archipeligo had no tourism or hospitality offerings, making Bawah Reserve the first and only opportunity to access to this remote location. One of the key owners and investors, Matt Chapman, a Singapore-based entrepreneur and investor, also owns Parihoa Farm in New Zealand.

Access to the reserve was slightly cumbersome coming from Singapore.  We first had to board a ferry from Singapore to Batam in Indonesia.  From there, Bawah Reserve’s private seaplane took us on an 80-minute journey from Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam and landed directly in the waters of the resort. What made the experience very pleasant was the fact that the all-inclusive nightly rate included full round-trip transfers from Singapore, villa accommodation, daily meals, laundry, soft drinks, access to treatments and classes at the wellness center, surface water sports and snorkeling equipment.

We were sad to leave this small piece of paradise after our two-day site visit—but happy to be recommending the resort to our client. The buy-out of the resort will make for a one-in-a-lifetime experience for our client’s super achiever team.  The Maxxus Group is grateful for the opportunity to learn about this gem, a stone throw away from hustle and bustle of Singapore and looks forward to showcasing this piece of paradise to our other clients.  

A Cruise to China’s Sailing City

The second annual World Mice Day was recently held in the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao. The Maxxus Group was honored to have been invited to this important international fair as a hosted buyer. Qingdao does not come to mind as the first destination in China.  But the city of over 9 million continues to attract tourists and international businesses from around the world with its abundance of natural beauty and its designation as the new “Blue Silicon Valley” (the oceanic valley).  

If the choice of venue sounds uncharacteristic when compared to such other metropolises as Beijing or Shanghai, a little background may be in order:  In 2008, Qingdao hosted the Sailing Regattas of the 29thOlympic Gamesas well as the 13thParalympic Gamesat the city’s Olympic Sailing Centre & International Marina. In 2009, China’s Sailing City welcomed sailors from the Volvo Ocean Race.  In 2014, Qingdao hosted the International Horticultural Exposition. Qingdao also annually hosts the International Sailing Week,SINO CES, and International Beer Festival. Finally, the Clipper Round-The-World Yacht Raceis hosted bi-annually.

A Little History. A Little Geography

Throughout history, Qingdao has been known by several other names most notable one being Tsingtau. Tsingtau was a German concession from 1897 until the First World War broke out in 1914. During the siege of Tsingtao, the Japanese took control of the region while declaring war on Germany. The city reverted to Chinese rule in 1922, but was re-occupied by Japan again in 1938 during WWII. The city was finally completely liberated in 1949. 

Also known as the Switzerland of the East, Qingdao lies on the southern tip of Shandong Peninsula in Jiaozhou Bay, on the shores of the Yellow Sea.  Qingdao is one of China’s most important independent coastal regions.  The city has experienced rapid growth over the last decade. Qingdao’s port is the second-largest in China. 

Qingdao is well known for its European architecture, attractive coastal landscapes, and local folklore. Popular attractions include mystical Mount Lao, Badaguan, Tsingtao Brewery Museum, and Zhongshan Park. With its abundance of natural beauty, China’s Sailing City has become a bustling tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers.

Qingdao & Mice Industry
Although starting relatively late, Qingdao MICE industry is growing fast. With the completion of the first two phases of the Qingdao International Convention Center, Qingdao MICE industry is catching up fast with its counterpart cities in China. In recent years, Qingdao has become one of the most bustling MICE areas in China. Between 2006 to 2011, Qingdao was among “China Top Ten Exhibition Cities.” With so many tradeshows and exhibitions under its belt, Qingdao has now become a bustling center of commerce in China.   

Qingdao has claimed many titled among them: The world's most beautiful bay, the world beer city, and the world's sailing capital.  


Billed as “a professional communication platform for the MICE people [from] around the globe,” WMD-2018 lived up to its claim by gathering a distinguished group of world-renowned entrepreneurs, educational experts and other professionals from MICE industry to share their insight and success stories, and engaged attendees from across China and overseas through a unique mix of training and interactive sessions. 

The three-day event was made up of six professional programs including keynote speeches by senior government officials, MICE Industry representatives and academia.  There was also a tradeshow component at which various suppliers from the region got the opportunity to showcase their services and venue.  All in all, WMD-2018 turned out to be a very unique forum at which to discover a unique part of China and come home with a great deal of knowledge about the MICE industry in Qingdao and its prospects globally.

We look forward to our participation at the third World Mice Day in Qingdao.

Three Roaring Days in the Lion City

Singapore, an island city-state off southern Malaysia, is a global financial center with a tropical climate and multicultural population. Its colonial core centers on the Padang, a cricket field since the 1830s and now flanked by grand buildings at every turn. So, we were very excited when we were asked to put together an exciting incentive program for our VIP automaker client. 

Though a small country by any standards, Singapore is well endowed with enumerable attractions to satisfy any visitor—young and not-so-young.  So, we had our work cut out for us: We had to compact all that there is to do in the “Lion City” in three days.   

For a group that had never been to Singapore, the choice of hotel was relatively easy. Notwithstanding the line up of all the luxury brands, we felt the group would enjoy Marina Bay Sands the most—known for its wide range of amenities (a world-class casino, multiple nightclubs, performance halls, shops and spectacular overnight accommodations. Not to mention the Sands SkyPark, an elevated open-air concourse that crowns the resort). But the hotel is also famous for its iconic rooftop infinity pool that is one of the must-see attractions in Singapore—and one that can only be enjoyed by the hotel guests.  

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Marina Bay Sands Hotel


As the name indicates, the hotel is located in the district of Marina Bay, which is considered to be Singapore's tourism epicenter. Marina Bay houses some of the city's main points of interest as well as numerous opportunities for entertainment like The Float at Marina Bay (the world's largest floating stadium). We felt a walk around Marina Bay was a must for our first-time travelers. We recommended that the group try to take a stroll during the day and night, as both take on two different atmospheres. Those who were able to venture out at night were treated to the nightly light show put on by Marina Bay Sands.  But after a grueling 15-hour journey from the west coast of the US, most of the group seemed a bit exhausted on arrival and anxious to rush to their waiting plush rooms, all with spectacular views of the city in every direction.  

The next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel’s 55thfloor executive dining room, with comfortable shoes on, we set out to discover this magical land.  Our first stop: Orchard Road. Every modern metropolis has its commercial avenue. Singapore's version is Orchard Road. This electric boulevard buzzes with the whizzing of cars, the humming of neon lights and the swiping of credit cards, a far cry from the way things once were way back when. Orchard Road got its name from the presence of fruit orchards, nutmeg plantations and pepper farms that dotted the area in the early 19thcentury. Today, the mile-long street houses tons of eateries and a whopping 47 shopping malls carrying high-end brands, popular international retailers as well as local shops. The massive ION Orchard shopping complex is arguably the centerpiece of the street, so no surprise that many of our guests were inevitably lured inside by the designer names and stream of fashionable patrons.  

Shopping bags in hand, the group was then transported to Little India with its bustling stalls.  Straying a little from the mainland, the group got to immerse itself in this famed neighborhood.  This cultural enclave, located a little more than 2 miles northwest of Marina Bay, features a dense network of streets and shops where the group was able to find anything from flower garlands to fragrant spices and colorful fabrics. While the group as a whole started by perusing the boutiques along Serangoon Road, many of them soon ventured down the smaller alleyways to discover true treasures. The adventurous bunch quickly discovered the 24-hour Mustafa Centre, perfect for grabbing any last-minute amenities, and the open-air Tekka Centre, which offers sari and goldsmith retailers. Our final meeting point was the gorgeous Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, a Hindu place of worship.

Time to head back to Marina Bay for a dine-around among the many eateries in the area and onto the hotel for a wide choice of entertainment to finish the night by.  

Before you knew it, day two was upon us. After a restful night, we set out to discover the other end of the spectrum, Gardens by the Bay, a stone’s throw from our hotel.  For those members of the group that were looking for a taste of nature without the trek, we had to take them to Gardens by the Bay, which is for all practical purposes an urban jungle. The attraction features a wide variety of enticing things to do and see that seamlessly mix Mother Nature with the metropolis. The Supertree Grove, the most recognized landmark of the park, features 18 "supertrees" that support the OCBC Skyway, a 419-foot-long aerial walkway that affords views of both the surrounding gardens as well as Marina Bay.


In the nearby seashell-shaped facilities, the group got to find the highly lauded Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. The Flower Dome is the largest greenhouse in the world and showcases numerous types of plants and flowers grouped by country—tulips next to replicas of Dutch architecture and Birds of Paradise flowers in the South African Garden. The Cloud Forest—the group’s favorite—features a 114-foot-tall mini mountain that is host to the world's tallest indoor waterfall.  

Back to the urban life:  As a nation of mostly immigrants, Singapore possesses a number of ethnic enclaves. Chinatown is one of the largest of them. Broken up into five districts, the neighborhood is packed with a variety of things to do and is constantly buzzing with pedestrians passing in and out of its shops, eateries and food stalls.  No surprise, then, that our guests were all in awe just soaking in the sights and scenes.  Those looking for souvenirs, headed right over to Pagoda Street for trinkets galore; and some ended up grabbing a bite on Smith Street or New Bridge Road, the latter of which is known for its barbecued meats.  And when they seemed to need a break from the hustle and bustle, we took them to the Telok Ayer district. This area has the largest concentration of ancient mosques and temples in Chinatown. We had to step in the Thian Hock Keng Temple for some quiet Zen. 

After their daylight excursion, the group seemed to be itching for a night out on the town. So, we directed them to the Tangong Pagar district, which offers loads of bars, pubs and karaoke lounges. 

Day three was already here; so we headed to Merlion Park, which hosts one of Singapore's most recognizable monuments. The Merlion statue is the head of a lion with the body and tail of a fish, and the hybrid creature spouts water from its mouth and into the bay. Measuring 28 feet tall, the statue may seem a bit odd to the naked eye, but the statue is actually a nod to Singapore's history. The head of Merlion represents Singapura, the city's first name, which means “Lion City” in Malay. The fish tail and body symbolize Singapore's old days as a small fishing town. Even though the statue has claimed all the fame, another notable highlight is the park's panoramic view of the bay. The urban vista, with the spectacular Marina Bay Sands resort in the background, seemed to have greatly impressed our VIP guests. 

After a box lunch, and to complete their trip, we planned a farewell to the city for the group from the top of the Singapore Flyer (think London Eye) Ever since Chicago built one in 1893 for the World Expo, cities around the world have learned that tourists really like Ferris wheels–huge ones. In 2000, London built its famous Eye, standing 443 feet tall. But Singapore didn't wait long before constructing the Flyer, which trumps its British equivalent by almost a hundred feet. Since opening in 2008, the 42-storey-tall Flyer, billed as Asia's largest giant observation wheel, has offered visitors 360-degree views of the urban landscape from Marina Bay. The attraction claims that visitors can catch a glimpse of neighboring Malaysia or Indonesia from the highest point of the observation wheel. 

Our group labelled the Singapore Flyer as their favorite, with many of them saying the views atop the wheel were simply breathtaking. The 30-minute ride time seemed to have given our excited guests ample time to take in the great views and snap lots of pictures. What's more, the pods were air-conditioned, making it a great place for them to also cool off from Singapore's year-round heat. 

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The group’s flight home was upon us and after a quick refresh, and a rushed dinner-on-the-go, they boarded the waiting coaches and headed to Singapore’s Changi Airport, which is more like an upscale shopping mall. Our group was among the privileged few that got to fly on Singapore Airlines’ inaugural flight to Los Angeles on the first AirbusA350-900 Ultra Long Range (ULR) aircraft and with that an exciting trip to the Lion City came to an end. If Instagram posts are any indications, the group had a blast on this fast-paced trip.  

If you must give a non-cash reward…

It's a fact: According to the Incentive Federation, 81% of businesses use non-cash rewards to

recognize their top-performing employees.  In fact, US businesses spent over $90 billion last year on non-cash incentives. Clearly, businesses recognize the impact of non-cash incentives on their bottom line.  With that recognition, the dilemma becomes what non-cash rewards to put on the table to motivate the best performance the company could hope for. While incentive travel remains the number one sought-after non-cash reward by high achievers, there are companies that consider merchandise incentives as viable alternatives. 

With a dizzying array of options from which to choose, it's difficult to decide which merchandise reward will provide the most bang for the buck. Here are three important criteria in choosing the right reward. 

1. Brand-Name. 

Use brand-name merchandise. Incentive winners don't particularly crave a no-name product they might buy on their own or view with disparagement. Millennials in particular covet splurge items like brand-name electronics and watches. The reason? They're 27 percent less likely to spend their money on luxury products than their Generation Xer counterparts, according to a recent TD Bank study. So, presenting them with a high-end item they can't/won’t purchase on their own will score a huge win.

2. Go Classic.

Choose items that recipients are likely to hold onto for years to come, like a classic watch, suggests Adrienne Forrest, vice president of corporate sales for Bulova. "Watches are so special because they have an heirloom quality to them, so you can pass them on to a child or family member," she says. The longer a recipient keeps an item, the stronger the bond they'll have with the company that gave it to them. 

3. Be Creative. Be Personal.

Contrary to popular belief, in the case of non-cash rewards, “tried and true” may not be the best way to go. The recipient must feel that some quality thinking went into the choice of the reward to make them feel special. Millennials covet different items than Baby Boomers.  A little research may help buy significant goodwill with the recipient. Regardless of the company’s size, rewards can be made personal. The traditional “gold watch” to a retiree does not particularly motivate an up-and-coming young executive.  Put some thought in the whole process.

Bewildered by all the criteria and the choices in deciding a non-cash reward for your top-performing employees? There is one “tried and true” reward you can fall back on and rest assured that it will be universally coveted by all—and that is incentive trips.  Incentive trips are one category of non-cash rewards that candidates in a survey unanimously voted as the best.  

Our bet is also on incentive trips. Let the Maxxus Group put forward viable non-cash rewards that would meet your corporate goals and motivates your key personnel to reach for the proverbial stars. 

Three Days on One Happy Island

One of the exciting challenges for professional event planners specialized in incentive programs is to come up with the next destination that can excite the participants.  With so many competing stimulating destinations around the world, it is always a test of our understanding of our clients and what motivates their participants to strive to achieve their goals to get to experience the next inspiring destination.  For this auto maker client, having had incentive programs on every continent, it was time for “One Happy Island.”  Aruba is one of those destinations that conjures up so many inspiring notions—a perfect stimulant for our next destination for this selective client.

With a fitting tag line “One Happy Island,” Aruba, a tiny Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela, has dry, sunny weather, blond beaches and gentle surf. Constant trade winds bring cool breezes and cause the divi-divi trees to slope southwesterly. European influence shows in architecture that features Dutch gables painted in tropical pastels. It’s also evident in language, with English, Dutch and Spanish spoken alongside the local tongue, Papiamento.



Bound from multiple points of origin from across North America, the participants converged at Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport, where their VIP status was recognized with prearranged expedited customs formalities after which they were whisked away in the waiting vehicles arranged by our ground transportation partner—and onto the Ritz-Carlton Aruba for their awaiting luxury accommodations.  

Overlooking the Caribbean Sea with miles of azure waters to explore, experience, surprise and delight at every turn, the Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, is one of the newest Aruba luxury hotels to rise along the island's spectacular Palm Beach. The hotel features 320 rooms and suites all offering private balconies and stunning ocean views; four dining outlets; a luxurious, 13-treatment room Spa; two swimming pools and a 24-hour casino. This exquisite getaway combines legendary Ritz-Carlton service with unprecedented opulence for an island retreat like no other. 


Ritz Carlton


Nothing says “ice breaker” than a “Bon Bini” Cocktail Reception at the Ritz’s Recreation Pool followed by a sumptuous dinner at BLT Steak terrace that provided the perfect backdrop for the group to connect in an ambiance of Classic American Steakhouse with a modern interpretation.  

BLT Steak Terrace Dinner

BLT Steak Terrace Dinner

Day 2

After a restful night’s sleep, the group was in need of a good “stretch”—with a choice of yoga on the beach or for the more adventurous ones on standup paddleboards, after which they got to rest and enjoy the serene ocean scene from waiting private cabanas.   




As the morning drew to a close, equipped with hearty lunch boxes, the group got to choose from exploring the island on ATVs or, for a more tamed activity, head to the hotel’s luxury spa for some pampering.  


In paradise, it seems fun never ends.  Before you knew it, it was time for another sumptuous dinner. This one at the famed Wilhelmina Restaurant in its open-air setting that left everyone starry-eyed.  

Day 3

Even on the Happy Island, time marches on fast—or is it faster? Day 3 was already here and so much yet to do.  We couldn’t leave Aruba without experiencing “Cas di Wichi,” a local venue, a typical “Cunucu” house—actually the home of a local DMC owner—where the group was treated to an authentic breakfast of local cuisine; and where the group was able to connect and indulge in local experiences by participating in a watercolor painting session with a local artist, making their own local sauce or by learning how to prepare some local dishes. 


You can’t be in these crystal-clear blue waters of the Caribbean without a hearty dose of snorkeling.  Onboard we went and sailed to calmer waters to witness a magnificent display of nature’s extraordinary colors in the waters below.  


Sadly, before you knew it, the farewell ceremonies were upon us. And what a display of color and fanfare with a traditional carnival sendoff—bringing three spectacular days of sun, sand and fond memories to an end.  Infused with remarkable enthusiasm, the group was sent off to produce yet another record year performance to be celebrated in yet another spectacular corner of the globe.  

Hong Kong in Two Days or Less

When our pharmaceutical client asked us to help them spice up their intense product training program that was taking place in Hong Kong for 5 consecutive days, we knew we had to come up with ideas to help the group recover from its “education fatigue.”  To make matters more exciting, we were only given a few days to pull together a “rest and restoration” program.  We rolled up our sleeves and pulled together a very light but fun-filled itinerary.

Morning 1:

We set off to Kowloon, the “Land of the Nine Dragons.”  Kowloon is a melting pot of bright neon, shops and markets. The group got to discover the Bird Market, fortune-tellers and a huge range of bars and restaurants along the way.  Some even wandered away to the nearby Space Museum, the Museum of History and the world-renowned Hong Kong Cultural Centre.  Along the way, the group traveled through or by such well-known places as Tsim Sha Tsui East promenade, the Peninsula Hotel, Langhamplace, Temple Street, jade market, West Kowloon waterfront promenade, Hankow Road and Mody Road.

Afternoon 1:

After a hurried lunch, the group got to get “personal” with the city—one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities where East truly meets West.  The group saw the Man (Literature) and Mo (Martial Arts temple), notable for its many fine, well-polished brass and pewter incense burners, after which we took the Peak Tram, climbing 373 meters and leaning at a 45° angle to see the most spectacular view of the city!  On return, we stopped by the Stanley Market, a shoppers’ paradise where the group was able to do a spontaneous shopping for a wide variety of souvenirs as silk, garments, sportswear, Chinese artwork and accessories.

Night 1:

Before you knew it, it was nightfall.  We headed to the world-famous Temple Street Night market, a great place for bargain hunting and rubbing shoulders with the locals.  Our “Hon,” the open-top bus took us on a spectacular drive through neon-lit streets where the group was able to witness the towering skyscrapers glittering against night sky.

To end the night on a romantic note, we hopped on a chartered boat for a leisurely sunset cruise on Victoria Harbor with a gourmet international buffet on board for the participant to enjoy.

Morning 2:

After a leisurely breakfast on their own, the group was taken to Lantau Island, which is almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island and is one of the best-loved outlying islands. Along the way, the group got to see the experience the development of Ngong Ping Cable Car.  The attendees then got a chance to explore Tai O, a quaint fishing village where the houses are all built on stilts, and visit the world’s tallest, outdoor, seated bronze Buddha statue sits at the Po Lin Monastery nearby.

Afternoon 2:

Time to head to the harbor again and see the world’s pinkest dolphins in action.  We boarded the group onto a luxury cruiser from Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon to Tung Chung New Development Pier on Lantau Island.  Along the way, while sipping their refreshments, the group got educated about the dolphins and their habitat.  

Travel Home:

After this marathon of a program (the shortest we have ever run), we had to rush the group to their hotel to gather up their belongings and head to the airport for their individual journeys home to far-flung corners of the world.

In need of an “express” incentive program at the tail end of your annual meeting?  Call the professionals at the Maxxus Group.  We know how to get value out of every available minute for your participants. 

How to Pick the Perfect Destination for Your Group?

The perennial challenge facing many corporate event planners is how to choose a perfect destination for a group’s event that meets a multitude of conditions—is appealing to the majority of participant, is easy to get to, fits the established guidelines with respect to budget, etc., and makes life easy for the planner in having to deal with a variety of logistics issues.  What follows is a simple checklist of variables that an event planner can use to make a successful selection—though, such decisions are always bound to be more appealing to some than others.  The goal, however, is to make sure the decision meets some important criteria.

1.     Purpose

The most important criterion to consider when selecting a destination is the purpose of the event.  Is this a meeting, a conference, an incentive trip, a convention, etc.?  Naturally, depending on the purpose of the event, different destinations qualify.  A convention requires large-scale infrastructure, whereas an incentive program calls for extensive amenities and destination appeal.  Likewise, participants are more likely to tolerate a long-haul flight to get to a resort destination unlike convention attendees.  Finally, costs are viewed differently when attending a convention vs. a corporate retreat (where the attendee may be expected to bear some of the cost compared to an incentive trip that most often is fully paid for by the company). 

Not all destinations are created equal: The character of the destination must match the nature of the event.  A branding event planned for New York may not fit very well in Omaha.  Tahiti may be perfect for that VIP incentive program, but not for a tactical meeting.      

2.     Demographics

A good event planner must at all times have a clear idea about the makeup of the [majority of the] group.  The destination should always be chosen considering the group.  These questions should help determining how appealing a destination can be for a particular group:   

  • Are the participants roughly in the same age group or a mix of age groups?

  • Are the participants active or laid back?

  • Is the group looking for an extraordinary experience?

  • Are partners also attending or is the group limited to employees?

  • What is important to the group?

  • Does the group prefer an urban or a resort destination?

  • If applicable, where did this same group travel to last?

The answers to these and other related questions should go a long way to help with the choice of a destination that is likely to have the most appeal to the majority of the attendees.

3.     Budget

These days, there are hardly any corporations that give an event planner ‘carte blanche’ when it comes to planning an event—even high-end incentive programs have budgetary constraints.  Once again, an astute planner will have to keep in mind some important financial criteria when choosing a destination:

  • Does your budget meet the destination’s cost index?

  • Is the destination appeal worth the cost index (in the eyes of decision makers, attendees, etc.)?

  • Is this trip paid for entirely by the corporation or are participants responsible for a portion of the cost (which affects their view of the destination’s affordability)?

  • How sensitive are participants to cost variables at a particular destination (i.e., ‘price elasticity’)?

  • How expensive is it to get a group to the particular destination (airfare, etc.)?

  • Are all participants coming from one location or multiple cities (which may add to the air fare and ground transportation costs)?

  • Does the destination infrastructure meet the corporation’s budgetary guidelines (with respect to hotel, transportation and other ground costs)?

  • How does the selected property’s costs compare to alternatives (room, F&B, A/V, meeting rooms, speaker fees, resort fees, etc.)?

  • Are there sufficient amenities at reasonable cost to meet the group’s expectations?

  • Finally, what is the ROI of your event at that particular destination [compared to alternative destinations]?

The ultimate goal is to strike a balance between the destination appeal and what it costs to have a program there.

4.     Access & Egress

As appealing as some destinations may be, getting there might pose challenges for a group.  Far-flung resorts always sound very appealing until you try to get a large group there from multiple points of origin.  The destination’s arrival/departure infrastructure are critical to smooth execution of your program.  Here are some important questions to ask in selecting a secondary or tertiary destination in terms of geographic location:

  • What are airport/seaport facilities like?

  • How many flights does it take to get to the destination (for the majority of your participants)?

  • What is the frequency of flights to/from the destination (should there be a cancelation or delay along the way, what happens to the group’s planned programs)?

  • How good is the destination’s ground transportation system?

  • How available are ground transportation means (coaches, sedans, etc.)?

  • Does your group need any ADA-equipped transportation?

  • How close is everything at this destination (hotel, entertainment, dining options, etc.)?

  • Are there any major constructions underway and/or bottlenecks at the destination’s airport/seaport, hotel, roads, etc. that may affect the group’s arrival/departure or movements?

  • Weather effect: Is the destination potentially adversely affected by weather patterns (for example, tornados or hurricanes)?

  • What contingency plans have you put in place in case of unforeseen weather-related emergencies?

There is a big difference between traveling to a destination privately and taking a group there.  Group dynamics may make a perfectly-attractive sounding destination unappealing once some of these criteria are factored in.  It is important to always keep in mind that even the most relaxed incentive program is not a vacation—neither for you nor for the participants. 

5.     Facilities

A carefully-selected destination should be more than just a nice hotel.  Notwithstanding the fact that in any group there are some participants that rarely wander off the property, more adventurous attendees may wish to explore the destination beyond the property—even at an all-inclusive hotel or resort.  Consequently, as a planner, you have to consider two separate set of issues: The property and how suited it is for your particular group’s needs and what else is available at the destination:

  • Does the hotel have enough capacity to meet your group’s needs (bell staff, concierge, housekeeping, etc.)?

  • What is the ratio of your total room occupancy to the total rooms at the hotel (you don’t want to be lost in a hotel with thousands of rooms with your VIP group of 20 members of the board of directors)?

  • What amenities are available at the property (golf course, tennis, pools, beach access, etc.)?

  • What about dining options onsite (restaurants, bars, etc.)?

  • How about meeting rooms? Does your group require specific meeting space? Is this an incentive group with no meeting requirements or does the group assemble for periodic get-together on property during the course of the event?

  • How family-friendly is the destination (in case participants are allowed/invited to bring along partners or family members)?

  • What is available offsite (for dine-arounds, tours, bars, night clubs, etc.)?

  • How easy is it for some participants to go off-property (availability of taxis, ground transportation, etc.)?

  • What makes the destination interesting or unique for your particular group?

  • Is there a language issue (do you need interpreters for your offsite activities)?

In the end, your goal should be taking into account all the variables and finding a destination that meets most—if not all—your critical criteria.

6.     Safety

With heightened security risks around the world, selecting a ‘safe’ destination becomes an ever-more challenging task for event planners.  While you do not want to come across as alarmist, you must remain vigilant when it comes to security risks at a particular destination—which can be a rapidly-changing picture.  The risk factors are not always in terms of terrorism or national security dangers.  Sometimes, they relate to personal safety of the group (for example, the risk of mugging, etc.).  Here are some important questions: 

  • What are the risk factors at the selected destination?

  • How safe is your group wandering off-property—especially at night?

  • If abroad, have you made a note of/contacted your country’s embassy/nearest consulate location in case of an emergency?

  • Does your company have an ‘Emergency Plan’ and are you comfortably familiar with it?

  • Specifically, do you have an evacuation plan in case of a natural disaster?

It is important to keep in mind that the group’s safety rests with you while on a program—especially if at a far-away destination.  The planner’s role in such cases is elevated far above managing event logistics.  You become the go-to person onsite for a multitude of questions/issues.  Be prepared.   

7.     CSR

Some corporations have stated goals to contribute to the well-being of local communities in which they hold an event.  This can range from insisting on green and healthy meetings to making a contribution to a local cause.  The company policy may dictate selecting properties that are LEED certified.  If the program calls for a social activity, the planner has to get acquainted with worthy causes in the local community that meet the corporate criteria for such CSR activities.  Needless to say, to avoid any possible conflicts, a great deal of due diligence may be required to ensure that the cause is indeed worthy and meets all corporate guidelines.

8.     The Planner’s Views

As event planners, we have a great deal of influence on the selection process of an event destination.  In this process, some planners have more latitude than others.  Some work directly with senior management (for example, the CEO) in choosing a destination for an important event while others have to satisfy a large group of stakeholders (for example, a committee, HR or marketing departments).  As with many other aspects of our jobs as event planners, freedom in selecting a destination could be a double-edged sword [“live by sword, die by sword”].  And unfortunately, it is only at the conclusion of the event that the verdict is handed out.  In the case of a perfectly-run event, the event planner stands to shine.  However, should there be any incident along the way—event if it is totally out of the control of the planner (for example, in the case of a natural disaster)—he/she may be the target of some criticism for selecting the destination in question.  The above guidelines are intended to help you minimize your exposure to criticism—direct or indirect.  While an exotic destination always sounds very appealing, a word of caution: Make every effort to be prudent—and thorough—in your selection process.

Finally, planners work in an interconnected world: If in doubt, reach out to your colleagues in the industry for a second opinion on a particular destination; or, direct the above questions to your qualified event planning company.     

Let the Maxxus Group help you select that perfect destination that satisfies all of the above criteria. 

Successful Social Media Strategies

Social media is everywhere these days and it is influencing everything we do—personal or professional.  Event planning is no exception.  Social media is changing the way we promote events, the way we conduct events and the way we assess the success of our events—or reminisce about a memorable event.  Event planning companies are now competing not only on the basis of their traditional value-adds, but also their ability to take advantage of the latest social media trends to advance the cause of their respective clients.  To successfully integrate social media in everything we do as event planners, there are some useful tips that can enhance the effectiveness of social media as new tools in our industry.  Here is a quick list:

1.     If you currently don’t have one, start with a social media strategy.  Not all social media platforms are created equal.  Evaluate the value of each against your company’s broader marketing and promotion goals as well as its corporate culture and use them accordingly.  With the proliferation of various social media platforms, well beyond the better-know platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, choose your preferred platform(s) very carefully.  To the extent possible, try to strike a balance between your company’s culture and the social media platforms you choose to be active in.  This also applied to content—i.e., what you choose to share on social media.  Keep in mind this can be time-consuming and taxing at times. 

2.     Social media is now the perfect tool to promote attendance at public events/conferences.  Promoting events on social media is a great way to drive attendance.  Social media have given a new meaning to the old concept of “word-of-mouth” marketing.  Using social media correctly, event planners can reach out to much broader potential audience than they were ever able to do before (using traditional means of promoting events such as brochures, advertising, cold calling, etc.).

3.     Social media also has a “multiplier” effect on prospective attendees.  Those with interest in attending an event often engage with their respective networks and the word can spread much faster than any of the traditional methods.  Reach out to your prospects and they can in turn indirectly promote your event!  Don’t underestimate the importance of your followers’ engagement, using hashtags (that spreads the word and promotes the company).

4.     Social media is now increasingly also influencing event content.  Using social media properly, event organizers can solicit interest in various topics (for example, for concurrent sessions) before the details of the event are completely decided.  In the old days, attendees voted with their feet (by selecting among various concurrent sessions).  Now, using social media, planners can gauge potential attendees’ interest in various subjects and fine-tune their events’ theme and take-away content.  This also allows for greater interaction among potential attendees and enhance communication about the conference topic(s) well in advance of the event. 

5.     Mobile apps make any reaction to an event instant.  Various feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) allow for live feedback and/or participation of audience.  For an event well organized, this could be a welcome enhancement.  However, live interactions can be double-edged swords adding to the pressure on event organizers.  Like positive feedback, negative ones also stay online forever.  For incentive programs, social media (all those posts on Instagram) are great tools to create “envy” among those that didn’t get to go, thus leading to improved performance to qualify for future programs.     

6.     To increase your success rate, event planners need not only to embrace various social media platforms for their event publicity, they must do so judiciously.  The event page, if any, should be personal to appeal to a social media savvy audience, yet no too personal.  Make a distinction between your personal accounts and the event’s page(s).  Consider your event page an extension of your company’s marketing and promotion efforts.  Make them appealing but professional.  Yet, personalize it—make your followers feel they are part of your company’s life.    

7.     Social media, especially Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, provide enviable platforms to showcase your successes with an event.  Use them effectively and with the same degree of care as you would your broader marketing efforts.  Carefully-selected pictures of your big event on Instagram is a perfect testimonial to your creativity and event execution. 

8.     Social media can also provide perfect platforms for seeking and receiving feedback about your event/your company.  Treat any and all feedback and suggestions with a high degree of respect and appreciation.  Respond to those who take time to post feedback and/or suggestions.  This is an invaluable means to keep your audience engaged—not to mention a unique opportunity for branding.  

9.     Finally, keep in mind that developments in social media are accelerating with time.  Keep up.  Standing still could be costly.  If you don’t have a dedicated individual attending to your social media needs, consider a training program to educate a broader audience within your company to become familiar with attributes of various social media platforms and act as your “ambassadors” online.


Team Building and Incentive Programs

One of the common questions by organizers of incentive programs is whether or not to incorporate any “business” activity during the course of a pure incentive program.  Team building is often the “business” activity that comes to mind.  While there are no right or wrong answers to this question, fun team-building activities can in fact enhance the value of an incentive program—to both the participant as well as the company.  The most successful, memorable team-building events need not feel like a day at the office.  On the contrary: They should blend with and augment the value of the incentive trip.    

Team building and incentive programs have one thing in common: They are both the most important investments a company can make.  They are both intended to build trust among employees, mitigate conflict, encourage communication, and increase collaboration. Effective team building as part of an incentive program mean more engaged employees, which is not only good for company culture but also to improve profitability. 

To get the most value from incorporating team-building activities in an incentive program, there are a few ground rules that should be kept in mind: 

1.     Don’t force the corporate stuff

Team-building activities during the course of an incentive program should least resemble the corporate stuff.  No overt reference to company goals or lessons in leadership.  Don’t lose the sight of the fact that the participants have already paid their dues by working hard to meet specific goals and are now being rewarded with the incentive trip.  Team-building activities should primarily encourage spending time together, sharing an experience or working towards a common goal to allow bonding to happen more organically.  One idea is for participants to share their life/personal goals with each other. It’s a powerful way to learn about people and their dreams, as well as to generate ideas for future team-building activities.

2.     Don’t forget the partners

If the incentive program includes partners, make sure any team-building activity you plan for involves partners too.  It turns out that happiness and performance are closely tied together. The objective is twofold:  To improve employee happiness as a result of an incentive trip and also foster bonding among employees.  Partners play a pivotal role in boosting those two goals if they are included in all activities.  To make it purposeful, choose something unique and slightly outside of people’s comfort zones to encourage all participants to come together in new ways.

3.     Take the positive energy back to the office   

Trying new concepts with your staff as part of an incentive program can generate good vibes among employees—both those who got to go to the incentive trip and those who didn’t.  Any team-building activity planned as part of an incentive program should have somewhat of a lasting effect.  The ultimate goal is to take that positive energy back to the office.  Most team-building exercises falls flat because they are often a one-time activity—done and then forgotten. Incorporating team building in your incentive programs is a way to keep the excitement going long after participants return from the trip. The challenge is creating opportunities for the returning participants to spread the positive energy among all employees by connecting and interacting with one another in more meaningful ways, outside of regular meetings or corporate interactions.

How do you know you’ve got team building correctly blended into your incentive program? If there was laughter, a sense of excitement, accomplishment and togetherness, and maybe a few Instagram moments, you’re definitely on the right track!

The Maxxus Group is a leading international event planning company with unique set of expertise in planning incentive programs or state-of-the-art team-building activities or both.

How to Hire the Best Event Planning Companies

There is no unanimity about whether or not to hire an event planner for your company’s important upcoming event.  Some corporations work with an event planning company for all their events while others hire an event planner on an ad hoc basis.  Some even try to do it on their own.  If you choose to work with an event planner, selecting one need not be a daunting task.  Follow these important steps to secure the services of a competent event planner—and to ensure the success of your event(s).   

Event Objectives

One cannot help but think of the famous expression from Alice in Wonderland, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you.”  Without clearly-enunciated objectives for your event, any event planner should do.  Event objectives are not just intended to keep the event planner on track, they are the roadmap for your entire corporate team to stay focused.  Many corporations often fall in the trap of thinking that hiring an event planner starts with a budget.  A good event planner will quickly remind you that unless you go through the discipline of formulating specific objectives for your event, it is unlikely that you will end up with a satisfactory result.  In this important phase, a good event planner will guide you to answer relevant questions about who, what, where, when, why and how.      

Once the thread of a common objective for the event appears, it’s time to zero in on an umbrella theme for the event.  Here, your event planner can help you with your messaging strategy and activities that can be tied together with that common thread and determine the internal and external resources needed to accomplish the identified goals.  It is only then that your event planner can come up with a realistic budget for your event—from lodging, to venue rental, catering, speakers and entertainment, décor and transportation, etc. 

Reputation & Experience  

Unfortunately, the barriers to entry in the event planning profession are non-existent or minor.  Consequently, there appears to be a proliferation of many with little or no experience calling themselves event planners, making the job of selecting a reputable one very difficult.  Good event planners will have a roster of clients and milestone events they have put together.  Ask for references and check out the candidates’ previous work.  In particular, pay attention to the planner’s creativity in his/her other work.    


Once you have narrowed your list to just a few event planning companies, ask for a proposal containing all the elements that you require for your event.  This is an opportunity for the event planner to shine and to demonstrate their ability to embrace your event objective(s) and put forward not only creative solutions but also realistic ones bearing in mind your budget. 


As a final step in selecting your event planner, schedule an interview (face to face or remotely) to have a better “feel” for your possible candidates.  Ultimately, there has to be a chemistry between you—and your corporation—and the event planner.  Consider the fact that for the duration of planning and rolling out the event you and the planner will be working closely and for extended hours.  It is important that you can establish a mutually-enjoyable working relationship with your chosen planner.

These are only a few of the criteria that can help you determine whether or not you need an event planner for your next company event, and if you do, how to select the best candidate for the job. 

As an event planning company, GMS has been in business for over 20 years.  We welcome the opportunity to share the wisdom we have gathered over the years with our existing and prospective clients.

The Cure for Employee Burnout? Incentive Travel

Have you ever wished you had more vacation days? Most of us probably have, which is why it’s surprising to find that there are many people who not only have trouble using up all their vacation days, but actually refuse to take any days off at all.

Find it hard to believe? Well, many offices have at least one person like this. Research has found that in the U.S., about 15% of employees have not taken vacation in the past year. 

There can be several reasons why employees feel the need to skip their vacations: hope of advancing their careers; fear of returning to a backlog of emails and work; the increase in self-esteem that comes from feeling needed at the office; or the perception of “taking one for the team” by letting others go on vacation instead.

But in the long run, many of these people eventually see the negative effects that come from nonstop work. The lack of time away from the office becomes damaging not only to their own health and personal lives, but also to their relationships with others.

Employers are realizing too that nonstop work for their employees is damaging in the long-term to their productivity at work.

It is apparent that some employees are in desperate need to get away for a while. In fact, according to this Wall Street Journal article, some employers are even offering cash for employees to take their vacations. They realize that when their employees return from their vacation, they come back refreshed and even more productive than before.

Wall Street Journal’s Work & Family Columnist Sue Shellenbarger had the chance to talk to some employees who had not taken time off in years and were finally allowing themselves to take a vacation. Even though it took them a few days relearn how to enjoy their time off, every single one of them saw the benefits. By the end of their vacation, they felt better and got a fresh perspective on things.

Incentive Travel: A Win-Win

In light of these findings, what might be an even better option than cash is to offer incentive travel. Incentive trips can take the stress off the employees who are fearful of taking vacation, because a company-sanctioned trip allows employees to freely relax with their spouses, families, and colleagues. It also helps them forge and build on relationships with their colleagues and leaders, outside of the pressures of the office.

This helps increase the health and wellbeing of employees and improves their personal lives and relationships. And with employees feelings well-rested and renewed after the trip, it’ll sure help them be even more productive, which in turn is a valuable benefit for everyone.