Incentive Travel: Motivation Pays

Presidente Intercontinental Cozumel


According to the latest Participant Study by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), “Travel” and “Experiences” beat out cash on average as a desired large award—nothing new for the Mexico Tourism Board (MTB), which has long seen incentive travel as an important component of the country’s meetings industry. And now more than ever, it’s committed to working closely with executives and meeting planners looking for top destinations for motivation and performance improvement, incentive programs and consumer promotions.

Emerging trends in incentive programs such as wellness travel, the preference for all-inclusive resorts and experiential travel resonate strongly in Mexico, a country that has been embracing these topics well ahead of the crowds. Top incentive destinations such as Cancun, Cozumel, the Riviera Maya and Los Cabos, for example, are already top players on any planner’s list.

Balancing work and wellness in business is a growing trend. Awarding wellness travel—a designation that incorporates outdoor adventures, golfing, spa, yoga, fitness and wellness classes, mountain biking and more—is a way for management to show it cares for its employees and clients. Golf and spa are a favorite combination in Los Cabos, where players can tee off early on surreal desert-meets-the-sea courses with names like Quivira, Cabo del Sol, or Tiger Wood’s new El Cardonal at Diamante Cabo San Lucas, then work out the shoulder kinks in oases like The Spa at Las Ventanas Al Paraíso or the One&Only Spa by ESPA at the One&Only Palmilla. Adrenaline seekers will find their share of outdoor adventure here, too, with snorkeling at Cabo Pulmo, flying across Mexico’s longest zip line, or flyboarding over the waves.

Wellness travel follows suit in Cancun, Cozumel and the Riviera Maya, with lush golf courses with standards high enough to host official PGA Tour classics, expansive spas that incorporate the best of ancient traditions and modern techniques, and a great outdoors unlike any other on the planet. This is where cold, fresh-water sinkholes called cenotes offer swimmers and divers a chance to glimpse underwater caves or serve as reflecting pools for spa-goers in Mayan-inspired ceremonies such as the one offered by the Rosewood Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya. Offshore near the island of Cozumel, the great Palancar Reef opens up an underwater paradise of over 200 species of fish, in tune with its reputation as one of the top diving spots in the world.

These are also destinations where the preference for all-inclusive accommodations is very well served, as resorts on both coasts have raised their game from the unimaginative buffet spreads and loud pool games of yesteryear. With a majority of its hotels operating as all-inclusive properties, Cancun and the Riviera Maya have also upped the ante on services and amenities, including, in some cases, award-winning gourmet dining and premium beverages for a true first-class stay that won’t have participants reaching for their wallets for anything. Others, like the newly opened Grand Velas Los Cabos, have tapped into several trends piquing the interest of incentive planners, offering all-inclusive luxury, a spa with an unforgettable water journey component and Michelin-star worthy dining all in one place.

Immersive destination experiences—or experiential travel—are a natural for Mexico, and can certainly be enjoyed in these well-known destinations. Just outside Cancun, for example, Experiencias Xcaret’s Xoximilco park was created specifically to offer visitors the opportunity to enjoy an authentic Mexican party while touring its canals aboard a traditional trajinera, or Mexican gondola. These trajineras are typical of the floating gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City, where more than 50 miles of canals are the last remnant of an ancient system that once covered the Valley of Mexico.

This particular incentive travel trend also dovetails nicely with a program created back in 2006 by the MTB in association with the Society for Incentive Travel Executives (SITE) and its Mexico chapter ( The idea was to increase Mexico’s market share of the international incentive travel business, branding the country as the ideal multi-destination for international incentives while highlighting emerging destinations. The program was dubbed “Your Best Reward is Mexico,” also known as YBR, and to date, the states of Queretaro, Chiapas, Morelos and the city of Guadalajara have received their certification, with Puerto Vallarta being the latest member of the list.

These off-the-beaten-path destinations are a natural for engaging, experiential travel activities that become truly unforgettable. Travelers to Guadalajara, for example, can board the Cuervo Express train for a journey to the outlying town of Tequila, where along the way a tequila master teaches them the finer points of drinking this eponymous spirit. Once they arrive, they can tour the distillery and take a horseback excursion through the agave fields. In Chiapas, a visit to San Cristobal de las Casas means an adventure of visiting tiny co-ops of local women weavers for textiles or haggling for colorful handmade clothing at the Sunday market in San Juan Chamula. Located in the heart of Mexico and a huge player in the story of the country’s independence from Spain, the state of Queretaro is also home to the Sierra Gorda. Here visitors can indulge their taste buds in the Ruta del Sabor, the Tasting Trail, a collection of small restaurants and tiny community fondas that serve traditional dishes with a side of stunning views. In the state of Morelos, history meets faith meets heritage along the Ruta de los Conventos, which takes travelers on a journey to visit 28 ancient sanctuaries built in the 16th century.

Authentic experiences are only one reason why incentive planners will be well served to take particular note of YBR-certified destinations. The process for certification even for such a high-profile resort city as Puerto Vallarta is long and highly detailed. According to Miguel Andres Hernandez Arteaga, Director of the Puerto Vallarta Convention and Visitors Bureau, once they had selected the program and negotiated with SITE for an analysis of the destination’s potential, they reached out to the MTB for support and created and held workshops and training modules for service providers; vetted local suppliers; and hosted evaluations by actual buyers selected by SITE from countries including the US, Portugal, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Panama and Mexico; among many other initiatives.

The end result: “Puerto Vallarta is now certified as a professional incentive destination endorsed by an international entity, and the destination and its service providers will now be promoted within this segment,” said Hernandez Arteaga. “The Mexico Tourism Board can use Puerto Vallarta as one of their YBR flagged destinations which can tell the story of our country through our incentive programs, thus eventually creating Mexico brand ambassadors that will spread the word of what we have to offer.”

IRF studies aside, savvy incentive travel planners know the prospect of earning a trip to an exciting destination is a wonderful motivator and, unlike cash incentives, its value lingers like fine tequila on the palate.

For more details and images of Mexico’s top incentive travel destinations, please visit