Tuesday, December 21, 2010

High-End All-Inclusives?

We know what you are thinking- this is an oxymoron, right? When most of us think about all-inclusive resorts we picture cattle-calls for sub-par food, jam-packed beach space, entertainers leading the Macarena with bullhorns, cheap booze and the bare minimum of room amenities. But that is not necessarily the case anymore.

These days you can find all-inclusives that cater to a more luxury crowd. Few can be considered truly 5-star but Petron and Dewars can be found at the bar, spa-quality amenities are popping up in the guest rooms and excellent food is being prepared by celebrity chefs. What’s more, some hotels that are traditionally "European plan" properties have gotten in on the game. Ritz Carlton and Melia Hotels, for example, have recently began to negotiate group contracts with all-inclusive pricing.

This trend does seem to specific to the Caribbean and Mexico, however. The US and Europe may never embrace all-inclusive pricing so it seems that a luxury version is an extremely distant possibility. Nonetheless, the trend certainly is great for individuals and groups wishing to travel to better Caribbean properties on a fixed budget.

Here are a few of the higher-end all-inclusives we think are worth a look:

Royal Hideaway- Riviera Maya

Le Blanc- Cancun

Aqua- Cancun

Sanctuary Cap Cana- Dominican Republic

Happy travels!

Anjee Sorge
Director of Operations

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spa Culture


Spa is the new golf. Yep, it’s true. 20 years ago hotels used the golf course to try to lure prospective travelers to their locations but that has changed. “Come play our 36-hole championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus” has now become “Luxury awaits you at our premier aromatherapy spa with 35 treatment rooms and 4 private hot and cold plunge pools.”

It seems that nowadays every hotel has a “world class spa.” You expect that 5 star properties will have excellent spas.
What we are finding though is that, one after another, 3-4 star properties are all trying to outdo each other in the luxury spa arena. And it's not just the resort properties- we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of luxury spas built in business hotels. What business traveler doesn't want a massage after a long day of rude airport personnel and cramped coach seating? But I bet not many of them expect a luxury spa at a business hotel in Dallas. (See the Omni link below)

Many of these hotels are capitalizing on the fact that current popular opinion shows distaste for expensive corporate retreats. Brand discrimination has become big business as so many companies pull away from the luxury hotels in favor of one with less opulent name associations. No one wants to seem to be doing anything very extravagant, lest their stock holders throw a tantrum and the national media throws them under a bus. Stock holders might blanch at the idea of having a corporate retreat at the Ritz or a sales incentive at the Four Seasons but would they even bat an eye at the meeting held at the Omni or Westin? So, as eyebrows are raised and budgets are slashed, we have seen a huge movement in the meeting and incentive industry towards 3-4 star hotels. The competition at these hotels has become fierce and the battleground is the spa.

With exotic themes varying from Chakra Cleansing to Hydrotherapy to Thai Massage to Aromatherapy to Elements or Gemstones Therapy, the spas keep getting bigger, more fragrant and even more luxurious. Many tout huge square footage (up to 100,000sf!) and “ultimate relaxation.”

As you may suspect, along with the luxury comes a hefty price tag. Even at the less expensive properties, you can expect to pay upwards of $200 for a 60 minute massages and a manicure could cost you over $100. Of course, they need those high treatment prices to pay for the astronomical upkeep of the spa itself. You have to keep the plunge pools hot/cold and full of water, keep the saunas steamy and mud baths muddy, employ a variety of staff positions from receptionists to therapists, keep a decent inventory of high-end spa products, provide all manner of courtesy items (from tea, towels, robes and slippers to hairspray and tampons), employ laundry and housekeeping services as well as gardeners for the flora (especially in the tropical locations), the list goes on and on.

Is the cost worth it? Every time I have visited a hotel recently and taken a tour of the spa, it has, without fail, been empty. Perhaps I always came at the wrong time or they had cleared the place out especially for us. However, it does beg the question of whether the price of building and maintaining the spas are cost effective. If people are drawn to a location BECAUSE of the spa, does it matter whether or not they actually USE the spa? The properties are still making money on food and beverage, room rates, resort fees and other extras such as tours and equipment rentals. In the case of group travel there are also AV and entertainment costs, f/b minimums, room rental charges and other assorted fees. But is it enough to cover the loss of revenue on an empty spa?

The entire industry is struggling and any way to boost sales and occupancy is excellent. However, I would really like to know if the spa-wars are working for these hotels. I welcome feedback as to whether they are measuring the true ROI of the additions. Is the gain worth the cost?

Would you choose a hotel because of the spa? And looking to the future, what do you think will be the next big draw?

Some of the latest, greatest and most interesting spas we’ve recently seen from historically non-luxury brands:

Fiesta Americana Cancun
Hard Rock Hotel Punta Cana
Le Blanc Cancun
Omni Las Colinas

Also check out the 2010 Conde Nast Top 240 Spas in North America, Hawaii, Central America and the Caribbean

Anjee Sorge
Director of Operations, FLG

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Shouldn't Incentives Motivate?

On a recent flight to Detroit I sat next to a sweet woman from central Wisconsin. During the course of conversation, she asked what I did. When I told her that I worked with companies to help with their employee motivation programs, she replied “Oh you should talk to my company!”

She described how her company was purchased by AIG who had a company sponsored incentive program in place. The program is laid out like this; her boss would let her know at the end of the quarter how much bonus money she would see on her next paycheck. That was it. No explanation of why she was receiving the bonus, no feedback whatsoever. She thought that this must be the result of the media’s infamous slamming of AIG senior staff receiving large bonuses and extravagant travel. She assumed that now they were trying to “spread the wealth” to some of the worker bees but she didn’t really understand how it was supposed to motivate her. She said that she would appreciate knowing specifics of why she made the bonus, how she could improve, etc. She also expressed how much she loved her job, enjoyed giving excellent customer service, and would do it whether or not she received an incentive.

Every company dreams of great employees like her- people who's jobs give them enough satisfaction that they want to work hard- but it is certainly not the norm. Most employees need some sort of motivation to push them to achieve company goals. But in order for the goals to be reached, the carrot needs to be clearly understood.

I find this phenomenon more often than you can imagine. A company puts significant dollars into an employee incentive, but does not bother to make sure it is communicated and managed well. What a waste of company resources! A poorly designed and administered program is sometimes worse than none at all. Let’s use those dollars to implement a truly exciting and motivating travel or merchandise program instead of using it towards a cash bonus. Studies have proven time and again that cash is not motivating. They would get so much more for their money with travel or merchandise.

Of course, given the parent company is AIG, you may think that travel is not the best choice. However, it could be if laid out and planned properly. If they chose to communicate the business case for implementing a travel program focused on the workers and not the highly paid executives, it could go a long way toward improving their image in the marketplace. With results measured through a well done ROI analysis and feedback from the participants to gauge its effectiveness, they could turn lemons into lemonade.

AIG… give us a call!

Sandi Daniel
President & CEO

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Taste of South Africa

I was recently invited to visit South Africa and I can honestly say that the trip wasn’t long enough! The group and I spent 5 wonderful nights in a country that is as beautiful as its people.

We started in Cape Town, a city rich in history and culture, and it does not disappoint. It seems every turn you come upon a part of history you never thought you’d have the opportunity to experience. From Robbin Island to the City Hall made famous by Nelson Mandela’s speech in 1994, you just can’t describe the feeling that overwhelms you as you look upon these influential places in history.

We spent the first two nights at the Table Bay Hotel with its beautiful views of the cape and harbor. This hotel truly has a unique placement in the city. I would highly recommend this hotel for any visitors traveling to Cape Town.

On our third night we had the pleasure of staying at the Mount Nelson Hotel, located right in the heart of the city. As the oldest hotel in Cape Town, you can almost feel the vibe of the city from within its historic walls.

On day four, we left Cape Town and traveled to Kapama Game Lodge on the western edge of Kruger National Park. From the moment your plane touches down, you begin to see wildlife beyond your wildest dreams. The experienced Rangers from Kapama meet you at the airport and from here your experience begins. While departing from the airport in your open vehicle, you literally pass through one gate and you are in the reserve. Before we had even arrived at the lodge, we saw a family of rhino and a two and half year old lioness feasting on the days catch, an incredible beginning to a wonderful few days!

Each day you wake up early for a 6am game drive. I know it sounds crazy but you are just so excited for what the day might have in store that you can’t help but be up as early as possible! Giraffe, wildebeest and impala greet you as the vehicle makes its way through the reserve. Add in the lions, rhino and elephants and incredible doesn't begin to describe it. Once you see these animals in their natural environment, you will never be able to go to a zoo again. Simply breathtaking.

As if the wildlife wasn't enough, the staff are great too. The people at Kapama are true professionals, which makes the fact that the accommodations are top notch almost insignificant. They treat you as one of their own, which as far as I have found in South Africa, this seems to be the case everywhere here.

This trip was amazing. As I mentioned before, my only complaint was that it wasn't long enough! You'd probably need at least a month to explore everything South Africa has to offer. So I guess that just means I will have to go back!

I want to thank our gracious hosts, Springbok Atlas, South African Airways and the South African Tourist Bureau for providing the entire group with an unforgettable experience. I can't wait to see you all again!

Dustin Sorge
Senior Account Executive

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Evolution of Meetings

A few months ago I was sorting through some old files that I had stuffed away from when I was a Marketing Director for a large Insurance firm. I used to do a great deal of public speaking on the subject of changing demographics and how we need to tailor our message to market to various audiences. I stumbled across a print out of an old email that referenced an article dated April 1998. In the email it stated that “internet commerce should top $300 billion by 2002”. This got me thinking…..what did Internet Commerce actually reach in 2002? Well I googled around for a bit and finally uncovered that it actually hit 2.929 TRILLION (and in 2009 it was over six trillion). I also looked into internet numbers while I was at it and surprisingly found that internet devices were around 1,000 in number in 1984 and moved to 1 million in 1992 and then to one billion in 2008. What does all of this mean? It means that the only thing about our changing world we can predict is that the RATE of change is moving at parabolic speed!

Asked to address the role of meetings in today’s environment, I gave some thought to where we have been and where we are headed. Remember the days of registering for a conference by mail or maybe even fax? Remember overhead projectors and transparencies? Your worst technology nightmare was to have a light bulb burn out during your presentation rendering your slides useless. Then we graduated to the overhead LCD projector that sat on top of the overhead so you could show your computer screen on the stand up screen at the front of the room. Then the handouts for the session, usually in a big bulky 3-ring binder which had to be shipped out in advance, or worse yet, photocopied and assembled on-site at the business center. This not only ate up staff time but was expensive to produce. Ok, so I am dating myself here, but really, that was not very long ago!

Now let’s talk about today. We have flash drives, small data projectors that can hook wirelessly to laptops, virtual meeting technology, online registration and electronic meeting materials. We are also on the brink of combined or stand-alone virtual meetings and teleconferences. The latest technology is the hologram meeting. You are literally face-to-face with your counterparts while they conference in from another part of the world. To get a look at the newest advances in meeting technology you need only search for “Hologram Meetings” on YouTube. It reminds me a bit of a corporate episode of Star Trek… beam me up Scotty! But those sci-fi fantasies are becoming a very real reality. Hemisphere Expo Services predicts 49,000 telepresence suites will be in use by 2014 and full hologram suites will follow closely behind. Bank of America is investing tens of millions in this type of technology and they fully expect to realize the economic benefit in less than 18 months. Starwood is also making big investments in the Cisco technology. The technology is quite expensive now but as larger firms start to employ them, you can count on costs going down and further adoption taking place.

So, what does all of this mean for the meetings world? While nothing can quite replace the face-to-face meeting, I do expect more hybrids of teleconferences, virtual and holographic meetings are likely to emerge. This technology wave in the meeting arena will allow companies, in the long run, to be more efficient and effective. Most important though is the need to stay relevant. Companies who ignore these new technologies and stick with only traditional meetings will be left behind. Traditional meetings will (and should) always be a part of how businesses run but the face of meetings is certainly changing. Businesses and meetings planners will have to work together to navigate this brave new technological world or all will be left in the dust.

Resources you may want to explore:
www.theirf.org, www.mpiweb.org (meeting deliver), www.firelightgroup.com, www.emsummit.eventmarketer.com/virtual , www.enterpriseengagement.org, www.westchestermeetings.com

- Sandi Daniel, President and CEO, FIRE Light Group

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Business Bucket List

Very interesting article on Biznik about who is (or should be) on your business "bucket list". Check it out!

Biznik article

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Shining Example

This is a fantastic example of an employee incentive program. It is from-the-heart and makes sound business sense. At FIRE Light, we appluad the efforts of Appletree Answers for their fine work!

Check out the article on Incentive Magazine's website.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why is it so important to have a niche market?

Check out this article on niche marketing! I found it very interesting to site fear as a reason why people stay away from it, especially as it relates to women. Thoughts?

Why is it so important to have a niche market? - Marketing & Sales - Biznik


Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Incentive" is Not a Dirty Word

It is true that the media has made America rethink appropriate bonus and incentive structures from the boardroom, to government employees to union halls. However, let’s not forget that we still must convey that our human capital (employees, sales staff, and yes, our executive teams too) still need to be engaged to continue to perform at peak levels. Now more than ever we need to remember that if we cannot instill that “fire in the belly” for employees to want to be a part of a successful organization – then where do we expect them to go when this recession ends?

The focus on big and extravagant bonus and rewards has taken us into a national mentality of throwing the baby out with bathwater. We cannot forget that rewards and incentive strategies are still a key tool to drive performance and hence, production and profits. We need high performing employees to drive profitable businesses that can support a growing economy. Whether or not you are a great believer in capitalism, it is what our economy is founded on. We cannot simply switch gears and expect that eliminating such an important business driver is going to fix our economy. Engaged employees are just as necessary to a business’s success as a solid product.

With a little work and some smart innovation, the engagement industry should come out of this recession stronger and more resilient than ever. Don’t forget that more millionaires were born out of the great depression than at any other time in our history.

Sandra Daniel

President and CEO

FIRE Light Group

Friday, April 9, 2010

FIRE Find of the Week


Platypus SoftBottle

These water bottles are awesome! Not only do they roll up and stash away easily when not in use but they are fully imprint-able with your company logo. They have nice color options and plenty of choices for nozzle type and size.

This is a great way to give a small corporate incentive that is also environmentally friendly. It's so compact that your employees are sure to use this bottle everywhere. It just shows how green-forward you are! Now that's a great idea for company branding.

Get more info here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Incentives Motivate!

Welcome to the inaugural blog for the Fire Light Group!

I'm sure there are many folks out there who have no idea who we are so perhaps the best way to start is to explain what we do.

FLG is an incentive marketing company that consults with clients on how to design and implement motivation programs.

Come again?

Let me explain... If you are an executive who wants to motivate your sales force or a retail store owner who wants to drive customer loyalty, we exist to help you accomplish these things. We plan and coordinate group and individual travel incentives, online and catalog merchandise programs, debit card programs and meeting and event planning. Plus, we do incentive and branding consulting and help with the ROI to show how it has affected your profits.

Whew! Sounds dry, right?

Quite the contrary! Incentives are one of the most fun things you can do as an executive. Who doesn't like to give (and receive!) rewards for a job well done? Being able to reward and recognize your people while simultaneously driving profits is a very exciting. Your employees make you look good and rewards are the best way to show your appreciation.

Did you know that incentives are a $110 billion per year industry? And that's just in the USA. This is a far-reaching field that affects just about everyone. You've probably been a part of it and never realized it before. Every store that offers a discount card, each company that has a bonus for sales goals and any website that offers a gift for signing up are part of this wonderful industry. So, there is a lot of write about!

Now, you might be thinking that this blog is going to be one long sales pitch. That is not our goal at all! We have started this to keep you informed about the movers and shakers and fantastic innovations happening in the incentive industry. Hopefully, we will give you some great ideas and perspectives that can help you motivate your target audience.

Keep an eye out for posts and updates from our President and CEO, Managing Director and Senior Account Executives. And remember that we welcome your comments, questions and suggestions!

Thanks for reading!

Anjee Sorge
Director of Operations
Fire Light Group