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Maximizing Budget for Incentive Itineraries in China

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By Nancy Kim, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Imperial Tours

Nancy Kim, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Imperial ToursThe intriguing tapestry of China’s robust culture, rich history and inspiring future make it an appealing destination for incentive groups seeking an unparalleled itinerary filled with exceptional ‘wow’ moments on the international stage.  A thrilling incentive program can be successfully crafted while keeping budget considerations in mind and without compromising the quality of the experience for the deserving participants.

Customization of an event based on a client’s individual desires and budget is crucial to the success of any incentive program.  China is certainly a ‘good value’ destination in terms of cost even at the five-star level (with a wide variety of price points and experiences available at the high end), and the impeccable service standards here are unmatched.  When orchestrating a bespoke incentive in China, I recommend planners consider the following five tips to maximize their group’s budget and deliver indelible memory-making experiences.

1. Consider the type of hotel and room category in each city. Determine your accommodation priorities in order to carefully select the appropriate hotel for your group.  If you’re heading to a beach destination in China, where the itinerary might be laid-back and more time spent in the room, then you might look to allocate a higher budget for hotel accommodations.  But, if your group is staying in a major city and rooms will primarily be used for sleeping, then the budget can be shifted with a heavier emphasis on off-site activities and experiences.  Once you know the type of hotel, you can also manipulate room category to get the most for your client’s money.

2. Generate one ‘wow dinner’ per city. Gastronomic offerings leave a distinct lasting impression so we recommend one ‘wow’ meal in each city visited and then less money allocated to other meals.  Generally, dining experiences can begin with private events at well-known quality dining establishments (such as M on the Bund in Shanghai or Lan in Beijing) and then progress in cost from there to catered events in semi-public spaces such as art galleries or other high-profile venues.  There is a marked difference in price range between a traditional restaurant (even on the high-end) and a venue with exclusive, limited access.  Some of what Imperial has organized for incentive groups include a special banquet on a less-populated section of the Great Wall (with champagne and white-linen tablecloths), a private meal in the Cheng Courtyard where menus from famous meals of Chinese modern history can be replicated, a spectacular gala in an exclusive section of the Forbidden City, and dinner inside the Water Cube (where U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps won eight Olympic gold medals), to name a few.

3. Think ‘thrilling entertainment’ at different parts of the program. In the same vain as delivering gastronomic ‘wow’ moments, there is a range of entertainment options depending on budget, and you can choose to do one in each city while reducing costs for entertainment during other parts of the program.  For example, the traditional musician who opened the Beijing Olympics, a high-tech company leading the way in digital entertainment, or a well-known Chinese contemporary band are at the high-end of the spectrum.  At lower price levels, you can invite a middle-range of musicians or opt for lions dancers, drummers and other forms of traditional entertainment.

4. Expand activities beyond ‘the traditional’ with enriching experiences that reflect ‘social responsibility.’ An ideal complement to a China incentive program is mixing the ‘must-see’ sites of a destination with activities that yield personal enrichment.  Corporate Social Responsibility is a high priority for us at Imperial Tours (as we support the improvement of children’s welfare and environmental sustainability) so one of the activities we can arrange is a half-day visit to a local school – a journey that feeds the spirit but doesn’t break the bank.  Groups even have the opportunity for sponsorship – whether in the form of equipment for a school or subsidizing a student’s education (and groups can often meet the children they are sponsoring, such as in Shanghai).  These types of activities are actually a cost-effective strategy when arranging an itinerary, and the personal rewards are invaluable.

5. Select speakers and experts from industries who would have an interest in meeting with your client’s organization. Creating a mutually beneficial opportunity can reduce costs for an experience (such as a panel discussion or shared meal).  China fascinates people in almost any industry so talking with international counterparts can be extremely informative and inspiring – and this also allows an incentive in China to be positioned as part ‘education’ and part ‘play.’  Integral to matching incentive groups with speakers is possessing the right connections.  As this can be challenging for companies not based in China, Imperial can assist through our insider access afforded by personal contacts we’ve cultivated over more than a decade in business.

It is imperative to ensure that the character of the program matches the goals of the incentive group.  A group themed around China as forward-thinking will require progressive venues and experiences, while a more conservative viewpoint would necessitate a more traditional itinerary.  Value for money is not just about the hotel room, the meals and the activities – it also encompasses what the company spending the money hopes to derive from the trip.

China is a compelling draw for incentive groups across diverse industries.  The country is steadily carving out its way on the world stages for incentives – and we hope you’ll join us here soon.

Nancy Kim, Founder and Managing Partner, of Imperial Tours along with her husband, Guy Rubin grew up in Seoul, Lugano and Beverly Hills. With a degree in art and many years of study here in the US as well as Rome, South Korea, China and Japan she got involved in several archeological digs and went on to learn Mandarin and earn post-graduate degrees in London and Beijing. She’s fluent in English, Mandarin, Korean and Italian.

Those global interests led her to a career in travel, creating Imperial Tours with a focus on luxury and customization – a perfect fit for the incentive travel market. Nancy and the company has earned numerous accolades including recognition from Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. As a result she’s provided service to celebrities and royalty and of course, meeting and incentive groups.