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Dancing to a New Incentive Travel Tune?

The perpetual challenge for the incentive travel designer is resolving the conflicting demands of new and accessible, and managing to deliver great experiences within the budgets allowed. This is amplified when a client is extremely well travelled, is Five Star Plus and has traversed the globe many times. Time to think different…

One of the benefits of twin centre incentive travel events, is contrast - in destination, programme and delegate experience. So, how to revisit the States and provide great contrast? One of the destinations for the group was luxury New York, but twinned with where? Dance to a new tune became the guiding principle for this client event.

Quick, Quick, Slow

New York is a perennial incentive travel favourite, and for many is quintessential America. However, for a high-end, well-travelled audience it was not enough, more was required, and not just something different and close by. What was required was more America. The answer was just down the coast and is as American as the Big Apple, is a part of America that defines modern America and yet still oozes a character rooted in the country pre-union. The answer was Charleston.

And the strange thing is, Charleston is known the world over yet is relatively undiscovered – it was central to the slave trade, it gave the flapping 20’s its defining style thanks to the dance, Gone with the Wind style is instantly recognisable, as is the Confederate flag, and weatherboarding is as American as burgers and cowboys, but with a colonial twist that could only be Charleston.

Why Charleston? According to the Project Director, Kat, “it is the perfect anti-dote to New York, and it is one of the very few places in America with a history pre-dating modern America and a style you simply won’t find anywhere else. It’s stunning, gorgeous and unlike any other part of the States”.

Kat's View - Why Charleston is an Incentive Travel Dream

  • Quick – access from New York, and given the lack of direct flights from the UK to Charleston, it lends itself to a twin centre programme. The flight time is around 90 minutes and a private charter was used for the group.
  • Slow – the pace of life is at the other end of the spectrum from New York. When relaxation is the order of the day then nowhere else compares. An example, of how things slow down – the group stayed at The Sanctuary, Kiawah Island. This is a 45 minute transfer, but not because of distance but how long it takes to get around. Anywhere else it would be around 30 minutes, but not Charleston with its 40mph speed limits.
  • History – where else can you find a history of colonial English, interspersed with French, Spanish, Native American, pirates, the Slave Trade, somewhere central to the American Revolution and the start of the Civil War? Its history is intoxicating, modern America has been defined by what has happened at Charleston (or Charles Towne) and is still all around the city and the surrounding area.
  • Authentic – it may have been attacked from all directions and by all peoples, but the heart of Charleston is extremely well preserved, the character - defined by history - pervades much of modern Charleston as well. This authenticity is best illustrated by the role the horse and carriage plays. In many cities it’s a touristy gimmick. Not in Charleston, it is the only way to see the city; it always been there so belongs there and often takes precedence over motorised traffic.
  • High-end luxury – Kiawah Island was a haven of opulent relaxation. It was the perfect base for a group still buzzing from New York. But Charleston itself has hotels for every budget and group, it is especially perfect for the smaller group.
  • Variety – there is so much to do and see it ticks each and every box for incentive travel groups. Yes, there’s the usual culture and evening options, all with that Charleston style, but the one thing that sets it apart is the environment. If the built environment is a jewel, the natural one is a treasure trove. It is impeccable – beaches (“dolphins everywhere”), historic sites (e.g. Fort Sumter), river deltas, salt marshes, parkland, all right on the doorstep. Activities are perfect for an incentive travel programme, with relaxation at its heart.
  • Clean – there is a civic pride that surpasses anything else experienced in the States. This is best illustrated by Kat’s observation - “the horse and carriage is a central part of the Charleston experience, but where else would you find the situation where, when a horse urinates, the area is marked, cleaned up, and then disinfected”.
  • People – “are the friendliest and most helpful I’ve ever met in America”. With a shared and unique history, there is a tangible pride evident in all people, something that comes across in the care taken in looking after the city and its visitors.
  • Food – it is central to the way of life and soul, “getting around the table and sharing” is the way. Style is characterised by the Deep South, especially pork and seafood (grits!), and it is arguably where the barbecue was lit. Charleston’s role in the Slave Trade meant it was the entry point for ingredients such as okra, rice, beans, aubergines and peanuts. Oh, and the French Huguenots had already brought dessert. History and modern influence all combine, and Charleston has a slew of awards, including Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appétit magazine.
  • Visually stunning – “it’s a photographers paradise” according to Kat. Houses, buildings, people, gardens, wildlife, beaches are all so photogenic it is a visual treat, and one reason no doubt that is the Best City in America, according to Condé Nast Traveller readers. To get a flavour see our Pinterest board.

That is Charleston in our eyes. As an incentive travel destination it not only fills a niche, it almost defines it. And this is something that it has done throughout history, defined key moments in time, and is its unique ‘wow’ factor. An unsurpassable blend of the past in the present, and in some style.

Kat’s Summary for Incentive Travel in Charleston

  • It is best for high end incentive travel
  • It works best for groups wanting an experience that is unique, but also serene and calm
  • As a contrast to New York it is the perfect complement, access options may limit the appeal otherwise
  • Small groups are ideal – anything over 60 will pose access and transfer problems
  • Dining options are superb – historic, cultural, rustic, opulent, rural or urban. All are authentic and theming options are almost endless.
  • Affordable – its ‘distance’ from the incentive travel beaten track mean it is also competitive compared to other US destinations.

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