Culinary LATAM: Incentive travel with a tasty twist

As the world slowly opens up again, incentive travel—particularly at the executive level—is increasingly focused on small group and individual incentives.

No matter which way you slice it, the days of the “holiday bonus” providing year-round motivation are gone, with meaningful experiences now firmly at the top of the list of incentive travel trends. With this in mind, planners can and should look to Latin America for experiential opportunities that can result in higher employee satisfaction rates and retention of top performers.

Gastronomy is one of the many strong offerings in Latin America’s incentive portfolio, paired as it usually is with extraordinary accommodations in locations that help create indelible memories. And, by its very nature, luxury culinary incentive travel is ideal for VIP individuals and small groups.

Rivera Nayarit, Mexico

The Riviera Nayarit extends north of Puerto Vallarta, with over 320 kms of coastline, nature reserves, and 23 micro-destinations that embody the area’s traditions and culture alongside some of the world’s top luxury accommodations. Of note is the fact that Nayarit’s gastronomy was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage for the state, and the region boasts two shining stars who are ensuring word gets around: Chef Betty Vázquez, Culinary Ambassador for the Riviera Nayarit, and Israel Díaz, the area’s Mixology Ambassador.

A judge on MasterChef Mexico and Executive Chef for San Blas’ restaurant/bar El Delfin, Chef Vázquez specializes in bringing the flavors of the ocean to the table, while Israel Díaz, mixologist on MasterChef Mexico and owner of El Alquimista Cocktail Room, focuses on infusing his signature cocktails with local traditions and tastes. Both professionals can be hired to work with small VIP groups to create unique, hands-on experiences for attendees.

The area’s all-inclusive luxury resorts also play their part in elevating the culinary experience: At the Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit, for example, planners can create a dine-around adventure around its three AAA Four-Diamond gourmet restaurants—Lucca (Italian), Frida (Mexican), and Piaf (French)—adding in premium cocktails at the Koi or Aqua bars. A fun alternative: cooking lessons or a sunset mixology class by the ocean with take-home drink recipes.

At the newly-opened Conrad Punta de Mita, your VIPs will be transported beyond the usual tequila tasting when they step into The Agave Studio, a private room housing choice agave spirits from tequila to mezcal and more. There, led by Erik Clavel, Director of F&B, they can travel through history and tradition while sampling small-batch artisanal spirits. The drinks can be paired with Mexican gourmet treats or a luxurious private dinner.

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo, named the Gastronomic Culture Capital of the Caribbean, is a natural for culinary-themed incentive travel. The beautifully restored Colonial Zone, for example, was made for dine-arounds: there’s the Mediterranean menu at Pat’e Palo, a European brasserie tucked away in a 500-year-old building, tapas at Pura Tasca, traditional Dominican fare at the bohemian El Mesón de Bari, or haute Dominican delights inside a beautiful Art Nouveau glass greenhouse at Buche Perico—just to name a very few. A special treat: KahKaw Experience is a chocolate and soap-making shop that delves into all the intricacies of the cacao fruit, offering small group classes on how to make everything from chocolate truffles to cookies.

On the hotel side, high-end dining in a VIP setting can be enjoyed around the private chef’s table at the Renaissance Jaragua Santo Domingo, with signature dishes and beverages created with local ingredients (some grown on property) by award-winning Executive Chef Cristian Shinya.

Antigua, Guatemala

If there was ever a place for memorable incentive travel that included exquisite architecture, culture, and gourmet dining with buyouts or individual travel, it would have to be Antigua, Guatemala. This gem of a city and UNESCO World Heritage Site is less than an hour away from Guatemala City and the Aurora International Airport, and offers a number of exceptional boutique hotels, restaurants, and culinary-based experiences.

Tailored tours can include hands-on chocolate making at the Choco Museo; a personalized visit to a coffee plantation such as Finca Filadelfia, where incentive travel winners can go on an aromatic journey from the bean to the cup; or a tour through the macadamia nut farm at the Valhalla Experimental station, where they can make macadamia-flour pancakes. In town, boutique properties like El Convento Boutique Hotel and Mesón Panza Verde (winner of the coveted “Tenedor de Oro,” or Golden Fork Award), offer international cuisine in their on-site restaurants—many with a Mayan twist.

At Meetings Alliance, we know there will be a transition phase before we reach a New Normal and the pace of recovery will vary across different destinations. With these articles, we strive to showcase unique and exciting incentive possibilities so planners can make future travel plans for their clients’ top performers. Please check with individual destinations/resorts for current advisories or restrictions.

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