explains Continental Tyres sales and marketing director Antonio Betes.
With an additional three months to keep up the momentum, Betes instructed Travel Impact to find a big-hitting destination, to compare with the company's previous trips to Brazil and Thailand. The destination also had to be one that Continental Tyres had not visited in its 30 years of incentive programmes; the result was Australia.
Betes says Australia exerted a strong pull because there were good rates to be had following on from the Olympics, and Ray Roberts, director of agency Travel Impact, was equally pleased with the help given by the Australia Tourist Commission (ATC).
"One of the main criteria we look for when selecting an incentive destination is the ability of its tourist office to provide us with enough varied materials to sustain a 12-month promotional campaign,
"We had tremendous support from both the London and the Sydney ATC offices. They were each fantastic in providing us with information and sourcing ideas, but when we came up with ideas, they worked with their contacts in Australia to make sure we got what we wanted,
Roberts points to the programme launch promotional gift. While on a site inspection to Australia, he came across a three-foot inflatable kangaroo, which played Waltzing Matilda when its paw was pressed. Roberts decided this would make the ideal launch gift, so the ATC helped him get in touch with the manufacturer and ensure the gifts were all shipped to the UK in time for the launch.
In addition, Roberts attended AIME in Melbourne the previous year and had met with a range of suppliers. "We chose to work with the Australian Incentive Travel Company as our DMC, and even when we didn't place business with them straight away, they continued to send us information and ideas,
Hong Kong stopover
The programme kicked off with a one-night stopover in Hong Kong, flying with Cathay Pacific and staying at the Harbour Plaza hotel. The group had been given a good deal by Cathay, allowing Travel Impact to piece together a programme where the basics did not take up an undue proportion of budget.
Delegates also flew on Cathay the next day to Sydney, where they were accommodated at the city's ANA hotel.
"We had considered the Regent but its rates reflected its recent upgrade and we didn't want to compromise the budget,
says Roberts. "The ANA hotel's facilities were first-rate and the team was exceptional.
The hotel's location also proved to be a winner due to its proximity to the Rocks district, with its good selection of restaurants, ideal for dine-arounds. It was also close for ferry access, useful as one of the day's activities was a trip to Manly Beach.
During the six days in Sydney, the group took part in a number of activities.
City or helicopter tours, or delegates could admire the view from the Harbour Bridge climb. Or, they could take to the sea with harbour tea cruises, yachting around Sydney Harbour or if a faster pace was required, the JetBoat Sydney Adventure. Yet it was the penultimate evening in Sydney that was to provide the trip's truly unique and memorable event.
"Since AIME, I'd had the idea of holding a function at the Sydney Opera House, and when I came back to Continental Tyres with the idea, they loved it and went away to find extra budget,
Betes states the night at the Sydney Opera House will remain in the memories of the delegates forever. The delegates were led backstage in the concert hall where they were swiftly taught to play instruments and surprised their partners when they walked on stage to perform. "It sounded dreadful,
laughs Betes, "but within 20 minutes, the conductor had got them playing."
Roberts adds that availability at the Opera House is extremely tight, yet they were able to organise a red carpet up the main staircase and following the 'concert', cocktails were served in the foyer overlooking the harbour, followed by dinner and a live band.
However, the Australia programme did not end after the six-day stay in Sydney. Flying up to Queensland on Virgin Blue - another airline Roberts' was impressed with - the guests were transferred to the Sheraton Mirage hotel in Port Douglas. Although Continental Tyres had looked at hosting the second part of the trip on either Hamilton or Hayman Islands, Port Douglas was selected because of its ease of access to activities on the mainland, rather than being marooned on an island.
The base in the tropical north of Australia offered a wide range of nature-based activities, as well as the opportunity to relax at the hotel or on the beaches. Delegates spent one day on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, where they took part in snorkelling and scuba diving. If they preferred being on the water rather than underneath it, there were opportunities to take part in kayaking or white-water rafting.
Part of the brief was to end the trip in a spectacular fashion. "We wanted to create a challenge for the finale and, as we were in a hot destination at the height of summer, I didn't want to take the delegates out of air conditioning,
says Betes. "But I wanted Travel Impact and the suppliers to create something amazing in the hotel ballroom."
So working closely with production company Hannaford's Special Events, the rainforest was brought into the ballroom. "You would not have known you were in a ballroom,
enthuses Betes. "It was magnificent, there was not one square inch of ballroom visible. The reception area was dressed as a jungle, there was a flautist playing on a swing, there were luminous bugs, multicoloured mushrooms, flowers, everything."
The evening went on until 2am, although many guests carried on partying afterwards, despite a lunchtime departure the following day either to the UK or on to other add-on destinations. Continental Tyres declared the event a success and both they and Travel Impact were delighted with Australia.
"The trip was excellent value for what we wanted to achieve,
concedes Roberts. "Plus we're still aware of the number of options we didn't use and if we were to take this group back to Australia next year, I can guarantee we could deliver another successful programme without repeating any of the activities we had already done, even if we went to the same locations. You cannot just go there once and cross the country off your list - there are some truly fabulous locations in Australia."
Incorporating Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Cairns, Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland offers the corporate buyer a multitude of settings and venues to host unusual receptions.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park: Situated in Cairns, the park is committed to preserving Aboriginal culture. Five theatres, a museum, an art gallery and Aboriginal camp cater for C&I groups. Its Rainforest Marquee seats up to 800, the Magic Space accommodates 350 for cocktails and the Boomerang restaurant caters for 350.
The Australian Woolshed: Just 14kms from Brisbane city centre in Samford Valley, the Woolshed is an Australian theme park combining entertainment, catering and a collection of native and farm animals set on a nine hectare park land estate. Witness sheep shearing or sheep-herding while koalas and kangaroos roam free all around, and end the evening at a bush dance.
Dreamworld, Gold Coast: For fun-loving delegates, this theme park caters for groups between 50 and 5,000. Guests can ride Australia's fastest double-loop rollercoaster or take a trip on the Tower of Terror. There are a variety of theme evenings, ranging from the Enchanted Bengal Trek and the Rebel Rockers Party to Cocktails in the Kakadu and the Eureka Mountain Bush Bash.