We have wrote about this a few times in the past but it's a popular and important question.
There are three main decisions to help narrow down your initial planning.
First, how many people are you expecting to attend?
Second, what is your per person budget or what is the overall trip budget?
Third, based on the budget, where do you think you want to go and what month of the year?
The challenge for many companies is that they are not provided with data to answer both question one and two. Many times companies provide their internal trip planner with either the number of guests they want to bring but no idea how much they should budget per person, or they have an approved total budget and want to see how many guests they can accommodate based on that budget. Or even worse they give you the task of planning an upcoming President's Club but don't provide much color on numbers, budget or location.
As far as location goes and where you think you want to go, it is usually easier to decide on this after you have answered questions one and two and have a little more direction. But it is important to make sure you ask the decision maker if there are any locations they would not like to host the trip. Some people just don't like Mexico no matter what the property is, others have a grudge against Jamaica. Everyone has a different story from a one time experience so it's important to at least start with a list of destinations to exclude from your search.
First, how many people are you expecting to attend? In the first few weeks of researching keep it easy and base the attendee number on 20% of the sales organization plus add 5-10% additional for executives. We highly recommend allowing all attendees who qualify to bring a guest. Again this is just a lose number to start with but it will be your basis point to work from.
Second, now that you have an estimated number you can create a preliminary budget if one has not been provided. We recommend a range of $2400-3200 per person for a full President's Club incentive program. If this is a small first time get together, you can do it as low as $1200-1600 per person without the gifts, dinners, activities, etc. For our technology portfolio we see an average spend of $2850 per person.
Now that you have a preliminary budget and estimated number of attendees your next step is narrowing down location options. Check out our blog post on both US options and also top 10 Incentive Destinations. Our next step would be narrowing down your location from whether you would like an All-Inclusive product or would like a traditional European Plan. If you are focused on All-Inclusive which is usually a great hit when creating your first program there are 3 main places to look; Mexico (Cancun, Riviera Maya, & Los Cabos), Dominican Republic (Punta Cana), Jamaica (Montego Bay). There are a few handful of other one off properties but these locations have the best 5 star experiences for an all-inclusive.
The options are endless and some do depend on budget but for the most part you can find a hotel option in your budget. Keep in mind places such as Aruba, Anguilla, and many US locations will be expensive due to food and beverage spend. Other places such as St. Lucia and Antigua are expensive due to high transportation costs. We recommend you find a hotel under 40 minutes from the airport. We recommend narrowing your options down to 3-5 locations then send out RFP or a simple email to the sales director at 1-2 properties in each of those locations. Or if you prefer you can work with an incentive specialist and use their partnerships with the hotel to make the RFP process a little easier. If your dates are flexible make sure you include this in the RFP so they can provide any gap discounted dates.
Once you have all of the proposals back from the hotels we recommend putting together a preliminary budget document with the 3 best options and present this to your executive team. Don't get too bogged down in the itinerary details until you have the buy-in on the location from the decision maker.
Your final step on securing your first President's Club is contract negotiations and legal review. Keep in mind if you would like the expertise of an incentive specialist on this step make sure you reach out early in the process before the RFP stage. Once the RFP's go out to the hotels it is harder for a third party to get involved and provide value. Most of them will provide you with a budget strategy (see blog post on budgeting for your trip) and also will help negotiate concessions you might not have seen before. And if nothing more they will help explain what is attrition and how it all really works.