Acacia Financial Group was set to reward its 20 top performing insurance salesmen with an all-expenses-paid trip to Nice, France, this spring.
But concerns about terrorism in Europe led to a late change in plans. Now salesmen for the D.C. company will head for Canada's Quebec City in May, rather than the French Riviera -- in spite of the company's loss of $20,000 in fees for reservations.
"There will be other years, other trips," said Duane Adams, Acacia's chairman. "But, on a practical basis, it seemed like an unnecessary risk."
Although most U.S. companies and associations with large numbers of employes traveling abroad say they are not canceling business trips, some are switching discretionary incentive and meeting travel to North America, their representatives say. And American convention associations and hoteliers are scrambling to get the business.
When marketing executives at Hyatt Hotels heard about a number of business groups switching their travel plans, a two-day emergency meeting was called in Chicago last weekend.
"We're not trying to capitalize on a very, very unfortunate situation, but we want to give them alternatives," said F. R. (Skip) Boyd, sales director for Hyatt's worldwide sales office in Washington.
At the Chicago meeting, Hyatt decided to set up an operations desk that travel agents and tour group operators can call on a toll-free number. Hyatt guarantees that, within 30 minutes, the central reservations system will know whether the number of rooms a group needs are available in a city.
Marriott Hotels is negotiating with Scotia Golf, one of largest operators of golf tours to the United Kingdom, for two large golfing groups.
"As a direct result of the situation in Europe," cancellations for golf trips from some corporate groups have been as high as 40 to 60 percent, said Colun M. Todd, Scotia's president.
"Historically, we have concentrated on Scotland and Great Britain, but now we are offering our clients safer destinations," such as Canada, Florida and Bermuda, he said.
"We're getting increasing bookings from groups that were planning to go to Europe," a Marriott spokesman said.
Locally, hotels such as the Sheraton Washington and the Capital and Washington Hiltons are targeting the incentive market, which arranges trips for companies that want to reward employes.
"We're developing a list of dates available in '86 and '87 to develop special packages for groups that might want to pull out of Europe and stay in the U.S.," said Dave Dubois, director of marketing for the Sheraton Washington.
Tourism experts say the incentive groups are a particularly lucrative segment of the travel market because companies generally pay all the expenses for a luxurious vacation for employes and their spouses.
A recent survey by the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus estimated that the average expenditure for each convention delegate is about $130 a day. Incentive groups are thought to spend much more than that.
It's a market that the Washington Convention and Visitors Association, which is bringing a group of incentive-travel planners to the city in June, hopes to capture as well.
"We have no desire to walk on the troubles of others, but we've got to market this community," said Austin Kenny, the association's executive vice president.
Hilton International, with 27 hotels in Europe, is trying to keep incentive travelers who are wary of Europe by suggesting other countries where Hilton has hotels.
"We have most certainly experienced group cancellations in places like Athens, Cairo, Rome and Vienna," said Ron Drake, corporate director of sales for Hilton in New York. Although Hilton International has tried to reschedule groups to the Caribbean and Asia, "If there's a booking in Vienna and they want to go to Phoenix instead, there's not a lot we can do." (Hilton International operates Vista Hotels domestically.)
Because many incentive and association trips are planned years in advance, nonrefundable deposits are posing problems, tourism experts said. However, hotels and airlines are developing more flexible cancellation policies, said Lisa Myers, head of the international section of the American Society of Association Executives.
And no one seems to believe that travel outside the United States will be affected permanently.
"Most of these people are seasoned international travelers who do global business, and the mentality is that, by 1987, the situation will be resolved," said Harry Buzzerd, head of the association.