Is your agent incentive trip still competitive?

By: Erica Lalk

What you need to know

  • Corporate incentive travel winners are starting to skew younger.
  • Event strategy must reflect changing expectations while maintaining high value.
  • Tweaks to program design can keep carriers relevant with new high-achieving audiences.

agents on incentive trip having extraordinary experience learning to surf

With 18 years in the incentive travel industry, I’m now on a first-name basis with quite a few insurance agents. We’ve been on trips together year after year and the excitement of seeing each other is still off the charts. These agents and their guests are like family.

It isn’t surprising that top-performing independent agents, who represent multiple companies, want to earn the best incentive trips. (In my role, I’ve seen how offering incredible reward experiences builds agent loyalty.) That said, I’ve noticed quite a few new names at registration. We’ve been seeing more agency transitions lately, as established agents retire and a new generation starts earning sales incentive trips. 

And now that Gen Xers, Millennials and even Gen Z agents are entering the winners’ circle, ideas about what makes a trip desirable are shifting. Corporate executives are also retiring, and younger industry leaders are eager to align reward opportunities to their fresh vision. Insurance carriers must evolve their programs to meet the needs of a multigenerational workforce—or risk irrelevance. 

Related: Learn what incentive travel elements appeal to a multigenerational workforce.

Balancing agent loyalty and brand advocacy priorities  

Incentive trips lean into the human side of business. There’s no better way to invite your most powerful asset—your top sales force—to experience your brand values. During this time of agency transition, though, carriers must find ways to embrace two seemingly contradictory priorities.

1. Honoring the legacy of longtime achievers

If a salesperson dedicated 30 years to building an incredible portfolio of loyal customers, it’s important for them to end their career on a high note. Carriers should consider what event traditions retiring agents still treasure. 

2. Building brand advocates among emerging leaders

Remaining relevant 5, 10 and 20 years from now requires developing relationships with today’s up-and-comers. Establishing yourself as the carrier of choice early on creates compounding value. It’s important to understand what resonates with your new audience and their guests.

To achieve this, event marketers must balance consistency and novelty. The secret is making small tweaks every year to avoid disappointing repeat earners while evolving to ensure relevance among Millennials and Gen Z.

Keep reading to see some of my recommendations for pulling off this balancing act with grace.

download our ebook to deliver extraordinary incentive travel experiences

Agent incentive trip elements to keep consistent

If your incentive travel experience is consistently attracting your ideal audience, the last thing you want to do is overhaul everything. When evolving your program, there are certain elements you definitely don’t want to mess with.

1. Timing

Ideally, announce the dates for next year’s trip a year in advance. If a carrier establishes a reputation for hosting the best incentive travel event, agents will schedule around it. Try not to overlap with other carriers’ events and strive never to shift dates after they’ve been announced. (We heard from outraged agents when one of their favorite carriers chose to reschedule and they could no longer attend.)  

2. Traditions

In the experience design space, we believe traditions can deliver the emotional impact that ties your brand to lasting memories. Traditions create a sense of belonging, build anticipation, help foster trust and build loyalty. During a period of agency transition, use event traditions to celebrate established leaders and open up “pass the baton” opportunities the next generation will enjoy.

Related: Discover why event marketers should incorporate traditions into experience design.

3. Service level

Destinations and themes trend, but dependable service is always in style. Treating attendees like VIPs means going above and beyond and anticipating their needs. The better you get to know your attendees in the lead-up to the trip, the more personalized you can make their on-site experience. That way, even guests you’ve never met will feel like you truly get them.

Related: Provide President’s Club upgrades and add-ons that turn moments into memories.

Agent incentive trip elements to refresh

Engaging high-income attendees requires putting together a trip they could never accomplish on their own. What that looks like is changing. Consider refreshing and reimagining elements to appeal to a multigenerational agency transition audience.

1. Put sizzle into promotions

With more first-timers vying for the winner’s circle, incentive promotion materials need to educate and motivate. Well-done hype videos will create FOMO and drive the sales behavior you're looking to encourage.

2. Relax action-packed agendas

Top-sellers are go-go-go people, but agents don’t want to leave an incentive experience exhausted. Think about what’s going to help them recharge. “Airing out” your agenda to give attendees more free time doesn’t mean you’re not giving them something special. Reserve a pair of lounge chairs (or a special cabana) so they can relax at the water’s edge and not stress about finding a good spot. When it comes to group activities, offer choice.

3. Turn gifting into give-back opportunities

When I first started out, the strategy around gifting was always around the latest and greatest in technology. But these high-earners can buy top-of-the-line headphones (and probably already have a few pairs!). Swapping brand names for fulfilling activities that underscore brand values can make a positive impact in more than one area. Select gifts curated locally that give back to the local community. Support a local artist by asking them to capture moments throughout your trip. Take it to the next level by finding out areas of need in the area to help them out. Collaborating with a school to donate needed materials and technology or building a playground are impactful ways to accomplish this. Social impact and sustainability projects that leave a place better than they found it are meaningful to Millennial and Gen Z travelers.  

4. Update the profile of plus ones

Historically, the vast majority of agents would bring their spouse as their plus one. Now, more people are choosing to bring a sibling, parent or close friend instead of a partner. Don’t make assumptions about who is coming. Ask some detailed questions about plus one preferences at registration so you can add personalized touches for them, too. 

5. Redefine exclusivity

Your attendees can (and have) traveled the world on their own. Partners with on-the-ground knowledge can help you dig into the unique experiences the general public would never be able to access, or even dream possible. A private dinner at the Sistine Chapel in Rome? A custom vintage Fiat driving tour included lunch at Castello di Monsanto? (We’ve hosted both!) Imagine immersive, novel experiences that take guests behind the scenes and give them mind-blowing access.

Related: Our lookbook showcases world-class inspiration to impress agents who’ve seen it all.

Talk with leaders about incentive program evolution 

Change can be a challenge. Especially in the risk-averse insurance industry. Internal leaders might be the most hesitant to “mess with a good thing.” But, that top salesperson is getting ready to retire and turn their portfolio over to the next generation. You don’t want to miss out on developing an equally deep relationship with the new kid on the block. 

Introducing tweaks to your incentive travel program over time can help everyone feel more comfortable during the process. But five years down the road, you’ll recognize the program you’re running has evolved to meet the expectations of a whole new generation of agency earners. Understanding what your new audience values is key to successful program evolution. 

Carriers can personalize corporate incentive travel to stay ahead of the competition. Learn how.

download our ebook on creating extraordinary incentive travel experiences
Erica White
Erica Lalk

Erica’s passion for events and incentive travel can be felt immediately upon speaking with her. With 15+ years' experience planning and operating global travel and incentive experiences, she’s been well prepared for her role as Event Design Leader. From day one of working with clients, Erica prioritizes building strong, trustworthy relationships while offering original ideas that elevate the attendee experience. When she’s off the clock, you can find her laughing with her family or chatting with her Husky, Naya. And if you have a Peloton, send her your username, so you can become best friends.