Beautiful sun-drenched beaches. Picturesque peaks. Far off lands only ever seen through Instagram lenses. High-end incentive trips are certainly once-in-a-lifetime experiences for the lucky few who get to attend them.
But for the organizers of incentive travel programs the stakes are high—especially when it comes to planning and executing a week-long (or more) event. Your top talent will be there—those high-performing people who deliver results for your brand year after year. At their best, incentive travel programs can effectively motivate employees and customers to engage with your business. At their worst, they attract unwanted criticism to your brand and waste money.
While the destination may be what motivates your people to perform at their highest for the short-term, it’s the experiences you craft for them and the memories they make while on the trip that transform your people into your advocates. When looking for incentive travel ideas for your people, keep the following things in mind:
1. Experiences Offer Personal Transformation Opportunities
It is increasingly important that incentive travel provides unique opportunities. People want an experience that they cannot get elsewhere—something new and exciting. Incentive travel destinations must create enthusiasm, and incentive winners need to make lasting memories.
In 2019, transformational travel will continue to push and extend the experience economy even further, according to the IRF 2019 Trends Study. Transformational travel is the idea of offering highly memorable, authentic experiences while connecting people with a deeper meaning that leads to personal growth and/or self-actualization. The concept of transformational travel connects and incorporates concepts of wellness, sustainability, community, and personal fulfillment.
The push will begin to move from basic mindfulness to using travel to foster a deep emotional connection or realization that extends far past the trip’s end date. These transformative experiences can come in highly designed formats such as Austin Adventures “solo walks” incorporating gratitude and thankfulness or NoshTrekker’s Singaporean family meal dining where the hosts not only curate a menu, but tie each part of the menu to their family history and story.
2. For the Globe-Hopping Generation, Experiences Matter Most
Incentive travel now needs to entice an evermore traveled and experience-hungry generation. According to a Hipmunk survey, 72% of millennials said they traveled more in 2016 than in years prior. While 35% of Gen Xers planned to check off a bucket list destination, 60% of millennials had these ambitious plans. Mixing business with pleasure, 55% of millennials extend some leisure time to their business travel, versus only 28% for members of Generation X.
As the growing middle class has doubled globally over the last 20 years, individuals now seek to collect experiences, not just things. It is increasingly common for employees to desire an incentive that leaves them healthier and more refreshed. Whether it’s outdoor adventures, fitness and wellness classes, or spa days, some employees will value the attention to their health.
A mix of experiential elements, such as wellness (yoga), local excursions (curated tours, hikes), and gifting suites that involve selection and interaction with other participants are increasingly expected in incentive travel design. Traditional amenities for events have expanded to include gifting experiences, with 70% of respondents to a recent IRF survey saying their incentive travel program has a gifting experience. On average, respondents were spending $210 per person, as reported in the IRF’s Industry Outlook Study 2019: Merchandise, Gift Card, and Event Gifting.
3. Stay Agile When Planning
Designing for these increasingly savvy travelers will press the bounds of regular program planning, calling on program designers to continuously test new ideas and incorporate changes quickly. As incentive travel planners adapt and develop programs in an agile environment, they will need to adopt a design thinking mentality with continuous changes and the overlapping of ideas from many different domains.
At ITA Group, we understand strategic planning and are always ready to accommodate client requests. One client, for example, worried about possible safety and security threats at their destination. Addressing their concerns, we shifted course and relocated all of their 1,200 participants to a location closer to home to reduce risk.
We took care of all the work behind the scenes from canceling contracts to finding a new location and on-site experiences to participant communications and air ticketing. In the end, the participant experience was second to none, and clients came away with an incentive travel program that came in under the originally projected cost.
4. Instead of Where, Make It About What
The destination used to speak for itself, but a 2016 Incentive Research Foundation study found that “authentic, unique experiences are essential” where singularity and social value trump prestige and status. There is a growing desire for one-of-a-kind events, authentic activities only found at that destination, and experiences that ingrain a lasting impression on the participant. That means unforgettable experiences shouldn’t simply be a perk of your incentive travel program—they might be the most important aspect for the foreseeable future.
Need more convincing? Find out how an incentive travel program designed and executed by ITA Group delivered a 300% increase in sales.