Incentive Travel Program Design: Everything You Need to Know

Jill Anonson
Jill Anonson

Incentive travel works—but only if you’re doing it right.

Unless you’re taking the time to design your incentive program to engage every one of your participants, you’re missing out on an incredible opportunity to motivate and align your team.

According to a study by the Incentive Research Foundation, properly designed and executed incentive travel programs can increase sales productivity by 18% and produce an ROI of 112%, along with reducing turnover.

For successful events, the majority of the heavy lifting isn’t done while just onsite. It’s done ahead of time. Follow this guide to strategic incentive travel program design to make sure your trip gets the most engagement possible.

People riding ski lift on incentive travel trip

Personalization and Customization are Key

  • While your team is a powerful, unified force when they’re together, everyone’s an individual. Everyone desires something different. For your incentive travel trip, keep that individuality of your participants in mind. When your event offers a great variety of options, guests can customize their travel experiences to what they prefer to do.
  • Your team members have often made sacrifices at home to reach their goals at work. Your incentive trip may be the time that your team members get to enjoy some quality time with family. Give them that opportunity for some alone time.
  • Don’t forget to schedule “white space.” While you can’t possibly please everyone with every activity, giving them unscheduled time opens the door for participants to do what they’d like on the trip, free from obligations.

People dining together and networking on incentive travel trip

Education and Networking

  • With all of your top-performing team members in one place, take the opportunity for some targeted messaging. Give your team some alignment on company direction, and don’t be afraid to ask for candid, open feedback. You’re surrounded by a group of people who are invested in your organization, and they will appreciate the opportunity to share their perspective.
  • Aside from “white space,” give your team an opportunity for open networking. Not only with each other, but with spouses and other invited guests. This helps break down barriers between team members, build a community and celebrate the behind-the-scenes players supporting their efforts at home.
  • Your event is also a prime time to give your qualifiers access to your organization’s thought leaders—executives, C-suite members and others. But don’t just give your top players a canned speech and a stiff handshake. Make sure your leadership is ready for real, person-to-person interaction, including the tough questions.
  • Welcome the first-timers by acknowledging them with a breakfast or cocktail reception to engage them and connect them with leadership and possible future mentors. You run the risk of alienating them if you don’t.

Person snorkeling on incentive travel trip

New, Authentic Incentive Travel Experiences

  • No matter the age, incentive travel participants don’t want the same experiences as they have had before. Participants are looking for something new and authentic, so don’t rehash last year’s event. Create moments that they will want to post on Instagram and Facebook right away. Give them experiences that trigger great memories they will talk about for years to come. 
  • Diversify your team members’ travel experiences by providing a deeper immersion into the destination. Instead of a beach, offer the opportunity to explore an off-the-beaten-path town nearby, or, if it fits in with corporate social responsibility goals your company has, set up volunteer opportunities at your destination.
  • Offer an “unbuyable” experience. Your team members can buy a trip to Rome, but they couldn’t get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Vatican or a pasta-making lesson by a local in their home. Give them the memories and feelings that stick with them—and let them know how much their performance means to your company—long after they’re back at work.
  • Give your trip qualifiers the authentic experience they crave with one of these top incentive travel destinations.

Couple taking a photo from a scenic overlook on an incentive trip

Engagement Through the Life of the Incentive Program

  • Incentive programs don’t begin with bon voyage. They start well before the plane takes off, and the engagement needs to continue after they arrive back home. 
  • Utilize pre-event communications, an app or your program website to ramp up interest and motivation. Go beyond the basics of rules and destination/hotel info. Post a leaderboard or progress-to-goal tracker. Show pictures of previous trips and destination teasers, including weather reports and sneak peeks into activities.
  • Keep the community going after the trip. Make a photo gallery of the professional videos and photos that were taken, and encourage them to share their experiences via social media. Encourage continued networking and discussions via groups on the app. And start building anticipation for next year—continue to motivate!
Jill Anonson

Jill Anonson

Jill Anonson has over 20 years of diverse experience in event management, incentive travel and sales strategy, and serves as the Events Strategy Advisor at ITA Group. Focused on continuous improvement and challenging standards, she consults clients and team members with impactful strategies and innovative ideas that deliver successful business outcomes. She is a Certified Engagement Practitioner, and certified through Pragmatic Marketing.