Dos & Don’ts of Selecting Incentive Travel Destinations
By: Jodi Swailes
Choosing the right incentive travel destination involves much more than simply booking the latest hotspot. Today’s travel trends point to a variety of considerations event designers must weigh before charting a course.
Our expert buying team travels the world scouting locations. They know where to go. And why. When consulting with clients to match budgets and goals with incredible trip itineraries, they keep these tips top-of-mind.
DON’T: Fixate on Bucket-List Destinations
Everyone’s dream destinations are different based on what activities they enjoy and what they’ve already seen. Especially for repeat earners, luxury resorts quickly become “been there, done that.” This doesn’t mean you have to scour the globe for hidden gems. Rather than focus on finding a destination that is truly unexplored, there are other ways to add novelty to create a memorable event.
We believe any destination can shine by incorporating immersive experience strategies. Even popular places like Italy and Mexico can be reimagined with meaningful surprises, like can’t-do-on-your-own opportunities tailored to the audience’s passion.
- During one trip for car enthusiasts, a custom vintage Fiat driving tour included lunch at Castello di Monsanto.
- London might be a popular destination, but an exclusive dinner on the London Tower Bridge Walkway gave attendees the best views overlooking the city that they wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.
- It didn’t matter if guests on an incentive trip to Italy had already seen Vatican City. We offered them an elevated experience by hosting a private dinner in the Sistine Chapel.
DO: Understand the Incentive Travel Audience
Incentive travel is about creating an unforgettable experience for the people who have earned the trip. Make travel design fun by framing your research as a travel personalization quiz. You can use gathered data to build out attendee journeys by persona. When designing around attendee needs and expectations, the destination becomes a meaningful backdrop for a personalized journey.
Start your destination selection process by considering what you already know about your audience and their connection with your brand. Are they repeat earners? Channel partners who compete for trips from other brands in addition to yours? Regionally or internationally dispersed teams?
It can be tempting to infer what locations will excite attendees based on role-related information. But digging deeper into audience preferences will help you create a stronger connection. Consider sending a simple survey that asks:
- How they want to spend their free time
- How far they’re willing to fly
- Whether they want to be immersed in a single place or explore a region
- Who they will be traveling with
“I'm amazed and appreciate the knowledge ITA Group brings to the table. Our CEO wanted an engagement plan to maximize relationship building with our most important customers while letting them enjoy their hard-earned trip…THIS WAS THE BEST TRIP IN OUR HISTORY. UNBELIEVABLE!”
—Vice President, Marketing, Leading Insurance Brand
As an event designer, it’s up to you to set up a storyline that excites participants and engages them from arrival to departure. Frame a return trip around traditions to build anticipation and foster a sense of belonging. Connect the experiences so they build off each other, peaking in a culminating event. And remember to book space early so you have more options during your desired dates. It’s no fun to find out your first choice is already booked.
Related: 10 Incentive Travel Destinations Trending in 2023
DO: Flex Your Budget Where It Counts
Be smart about how you allocate your incentive travel budget. Global markets are dramatically affecting availability and rates. Factor in local costs for food and beverage spends, too.
Based on what matters most to attendees, invest in areas that will make an impact. This might mean opting for a more affordable destination so that a bigger allowance goes toward enhancing the experience, like securing luxury cars to greet attendees at the airport instead of charter buses.
Adjusting accommodations can also bring costs down and better serve attendees. A 4-star hotel in the city center is more suitable than a remotely located 5-star resort where it would be difficult for attendees to explore during their free time. Or opt for a boutique property with fewer amenities, but breathtaking views from the rooms and connections to a renowned local chef.
DON’T: Ignore Social Impact Considerations
More and more companies are aligning to their brand values when choosing event or incentive travel destinations. This could mean skipping spots with active anti-LGBTQ legislation or tying trips to corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs through volunteerism or other environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related elements.
During the destination selection process for an award-winning incentive trip hosted by a large technology brand, our clients prioritized making a positive impact. They wanted to benefit a tourism-reliant location that was hard hit by the pandemic. We discovered that in Koh Samui, Thailand, the Samui Elephant Sanctuary depends almost solely on tourism donations. There hadn't been any for two years, jeopardizing the sanctuary.
To fully connect the attendee experience with the destination and CSR goals, we incorporated Asian elephant imagery into every detail of the trip, from the custom pre-mailer tied with a ribbon and elephant charm through on-site branding on embroidered pillows, miniature elephant figurines, wooden drink tokens and more. An exclusive two-day buyout of the sanctuary was a highlight for participants, who visited the elephants in small groups and helped make food that met the elephants’ special dietary requirements.
This partnership gave back to the local economy and helped attendees build an authentic emotional connection to the culture. It also shed light on the decline of Asian elephants—a critical conservation issue.
DO: Seek Out Knowledgeable Experts
Photos don’t provide a complete picture of any place. A partner with on-the-ground experience can help navigate the selection process and take the stress out of long-distance planning. Trusted relationships with destination management companies and resort staff are essential for creating the extra-special moments that incentive travel guests crave.
“This trip attracted top management and owners, high-income guests who were blown away. I think everyone was very relaxed during the trip which made for a nice forum for building lasting relationships.”
—Vice President, Marketing, Leading Insurance Brand
Searching for the perfect destination to host your next incentive travel experience? Browse our incentive travel magazine to discover local options.