Q&A: How to design multi-generational incentive travel experiences

By: Erica Lalk

What you need to know 

  • Shifting workforce demographics are changing incentive travel expectations. 
  • Event marketers must understand what motivates and excites each generation. 
  • Globally conscious attendees expect experiences that help them “do good.”

group of incentive travel attendees from multiple generations on European trip

From satisfying Boomers to exciting Gen Z, connecting across attendee demographics is a challenge. I’m often part of conversations with industry leaders about incentive travel trends, including how to keep the attendee experience relevant. Our team put together this Q&A based on what we shared and heard at the recent SITE Global Conference. But first, let’s cover some facts on today’s multi-generational workforce that event marketers can’t ignore. 

This influx of new workers will require hospitality companies to engage in training, succession planning and future-proofing as part of their post-pandemic recovery. 

The rise would make Gen Z account for 30% of the total workforce in 2030.

This also applies to the experiences they seek. Doing good makes them feel fulfilled and more emotionally connected to the organization.

This generational shift means there are four (sometimes five) active generations in the workplace and at our incentive travel programs. We must design programs, activities and experiences that resonate for all.

Q: What are some common generational motivators?   

Let me first preface this response with a word of caution against making generalizations and stereotyping attendees. There’s so much diversity within each generation, and every industry attracts different “types” to their workforce. A few common characteristics are: 

  • Baby Boomers: Teamwork, traditional work styles, job security
  • Gen X: Independent, adaptability, sensible solutions 
  • Millennials: Boundaries around work, tech-savvy, career development 
  • Gen Z: Digital natives, entrepreneurial and purposeful work 

It’s important to do a deeper attendee analysis before getting too far into event design. 

Related: Event professionals should consider how a person’s identities and abilities may impact their travel experience.

Q: How do Millennials impact incentive travel destination selection?  

It’s all about redefining bucket-list destinations. Millennials travel quite a bit, and many have hit the most common locations, even internationally. Event marketers must go beyond simply selling a destination or hotel. Inspiring this generation is about selling an experience. Incentive travel has to offer opportunities they couldn’t do on their own. Because of this, luxury hotel chains shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all. What are the wraparound excursions and over-the-top events within the trip that surprise and delight? 

Then, when you create these experiences, think about creating options that tie to the needs and expectations of the range of generations and personalities you’ll be hosting.

Related: How to thoughtfully select incentive travel destinations

Q: Why should event marketers connect incentive trips to younger workers’ interest in purpose?   

Globally conscious attendees think about the environmental and social impacts of their travel. They want to leave a destination better than they found it. Communicating the event’s sustainability initiatives and designing socially responsible opportunities can build a deeper sense of connection to both the place and your brand. We’ve seen companies announce charitable contributions as part of closing ceremonies. Others go all-in by hosting give-back experiences. These can be fun, too.

Here's a great example: Our client, Conga, hosted a service day at Atlas Kinder Village as part of an incentive trip to Morocco. They engaged employees in building playground equipment and a climbing wall at the orphanage during the action-packed trip. Other attendees also delivered school supplies and made crafts with the kids, who were part of a lunchtime cooking class, too. 

Delivering that level of impactful immersion certainly takes planning and partnerships, but because the give-back included options, it was a top-rated experience across generational divides. Many will look back to their time in Morocco as a life highlight. 

Related: See more photos and get the big-picture from our Conga trip recap.

Q: What has surprised you about Millennial and Gen Z incentive travel expectations?   

Just the other day, someone brought up rising rates of anxiety as a concern. Although we work our hardest to take care of all the logistics and create a seamless experience, travel to an unknown destination can be stressful. Especially with so many working from home and not having direct connections with others on the trip.

Clear communication is a way to care for attendees of any age who might be struggling with pre-trip anxiety. Not everyone loves surprises. Think about how you can identify and support those who don’t. What pre-trip mobile app interactions and thorough information will help them feel more comfortable even before they get on-site?

Related: Event traditions are one way to bring comfort and build a sense of belonging.

Q: How do you adapt to change as an event marketer?   

I’m one of those people who thinks change is fun. Yes, it creates challenges. But it also presents opportunities to evolve our programs. That keeps my career interesting. The key is to collaborate and work to make others comfortable with change. Back when I started out in events—this was 2006, not the Ice Age—digital registration was just becoming the norm. The investment was significant then, and we had to talk clients into the value of time savings by forgoing paper registration. Quite a few traditionalists in leadership at that time didn’t trust the technology, so we had to offer a hybrid approach. Can you imagine someone today refusing to register online? We've come a long way! 

That’s just one example of how our industry has navigated change as new generations and innovations entered the scene. Today’s pace of change prompts us to review plans annually, vs. every 3-5 years back in the day. That’s where the power of partnership is truly essential. Share and build off ideas and experiences. If you ignore change, your incentive travel program will lose its luster. The key is to pay attention to what’s on the horizon and run toward change. Early adopters can offer a fresh perspective. 

This post was based on a SITE Global Conference session on designing events for changing attendee values. Read other Insights inspired by our presentations: 

Need inspiration for designing can’t-do-it-alone immersive experiences that appeal across generations? Download our ebook.

Harnessing the Emotional Connection of Immersive Event 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.