"Great journeys are never about the destination", Benjamin Myers in 'The Offing'.
SITE defines incentive travel as a global management tool that uses an exceptional travel experience to motivate and / or recognize participants for increased levels of performance in support of organisational goals. Its tagline being: Incentive Travel. Business Results.
While this may serve as best-practice in ideal circumstances, incentive travel has often been transformed into a rather expensive fast-track group travel product with catalogued prices and pre-set building-blocks marketed at major international trade conferences and exhibitions - irrespective of specific organisational goals and / or individual participant profiles. A similar approach, indeed, to that taken by, for example, UK and German coach and group travel package wholesalers (Pakerreiseveranstalter). Incentives from the clothes rack instead of incentives from the heart, so to say . . .
Added to the above are not only economic challenges and digital innovations on a global scale but also a sometimes tarnished image of incentive travel that came about almost a decade ago as a result of highly-publicised scandals in Europe and in the USA. These are resonating to this very day and have resulted in many corporate clients re-assessing the ethics, organisation, value and benefits of traditional "recognize & reward" incentives vis-à-vis corporate behaviour codexes and changing company cultures.
In traditional reseller sectors such as financial services, insurance, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and healthcare - sectors where incentive travel is still very much a significant marketing option and relationship enhancer - stricter compliance and procurement guidelines have been instituted and are now firmly in place. Awareness of and consideration of these is a sine qua non of successful bidding by incentive agencies, DMCs, CVBs, DMOs and all of their local suppliers.
Concrete business results instead of memorable experiences are now the currency of the day - whether in the USA, China, Europe or further afield.
This means that all involved in the incentive travel value and supply chains have to take a step back, reconsider their positioning and examine where potential for incentive and motivational travel exists and where it may exist tomorrow. In other words, it is time to get back to the roots of our business.
So what could be the corporate and organisational goals of future incentive travel?
- Attracting new employees or retaining key staff?
- Familiarizing participants with new production plants, research facilities, processes and markets?
- Identifying relevant fashions and trends?
- Getting to know colleagues, customers and business partners better?
- Strengthening brand identities?
- Sourcing new business opportunities?
- Bonding after layoffs, takeovers and / or fusions?
- Working with scarcer financial / personnel resources?
Reward and recognition for past performance alone will no longer be so important for an ever-increasing number of end-users. German decision-makers, for example, are currently looking for sustainable events, healthy diets, factory visits, tailored experiences and further-training possibilities as opposed to classic "team-building" and "leisuretime" activities.
German incentive travel agencies are, for example, currently suggesting programmes in destinations with a "quirky" design ambience and an "idiosyncratic" atmosphere. This is partly due to increasing participant sophistication and to more affordable / accessible private travel experiences. Reliable and speedy air / rail access with special MICE contract terms & conditions (e.g. Deutsche Lufthansa AG) are also essential due to increasing time and budget constraints.
Incentive travel will, therefore, only remain relevant to the achievement of corporate and organisational goals when the travel component itself is tightly fashioned and clearly-defined. Programmes will have to be carefully conceived and expertly organised at all stages: from their initiation, theming, presentation, contracting, logistics, planning, delivery and follow-up.
Criteria for their achievement should be clearly established in advance and communicated to all potential stakeholders. Performance and delivery should be controlled and assessed both prior to, during and well after the incentive travel campaigns and programmes have run their course.
More work for some, though, also means less family or private time for others. The inclusion of family members and partners is also an ever-recurring option for travel programmes. Granting additional personal time for participants to catch-up, relax and recuperate with their loved ones is increasingly popular and always worthy of consideration.
Future beneficiaries of incentive travel should also include persons whose input and individual contributions are intrinsically important to the achievement of overall corporate, organisational, economic and societal success. And not just participants who often tend to come out on top, exuding a "sense of entitlement" for having done so. The latter could be harmful for overall organisational health in the long run. Think, instead, of a "sense of achievement".
Future participants could include not only management, sales and distribution personnel but also back-office, administration, maintenance, security, health, IT, research and development staff. This is where untapped bedrock potential and dormant personal motivation may actually lie.
Future incentive travel programmes could indeed create time and space for beneficiaries to:
- release themselves from the increasing stress of their daily operations
- discover tranquillity and creativity
- find solutions and answers to corporate strategic concerns
- be involved from the outset in management decision-making processes
- resolve conflicts and solve problems
- share and allocate scarce work or manage ever-increasing workloads
- achieve further-training, educational benefits, life-learning, health and / or family goals
- help the best and brightest become even more so by providing opportunities to refresh, reflect and brainstorm with other high achievers
- to enjoy being appreciated for the jobs they do
and sow the seeds for creativity, innovation, enterprise, loyalty, empowerment, peace-of-mind, work-life balance and ultimate success.
As incentive travel and SITE enter a sixth decade, our industry will hopefully witness a profession pro-actively engaging in new and dynamic fields of corporate, organisational, social, ecological, ethical and individual service. Solutions to tasks at hand may be found in a whole variety of topical group interaction processes and immersive educational experiences in relevant destinations and attractive venues with well-prepared individuals and highly-motivated teams.