The new frontiers of incentive travel

With incentive travel on the rise, Matthew Sainsbury looks at what the dominant trends are, and what is behind a trip to remember.

According to the Inventive Travel Index in 2022, 91 per cent of decision makers agree that a dispersed workforce makes incentive travel even more important than ever before.

While more people are returning to the office post-COVID-19 pandemic, the trends that the past few years set off with incentive travel are going to continue.

What resonates now is travel with thought, purpose and sustainability in mind.

Making trips that count

In the past, incentive travel was often about ticking off destinations on a checklist.

“Organisers would build a list and eliminate by asking themselves, ‘Where have we been and where haven’t we been?’” says ES Concierge & Co director Mandi Ford.

“Now, there really needs to be a story. There’s got to be a reason why a destination is selected and how that resonates with the company’s values and the values of what they’re doing.”

This aligns with the Incentive Travel Index findings. Two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents said inventive travel will have an even more important role in building engagement and company culture. Furthermore, 67 per cent of respondents said the importance of incentive travel is increasing as the need to retain talent becomes more critical.

More than half (59 per cent) of Australians are planning on changing employers this year. With the right incentive travel, organisations can better connect employees to their work and make a stronger case for keeping the best of them.

“It is about really looking at and making sure that they get the best out of that trip,” says Ford.

“Success is in making sure they really connect with the destination, and they’re given an opportunity to experience as much of that destination as possible.”

The value of authenticity

For SITE ANZ secretary and 212F general manager Belinda Ramanauskas, the leading trend in delivering a standout incentive experience is authenticity. People are not necessarily after luxury – rather, they crave genuine connections and unique experiences.

“Incorporating CSR experiences and tailoring incentives to individual preferences are becoming common practices in this pursuit of authenticity,” she says, echoing the Incentive Index Report, which found that 44 per cent of respondents found CSR outcomes to be critical to a successful program.

Additionally, sustainability is now a crucial consideration. Companies are increasingly mindful of their environmental impact, striving for net-zero carbon emissions.

Ramanauskas points to 212F’s successful KoruGreen initiative as an example of this. This sustainability focus of that initiative aligns with the values of employees and consumers.

This, too, has a critical role in retention – in tying the incentive travel to CSR outcomes, employees are going to be more inclined to see their organisation as a responsible and preferred employer. Incentive programs are no longer just a perk – they are a strategic tool for attracting and retaining top talent.

The importance of personalisation

The more an incentive travel experience can be personalised to the individual, the better the response to it will be, says Ford.

“Empowering people and giving them that choice enhances the experience,” she says.

Personalisation ensures employees feel valued as individuals, not just as part of a group.

Ford highlights a contrasting experience for a group that took an incentives trip to Uluru twice. The first time, they weren’t given options and everyone on the trip was given the same activities to do. The second time around, with ES Concierge, they were given options, and the connection those on the trip felt to the experience was entirely different.

“Empowering people and giving them that choice really enhances the experience,” says Ford.

“With our trip, everyone left Uluru a different person. It was magical. And that was due to the camaraderie of people being able to communicate and connect with their peers in their own way.”

Furthermore, creating opportunities for personal connections is vital.

“It’s always about making people feel inclusive,” says Ford.

Inclusivity extends to partners, acknowledging their vital support in the success of their significant others.

Another side to that is to allow partners to also come on the trip. There’s an ongoing debate around this, but in Ford’s mind, recognition of the role of the partner in the success of the employee is an important part of the personalisation.

“Then you often hear the conversation during the trip that the partner will say, ‘You need to make sure you work really hard so you get to go again,’” she laughs.

Combining education, entertainment and experiences

A well-crafted incentive program can seamlessly integrate education, entertainment and unforgettable experiences, says Ramanauskas, pointing to a major trip that recently delivered particularly spectacular results.

“Our New Zealand team recently orchestrated an executive study tour incentive trip to New York that left an indelible mark,” she says.

“This program provided delegates with exclusive behind-the-scenes access to leading retail, tech, media and financial corporations, positioning them at the epicentre of global innovation in the Big Apple.

“Visits to giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft offered invaluable insight into multinational companies, enhancing applied learnings across the group.

“The program fostered collaboration and education across multiple industries, with a focus on identifying innovative customer experiences and pioneering business approaches.

“However, delegates also had the opportunity to visit iconic New York landmarks, including Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty, United Nations and Wall Street. They even experienced the excitement of the 4th of July celebrations and attended a Yankees baseball game.

“One truly exceptional aspect was the “BBQ in the Bronx” event. Collaborating with the New York Police Department, we created our own signature event of a Kiwi/Aussie-style barbecue where our delegates cooked up a storm for more than 150 locals in the heart of the Bronx. In addition to the experience, it resulted in $5000 donations to five different local charities, provided food for the underprivileged, and distributed 15 barbecues to community centres.”

While there are always economic concerns and budget constriants, incentive travel is one area where organisations are willing to increase spending. During a time when engaging and rewarding the workforce is more critical then ever, personalised incentive travel is the ideal vehicle to deliver that outcome.


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