Planning Tips for Incentive Trips
Foolproof Formula for Can’t-Miss Incentive Trips
By Amy McCollum, Senior Program Manager, Conferences & Meetings
Though they’re often lumped in with destination meetings and conferences, incentive trips are a special class of event. It’s true that many of the “basics” are the same—food and beverage, flights, hotel accommodations—but the priorities are completely different. As a planner, it’s critical to adjust your approach to this unique style of event, to keep up on the latest on travel news and trends, and to ensure your attendees enjoy their once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A Step Above the Rest
A typical meeting or conference will generally have a professional goal in mind, such as networking or education. On the opposite side of the spectrum, an incentive trip’s main focus is entirely on the attendee experience. Luxury, relaxation and entertainment are the driving factors in the planning process. Usually, a conference, meeting or event will offer food and beverage, transportation and accommodations. However, incentive travel groups primarily look for high-end solutions. They tend to have a larger budget for a single event than an “average” program. It’s the perfect opportunity to heighten the experience with enhanced food and beverage selections and outstanding décor elements. Since the location of the incentive trip is another major focal point, it can often lend itself to influencing the theme of the event.
The purpose of an incentive trip differs from other types of business travel. Provide different activities and entertainment options rather than the standard meet-and-greet cocktail hour or speaker. Incentive trips tend to be smaller, more intimate and more relaxed. Adjust your schedule accordingly and plan for hands-on activities, give-back and volunteer options, longer, more interactive networking events or even built-in free time. All are ideal choices for a laid-back type of gathering.
As with anything in the meetings and events planning industry, it’s important to keep up with the latest trends. However, you also want to cater to the group’s individual taste. The hottest new craze in travel may be the exact opposite of what your client is looking for. Take the time to find out what is most important to attendees. What do they want to do with their time? What are they most looking forward to? A great way to do this is with snail mail. It may seem old-fashioned, but it’s back in style, especially because people receive hundreds of emails each day. Sending a package in the mail with an invitation, a feedback form and teaser gifts, such as luggage tags or an item from the destination, will set your trip apart.
Lately, clients want to spend their money domestically, and more so at luxury resorts and exclusive destinations. Cruises are a popular option as well. They are essentially a one-stop shop for incentive trips, offering all the things attendees need: food and beverage, lodging, entertainment and an element of luxury. Especially appealing to planners, selecting a cruise means dealing with just one vendor who handles all elements of the trip.
Off the Beaten Path
Planners and clients want their trips to be memorable and a step above the rest. Thus, several alternatives to the typical resorts and cruises are starting to trend. Low-impact or green programs, “off the beaten path” locations and exotic destinations—think Azerbaijan, Croatia and Lithuania—are picking up steam. Be sure to keep travel time in mind. People are so busy these days that it’s important to consider time being spent in the air and travelling on the ground.
Knowing your client and attendees will go a long way in helping you select the very best destination for their purposes. One location might be great for one group but disastrous for another. A slow-paced boating trip down European rivers might be boring for high-energy attendees, while a mountain resort with hiking and zip-lines might be unappealing for a more low-key audience.
One for the Road
Some events and conferences offer swag, but incentive trips take things to the next level. Since these events are usually a reward for top-performing employees or loyal customers, clients tend to want to go all out with gifts. Some of them carry on a tradition of milestone rewards, such as watches or engraved items commemorating someone’s achievement.
When it comes to popular items, destination-themed rewards are usually a safe choice. Some ideas include a sleeve of branded golf balls and a golf towel for those on a golf outing, Bluetooth speakers for pool or beach destinations, and food or beverages from a specific location.
Electronics are another popular choice, but they can become outdated relatively quickly. If you have a group that is open to other items or is fortunate enough to provide multiple gifts, consider green products or something that is meaningful to the trip.
As with any travel, especially international, keep tabs on the latest in current world events and health concerns. The U.S. Department of State provides a list of travel warnings and alerts that you should monitor closely when deciding on a destination. Don’t forget to do research on your destination, U.S. customs, and airline policies. You don’t want your attendees to have to leave their gifts behind!
The thought of planning an incentive trip may be overwhelming when looking at the big picture and moving parts. This is why professionals are sought after, not only as seasoned experts in planning a program of this caliber, but also to include touches that make it a trip guests won’t soon forget. Once you become well researched, gain experience and remember the advice above, you’ll be saying “bon voyage” to any worries you may have once had. Best of all, your client and attendees will enjoy the trip of a lifetime!
Amy McCollum has been a metroConnections employee since 2008. McCollum first began on the Registration Team and Conference & Meetings team as a program coordinator. She quickly moved into the roles of senior program coordinator, program manager, and is now a senior program manager in the Conference & Meetings division. She has a B.A. in Travel and Tourism from St. Cloud State University and is heavily involved in our large scale programs and strengthening client relationships.