Four Ideas for Fixing Incentive Rewards

Mystery destinations, gift concierges and more can keep teams motivated and engaged in uncertain times.


We’ve been down this path before. Surges in COVID cases cause some people to be hesitant to travel now, or to even think of planning travel more than a few months out. Companies must decide when employees will be back in offices AND when people will be traveling again for business. Perhaps further down on the list is deciding when to revive your highly motivating group travel incentives. According to the Incentive Research Foundation, 80 percent of U.S. employees surveyed found group travel to be highly motivating, so don’t let your revival fall too far down that list! We have good news for business leaders out there wanting to get their reward and recognition programs back on track.

Following are four ideas for new and rewarding incentive experiences. As you begin to shore up budgets and plans for 2022, do not overlook these critical ways to increase productivity and improve company culture.

Mystery destinations

This is a tried-and-true concept we’ve used many times during the history of our company. The benefits to organizers greatly outweigh the risks, and during this particularly fluctuating period, it can be a great fit for safety-minded business leaders who still want to hold a group travel incentive.

Here's how it works: Instead of contractually committing to a property and destination more than a year out, a "mystery destination" solution allows you to book much closer to travel. This significantly lowers the risk of having to cancel.  After talking with you about budget, time of year and location preference, length of stay and probable number of travelers, we start monitoring several destinations that might be a good fit and watch for hotel room booking “holes.” Knowing you want good weather and outdoor activities in June, we could be watching Denver, Orlando, Austin, Texas and Cancun all at once.  In the meantime, we start a creative engagement campaign to get participants to start guessing “where in the world” they’ll end up if they win. Following are the key benefits of this option:

  • It lets you secure great purchase value by filling unused room blocks.
  • There's less worry about attrition and cancellation clauses.
  • No hotel/DMC deposits are needed until closer to the actual travel date.
  • Monitoring of destination “issues” allows you to book the safest choice 4-6 weeks before travel.
  • Engaging participants is very fun, clues are generic and the reveal can be very creative

Although you won't get first choice of a destination/property, and activities may be harder to book at a late date, overall, a mystery destination solution can save your hopes (and maybe even some cost) of a group travel program in 2022 and beyond, as long as you can be flexible.  

If you are not ready to host a group travel experience just yet, you still need to reward the people in your company that make a difference. There are nearly unlimited possibilities when it comes to providing alternative rewards to group travel.

Our biggest piece of advice on this is to make it personal. Giving your employees the ability to create a reward meant only for them is undeniably motivating and memorable. An emotional connection between the reward and the company that provided it is rekindled each time the employee sees it or remembers the experience. Following are several ways to achieve this type of connection.

Concierge service

Concierge shoppers help participants redeem rewards in a way most befitting their desires. It could be a down payment on a vacation home, or custom-made jewelry, or even home improvement projects. We literally helped purchase a cow at auction for a participant once!

Individual getaways

A reward such as our "your day, your way" is an option where earners can design a local getaway using their rewards and our personal shoppers. We’ve partnered with dozens of hotels across the U.S. and Canada to help craft unique packages that can include activities like a chef’s table, whiskey tasting or spa treatments. It’s perfect for the winner who wants to share their award with a small group of friends, creating lasting memories for years to come.

Personalized packages

Offer winners aspirational lifestyle upgrade packages, such as our MAXRewardsYourWay. We create a variety of packages to fit clients' budgets; because each is filled with name-brand items coveted by many, this option is highly promotable. Think kitchen appliances and gadgets, fitness room improvements, the latest trending entertainment devices, individual travel packages and more! Each package can also be customizable if the winner already has one or more of the items included.

In addition to merchandise, gift cards and travel, event tickets and experiential activities are also included in our online award offerings. 

One client, whose program had more than 120 winners, was so pleased with the alternative reward program we created in lieu of their 2020 Hawaii trip that they opted to do it again instead of traveling to Lisbon in the spring of 2021. The results were phenomenal. Every winner redeemed their allotted awards; 70 percent utilized our concierge shoppers to create totally unique reward experiences; 15 percent booked future travel using certificates or our online booking tool, and another 15 percent redeemed their points in our online offerings for merchandise, special events or experiences.

With all of our reward programs, engagement remains strong. There is an almost even split between redemptions for merchandise, individual travel and event tickets versus gift cards, with the former taking a slight edge. Throughout the pandemic, the most popular redemptions include new electronics and individual travel packages.

Sky Z. Capriolo is the strategic marketing manager at Motivation Excellence. She will be a featured speaker for Northstar Meetings Group's webinar, Rx for Incentive Travel Programs, on Sept. 22, at 2 p.m. EDT. Register here.