Choosing the right incentive travel destinations involves much more thought and design than booking the latest hot spot. Today's travel trends point to a variety of considerations event designers must weigh before making a decision.
Following are ITA Group's top tips for creating incredible trip itineraries that match your budgets and delight winners.
Don't Fixate on Bucket-List Destinations
Everyone's dream destination is different, based on what activities they enjoy and what they've already seen. For example, luxury resorts quickly become "been there, done that, for repeat winners. This doesn't mean you have to scour the globe for hidden gems. Instead of focusing on finding a destination that is truly unexplored, there are other ways to add novelty to create memorable events.
We believe any destination can shine by incorporating immersive experience strategies. Even popular places like Italy and Mexico can be reimagined with meaningful surprises such as opportunities that winners can't recreate on their own, which are tailored to their passions. For example:
- During a trip for car enthusiasts, a custom vintage Fiat driving tour included lunch at Castello di Monsanto.
- London is a popular destination, but an exclusive dinner on the London Tower Bridge Walkway gave attendees the best views overlooking the city that they wouldn't have experienced otherwise.
- It doesn't matter if guests on an incentive trip to Italy had already seen Vatican City; we arranged an elevated experience by hosting a private dinner in the Sistine Chapel.
Understand the Incentive Travel Audience
Incentive travel is about creating an unforgettable experience for the people who have earned the trip. Make travel design fun by framing your research as a travel personalization quiz. You can use the data to build out personalized attendee journeys. When trips are designed around attendee needs and expectations, the program becomes more meaningful.
Start your destination selection process by considering what you already know about your audience and their connection to your brand. Are they repeat earners? Channel partners who compete for trips from other brands in addition to yours? Regionally or internationally dispersed teams?
It can be tempting to infer what locations will excite attendees based on role-related information. But digging deeper into audience preferences will help you create a stronger connection. Consider sending a simple survey that asks:
- How they want to spend their free time
- How far they're willing to fly
- Whether they want to be immersed in a single place or explore a region
- Who they will be traveling with
As an event designer, it's up to you to set up a storyline that excites participants and engages them from arrival to departure. Frame a return trip around traditions to build anticipation and foster a sense of belonging. Connect the experiences so they build off each other, peaking in a culminating event. And remember to book space early so you have more options during your desired dates. It's no fun to find out your first choice is already booked.
Flex Your Budget Where It Counts
Be smart about how you allocate your incentive travel budget. Global markets are dramatically affecting availability and rates. Factor in local costs for food and beverage spends, too. Based on what matters most to attendees, invest in areas that will make an impact. This might mean opting for a more affordable destination so that a bigger allowance goes toward enhancing the experience, like securing luxury cars to greet attendees at the airport instead of a charter bus.
Adjusting accommodations can also bring costs down and better serve attendees. A four-star hotel in the city center is more suitable than a remote five-star resort where it would be difficult for attendees to explore the destination during their free time. Or opt for a boutique property with fewer amenities, but breathtaking views from the rooms and connections to a renowned local chef.
Don't Ignore Social Impact Considerations
More and more, companies are aligning their brand values their event or incentive travel destination choices. This could mean skipping spots with active anti-LGBTQ legislation or tying trips to corporate social responsibility programs through volunteerism or other environmental, social and governance-related elements.
During the destination selection process for an award-winning incentive trip hosted by a large technology brand, our clients prioritized making a positive impact. They wanted to benefit a tourism-reliant location that was hard hit by the pandemic. We discovered that in Koh Samui, Thailand, the Samui Elephant Sanctuary depends solely on tourism donations. There hadn't been any for two years, jeopardizing the venue's charitable work.
To fully connect the attendee experience with the destination and CSR goals, we incorporated Asian elephant imagery into every detail of the trip, from the custom premailer, tied with a ribbon and elephant charm, to onsite branding on embroidered pillows, miniature elephant figurines, wooden drink tokens and more. An exclusive two-day buyout of the sanctuary was a highlight for participants, who visited the elephants in small groups and helped make food that met the elephants' special dietary requirements.
This partnership gave back to the local economy and helped attendees build an authentic emotional connection to the culture. It also shed light on the decline of Asian elephants, a critical conservation issue.
Seek Out Knowledgeable Experts
Photos don't provide a complete picture of any place. A partner with on-the-ground experience can help navigate the selection process and take the stress out of long-distance planning. Trusted relationships with destination management companies and resort staff are essential for creating the extra-special moments that incentive travel guests crave.
Jodi Swailes is lead buyer at ITA Group.