How to Design Incentive Travel Programs with the Future in Mind

Feb 23, 2021 | Incentive Travel

Designing programs with the future

The year 2020 took us all by surprise. Suddenly, everything we knew and loved about work (and a few things we didn’t love) changed due to COVID-19. We adjusted our workspaces (Hello webcam!), adapted our homes (Hello school kids!), and reprioritized our days (Hello zoom shirt!). As a result, our motivations changed as we adapted to the changing environment. Because of this, your incentive and recognition strategy must change, too.

Before 2020, the incentive travel industry was growing, which was music to our ears. It was growing to the tune of $78 billion dollars, which is how much the incentive travel industry has contributed to the economy. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt in our minds that the incentive travel industry will rebound in a big way.

We spend more and do more for incentive travel guests. This is due to a variety of reasons. First, there are more people in the workplace than ever before, and they aren’t afraid to switch jobs to find a highly desirable situation. This is especially true as employees desire more work/life harmony due to their working from home experiences during the pandemic. Because of this, employers recognize more and more that they need to motivate their teams to retain their high performers. This is where incentive design comes in. Incentive travel is one of these tools, and its high ROI proves its success. As a result, employers are spending more money, and some respondents report spending up to $50,000 per person on incentive travel.

There’s no doubt incentive travel is lucrative for your organization. It’s a powerful tool that can be used as employee recognition and as a way to motivate your teams to rally around reaching organizational goals which positively impact your bottom line. But, your incentive design must effectively show a positive ROI and keep your customers (and their top performers) happy. Forward-thinking is a must to future-proof your incentive travel programs and keep them desirable, especially in light of what we’ve learned during the pandemic.

How do you design an incentive travel program? Here are a few tips to ensure your incentive travel program continues to evolve and succeed:

Safety, safety, safety

Your employees need to know just how safe incentive travel can be, especially in light of the pandemic. Our hotel and airline partners around the world have been focused on ensuring a safe return to travel. Additionally, we promise to provide the necessary tools and communication about protocols to your attendees. You can find additional cleaning and safety procedures we will be taking in our post on The future of face-to-face Meetings and Events…according to One10.

People are motivated differently

Travel is a universal motivator that breaks all barriers, and we’re all ready for a little travel after being locked down during the pandemic. But remember, people are motivated by different incentives. This has been amplified due to COVID-19. As a result, your employees’ motivations may have changed and they may desire travel that keeps them closer to home.

We work with many Fortune 100 companies that have a robust, multigenerational workforce. We are frequently tasked with creating incentive programs that motivate and reward all employees, regardless of whether they just started their careers or are nearing retirement.

It can be challenging to find the right mix of incentives to resonate with all generations, which is why working with a professional is critical. For example, we take a close look at the participant demographics before planning an incentive trip. If there are guests who haven’t traveled much in the past, then taking them to a far-away, exotic location might be more stressful than motivating.

The new definition of luxury

We see a change in incentive travel. People want real experiences that they can’t curate on their own. When they travel, they are especially interested in immersing themselves in the destination’s sights, sounds, and culture. We’re finding cultural experiences have a more significant impact on employees and the company as a whole.

People are naturally empowered to help the culture around you as you travel, which is why CSR initiatives are also powerful. Attendees want a sense of place. They want to know they are contributing to something bigger while participating in the incentive travel program. Plus, it’s an excellent way for companies to tie the CSR initiative back to their vision, mission, and values.

We predict these CSR initiatives will be even more valued as we collectively help communities across the globe emerge from the pandemic. Socially-distanced CSR opportunities are possible to help your incentive travel participants contribute to the greater good.

Don’t forget the mid-level performers

Often, companies want to recognize the top 3% of their workforce, and incentive travel programs are built around this key demographic. But what about the others? Ensure loyalty within your team by including mid-level performers. We want to see more employees enjoying the travel experience, which is why we work with companies to create a secondary program to recognize the top 5-7% of performers. This allows more employees to access these experiences and serves as a more compelling motivation tool for next year’s incentive program.

Seek up-and-coming locations

The location is the base of your activities and excursions, so choose wisely! Finding the right mix of locations to meet the needs of attendees is important. But, you must continue to curate new experiences to keep attendees motivated year after year. That’s why we keep a keen eye on emerging destinations. We watch how the destination evolves and the infrastructure grows to determine if it’s a fit for future incentive trips.

SITE plays a key role in helping identify these up-and-coming destinations. Each year, SITE picks an emerging destination for its Executive Summit, intending to break down the perceptions of these relatively unknown destinations to promote the location as a great place to bring your incentive travel business.

Technology is key

Embracing new technology is important to communicate with your incentive travel program participants effectively. Mobile apps are a mainstay for any quality incentive program. First, they eliminate the use of paper, helping you create a sustainable incentive travel program. In the past, they were useful tools to create fun digital experiences that would excite your attendees. For example, you could use mobile apps to help attendees familiarize themselves with the destination and send push notifications to update attendees on their upcoming spa treatment. Now, mobile apps are a crucial tool in communicating health and safety information to keep important details in the palm of your incentive travel participants’ hands.

But, we often forget that there’s a period of time before you are actually traveling on the trip where you have to motivate employees to work hard to earn the trip. During that time, various communication tools can help, and technology makes this easier. We work with our teams to make sure we are hitting the right audiences at the right time to keep them engaged. From email campaigns to digital postcards with images of their award destination to reminders/teasers about their progress, using technology throughout the incentive program is essential to maintaining incentive program participation and continuously motivating employees. The companies that experience the most engagement are those that offer this communication all year long.

Our product, PerformX®, is a great way to leverage technology, engage your employees, and keep the incentive experience top-of-mind year-round. The more you can impact the entire eligible base of participants, the more meaningful the incentive program will be. Plus, you’ll be able to show the results and make a case for an increased budget for incentive programs. Technology, like PerformX, helps show that you are driving business results.

More companies are turning to incentive travel as a tool for employee motivation and retention. But, not all incentive travel programs are equal. To create an exceptional experience that is future-proof, you must be forward-thinking and evolutionary. The best incentive travel programs use technology to keep employees engaged throughout the program, include destinations that are exciting and an excellent fit for attendees, and offer curated experiences that attendees can’t recreate on their own.

Are you ready to future-proof your incentive travel programs? Let’s chat. 

Samantha Decker

Samantha Decker

Samantha Decker is the Marketing Director at One10. Decker oversees marketing initiatives for all three of One10’s business segments – travel and events, incentives and recognition and marketing services. Bringing unique marketing experience to One10, Decker has led rebranding and growth efforts for every organization she has been a part of and is a strong advocate that purpose and profits can coexist in business. Decker was named a Corporate Connect 40 Under 40, has been published in industry articles, and is currently a member of Team Women in Minneapolis.