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Six Tips for Reimagining Incentive Programs

Ready to unleash pent-up demand and pent-up attendees?

Virtual employees have a pent-up demand to travel and experience the world in real life, while employers facing “The Great Resignation” are looking for ways to retain and motivate employees. Incentive travel programs are a proven tool to recruit, motivate, and recognize employees. Here are six tips for reimagining incentive travel programs for 2022 and beyond.

Go Big, with Destinations

Road warriors are seeking bucket list destinations and experiences they can’t curate on their own, so don’t be afraid to go big with destinations. According to The Incentive Research Foundation, participants want less crowding, more open spaces, and they’re open to remote areas.

Imagine an incentive trip to Iceland – participants swimming in the Blue Lagoon and then driving monster trucks over glaciers, ice climbing, or eating an Icelandic buffet on a glacier. Think the Sintra Mountains and Quinta de Regaleira in Portugal. Or explore the west of Ireland – home of the Galway, Connemara, Mayo, Clonmacnoise, and Clare – framed with rugged coastlines, peppered with peninsulas, ports, and pubs.

“The research is telling us that the pandemic has been a catalyst in employees’ increased desire to travel, and they’re willing to put in the time to reach non-traditional destinations,” said Tiffany Cohen, CTIP, Senior Director of Incentives Opus Agency.

The point is, don’t sacrifice bucket list destinations in exchange for shorter travel time – participants put in the work to get here and they’re willing to put in the hours to get there.

Build the Hype

Start by announcing the incentive program at your annual sales kickoff meeting. Now’s the time to be over the top — get loud and really sell it! Rave about the destination, the activities, adventures, and unique places they’ll experience alongside their plus-one. Make it clear that this is a trip of a lifetime. One they can’t curate on their own. Emphasize that their entire experience will be handled with white-glove service, with plenty of time for rest, relaxation, and recharging.

Outline exactly what they need to do in order to qualify for the program and set realistic deadlines. Sell it as a badge of honor, an elite experience curated for top performers, and let them visualize themselves on the trip.

Engagement is everything. This is a year-long marketing campaign. Market the incentive program through multiple channels during the qualification process. It’s not enough to introduce the incentive program at a meeting once. Get in their face (in a good way) and be excited about it! Send physical mail to employee homes, tease the experience to come, and give visibility to their potential plus-one, who can contribute to motivating them to want to qualify. Keep collateral and signage in communal spaces and encourage competition. Friendly banter keeps everyone on their toes. And, unlike cash commissions, it’s not taboo to talk “all-things” incentive programs throughout the year.

Follow the Leader

Leaderboards are a great tool to harness sales reps’ inner tiger. They show participants their scores or rankings relative to others. In short, they’re the scorekeeper. Think applications as simple as Donkey Kong or as sophisticated as The Masters.

Make sure you create ways to share the leaderboard with sales reps in the office as well as those working remotely. Leverage your communication plan and send out monthly leaderboard updates. They’ll create excitement, competition, and motivation. Everyone wants to see their name on top.

They keep people continuously following the leader with the ultimate goal of becoming the leader.

Turn Transitions into Memorable Moments

The destination is set, experiences planned, and everyone is properly hyped. It’s time to plan transitions. Transitions from place to place or experience to experience are opportunities for creating memorable moments.

Start at the beginning of the attendee journey. Make the transition special by distributing travel packages as they board the airplane. Include items to make them comfortable on the flight, customized travel itineraries, and snacks and gifts locally sourced from their travel destination. These small moments are opportunities to make the group feel special and connected to the culture they’re embarking upon.

Revisit traditional transportation tactics and turn them into networking opportunities. Given the right venue and terrain, forgo a traditional bus ride and replace it with a cocktail cruise. Instead of attendees sitting in rows, they’ll be mingling and engaging in the culture while on their journey from Point A to Point B. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-planned transition.

Sustainability Matters

While curating experiences for an incentive trip, keep sustainability in focus. A great place to start — food. Eat at restaurants that source their food locally, lowering the impact on the environment through reduced reliance on shipping and industrial activity for food supplies. The food will taste better and provide an enhanced cultural experience for participants.

Next, seek excursions that are human-powered experiences. Focus on walking tours, guided hikes, cycling, or sailing. If you hear a street musician that is unique while on your site inspection, book them for entertainment! See a local artist on the street painting something spectacular? Ask them to craft up a custom piece of art for your group. Swag, entertainment, and staffing should all be sourced locally. Not only will you provide attendees with cultural-specific mementos, but you’ll have played a role in supporting the local culture and the economy.

Memorialize the Memories

Tailor the experience and message to each person. A survey is a good tool to learn your audience and their preferences before the journey begins. After all, it’s all about how attendees feel and they should feel special and recognized.

Personalized moments don’t need to be huge, but should pique the senses. Have their preferred beverage of choice waiting in their room upon arrival, build a customized playlist that plays during activities. Remember, it’s in the details, and the details matter.

Infuse moments with technology in personal ways. Photographers working with facial recognition technology can create custom-made digital albums that provide curated photo albums personalized to the individual and showcase where they engaged throughout the trip.

Ready for Take-Off

Incorporating these six tips into your travel incentive program will ensure employees feel recognized, energized, and connected to your organization. Employees will return recharged and ready to compete for the next incentive trip!

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