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The rise of incentive travel

The rise of incentive travel is set to continue after a two-year pause, with organisations seeking to drive employee performance, increase loyalty, and attract and retain talent. Travel arrangers are tabling incentive award programs for 2022 and 2023, with the world more open for travel experiences.

What is incentive travel?

Incentive travel programs allow businesses to celebrate sales success and reward top performers, employees, channel partners or loyal customers. While there are many viable options to reward winners (such as white house goods, gift cards, etc.), an inspirational and ‘money can’t buy’ experience tops the list every time to create memorable and emotional moments.

Tracey Edwards, Global Strategic Lead and General Manager, ETM explains “We’re finding all regions are engaged and travelling. North America is ready and seeking long haul destinations and also travelling within the United States, Mexico, or South America. Within the Australia and New Zealand market, we’re finding travel to be heavily domestic, however with plans for 2023 to go further afield. Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) are travelling to various locations with Malta, Portugal and Italy proving popular, whereas Asia has Australia marked as a top choice for travel incentive programs.”

According to a recent IRF industry outlook, overall incentive budgets are expected to increase by 34% in 2022, from the prior year. The key driver for incentive travel according to Edwards is “bringing employees together to reconnect and celebrate.”

A work from home culture has highlighted the change in people’s needs, the importance of employee retention, engagement, and recruitment. As such, organisations are now examining how to be even more competitive in the job market therefore incentive programs will be more important than ever.

The purpose of incentive programs is to connect people to organisations and their initiatives. Incentive travel is a way for companies to reward their top-performing employees with a vacation or trip, paid for by the company. Many corporations use incentives to recognise their top employees or to drive sales through non-direct employee channels such as insurance agents, car dealers, or direct sellers.

At the most basic level, incentive travel aims to boost employee performance and engagement, while driving business goals. Incentive travel can be a group trip or an individual vacation for your top employees and their spouses or family. Trips can be a blend of leisure and professional development time.

How it supports organisational growth

Edwards says “Employee engagement is key to all organisations along with reward and recognition. Being able to celebrate achievements, set goals, collaborate, and achieve targets is inherent in all those who want to exceed. The benefit for businesses in celebrating employees is continued growth.”

Organisations that invest in their workforce through incentive programs will benefit long-term. Incentive travel programs help organisations prosper in many ways including:

  • Employees feel valued
  • Corporate team building – increased sales productivity and creativity
  • Boosts well-being
  • Fosters employee engagement
  • Promotes teamwork
  • Reinforces and boosts company culture
  • Improves employee retention through appreciation

These positive outcomes are what drives increased output, motivation, loyalty, collaboration and the drive to work hard which in the long-term translates into increased revenue and organisational growth.

Incentive travel as a motivator

Incentive travel has been used as a motivational tool for organisations around the globe for years. In addition to organisational benefits, incentive travel creates excitement, an environment for business relationships to flourish and creates a positive business culture that drives motivation and employee performance. As companies strive to retain and hire staff during a period where skilled talent is hard to come by, incentive programs are expanding their reach to motivate the maximum number of employees.

According to a recent IRF report, group incentive travel awards are considered ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ motivating by 80% of the respondents in the study. Individual incentive travel awards also received high ratings for motivational appeal, with 84% saying individual travel awards are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ motivating.

A well-crafted incentive program will be customised to make employees feel connected to their colleagues and the company, with the focus on post-pandemic, culture-building company goals. Ensuring it is customised also demonstrates to employees that the business has taken the time to understand them and there is genuine care and interest.

Post pandemic considerations

The pandemic has changed the way people travel. There is now an increased interest in less crowding, open spaces or remote locations. ‘The Impact of Destination Choice and Motivation’ report states nearly two-thirds of the respondents had increased interest in an incentive travel program that included a trip to the mountains or other remote areas or included a stay in a luxury hotel. Centralised locations that require a shorter flight and travel times are also preferred by many.

Edwards explains “At ETM we’re finding that all customers are eager to plan incentive travel programs to reconnect their employees. They have the budgets and their staff are excited at the opportunity to reunite with their colleagues in person. Whilst destinations may change based on the availability of accommodation, venue and flights in a post-pandemic events boom, we’re able to work with our customers to provide alternative recommendations that will suit their needs.”

An article published by SITE Global has a view that “The need to connect personally, to spend quality time with colleagues and clients, will be stronger and more critical than ever. The value of incentive travel has just multiplied exponentially and, if used correctly, could be a formidable tool in reinvigorating the world economy.”


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