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What is incentive travel program? A guide to incentive travel programs and experiences

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 recognize their top employees or to drive sales through non-direct employee channels such as insurance agents, car dealers, or direct sellers.

What are the benefits to employees? 

Travel delivers two major benefits to your achievers:

  1. Lasting memories and stronger relationships. Travel experiences build a lasting memory that directly correlates to the achievement. Group travel often provides achievers with quality interactions with the host organization’s leaders and other top achievers, building key relationships. Achievers are more likely to remember a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel, a trip to the Panama Canal, or a beach volleyball game with their CEO more than how they spent their last bonus or merit increase. Research studies show that these lasting memories encourage continued achievement.
  2. A better support network. When organizations allow spouses or families to attend the travel programs, it also helps the achiever build their support network at home. Families understand the achiever’s drive and encourage their hard work when they also experience the benefit.

What is an incentive travel program? 

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.

What are the benefits to organizations? 

  • Performance and productivity gains – particularly amongst mid-level performers. Mid-level performers have the potential to become high performers. According to the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), the potential performance gains from your “middle 80%” of employees are likely more significant than your top 10% of performers. When a corporation successfully shifts these mid-level performers towards higher rather than low performance, the incremental productivity delivers ROI.
  • The magic of gratitude and increased loyalty. Incentive travel is a reward and recognition program designed not only to motivate but also to show gratitude to performers that rise to the challenge set by the program. Appreciation often drives connection and engagement. Incentive programs can build loyalty with employees, customers, or any other target incentive audience.

How do organizations create and structure an incentive program?

Many organizations opt to have tiered incentive programs, which help to drive achievement at multiple levels. For example, perhaps only the top 1 – 3% earn a travel incentive. In comparison, the top 10% earn other types of incentives, including merchandise and gift cards.

In the past, it was also common for organizations to tier their travel incentive offering. Perhaps a top achiever would go on a long-haul, “once-in-a-lifetime” trip, whereas lower tiers would go on shorter trips closer to home. Another option is to tier a single trip where top earners fly first class, receive suite upgrades, or attend a completely exclusive corporate event during the trip, such as a private picnic on top of a mountain accessible only by helicopter.

More recently, we are seeing organizations opt for individual incentive travel options in which achievers can choose from either a pre-arranged trip or receive a travel voucher and create a customized trip.

How is an incentive program implemented?

Corporations often use incentive travel companies with expertise in this area who can assist with implementing some or all components of an incentive program, which includes the following steps:

  1. Set goals. Outline your goals for your program, including ROI. For example, a sales team incentive trip might be generating a set number of new leads, or increasing sales amongst a target market or vertical.
  2. Outline rewards and rules. The rewards should be compelling enough to be motivating and align with the objective. Clearly stated rules also help to avoid disappointment and surprises when a performer earns (or doesn’t earn) the reward.
  3. Launch. The best incentive travel programs include a launch strategy that clearly outlines objectives, rules, and rewards along with an ongoing communication campaign and tracking system so that performers know where they stand. Communications remind the audience pool about the incentive, and tracking systems allow your audience to know where they are in the running to receive the incentive, so they continue to perform to reach the goals you’ve outlined.
  4. Deliver rewards. Delivering the reward is the crux of the program and must be done professionally. Each earner has worked hard to achieve the reward, and they should receive it in a way that demonstrates the proper level of appreciation. Incentive professionals design the overall attendee experience starting before attendees even leave home all the way through the trip and return home. An incentive trip that is poorly executed produces a negative attendee experience and can be demotivating – the opposite effect of the trip’s goal.

The bottom line? Incentive travel programs are an investment that enhances performance, fosters loyalty, and inspires your achievers – a win/win scenario for corporations and their employees.

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