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April 2019

Let me show you the Gym

Has anyone ever realised how dull property inspections are in Indian hotels? Where has the passion gone?

Rajeev Kohli, Joint Managing Director of Creative Travel.

Something happened a few weeks ago which prompted the idea for this article. It’s a personal opinion, but relevant I feel. I am addressing this to my friends and colleagues in the Indian hospitality industry. One thing that has always bothered me is the manner in which hotels handle property visits. I have travelled the world and have experienced some of the finest hotels. India is fortunate to have an amazing hospitality culture, no matter what level of hotel you experience. The philosophy of ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ does indeed run deep in our blood.

Yet, when it comes to doing a hotel show around to a visiting client or even us, we surely put people to sleep. Hotel inspections here tend to be lacklustre, bland and emotionless. Hotels may have a plan on what to show on a site visit, but no plan to train their sales teams with a story or with a narrative on how to pitch their hotel. It seems hotel inspections in India are just a process that has to be done and whoever in sales is available, let’s throw them at it. Granted, the inspections I do these days are for incentives or luxury clients, but that is even more of a reason for a hotel’s sales person to turn on the charm and impress us. Doesn’t happen!

Sales is about spinning a story, about capturing the dream. It is about sharing moments of inspiration and connecting with the client at a deeper level.
I was doing a site visit of a luxury hotel in Ireland two years ago (was not staying at this property). I walked into a suite and on the table was a photo frame with a picture of me and my family that they had made an effort to research. Chocolates with ‘Welcome
Mr Kohli’ written on the plate (they heard I had a sweet tooth) and Champagne was on a tray. Bang! Impression made.

I remember visiting a hotel in Europe where as they showed us the various rooms, each one had something going on. One had an elegantly dressed couple talking about their plans for the evening, one had a violinist, one had a beautiful model soaking in the tub. Each room was made to feel alive, giving us a sense of what we could expect. All of a sudden, the room had a story to narrate.

What do we do in India? Meet in the lobby, exchange cards, fumble to get the keys, show rooms, show restaurants and so very often insist on showing the gym. Then invite for an obligatory coffee. The whole process is so plastic and canned (An insight for my hotel friends, I always tell my clients to refuse the coffee unless they really want one. Wastes time on a very busy day).

I find that 9 out of 10 times the hotels sales team made no effort to know who is coming, what they are coming for, what is their interest or type of business they wish to place with them. The robotic approach of sheer boredom is so very visible on the sales person’s face. So what do I do? I end up doing the show around myself as I need to make the sale to my client. I need to give them the confidence why that product fits their business, and why I as a DMC will stand by it. As the hotel can’t express their passion, I have to jump in. I can now probably do a better show around of most of our luxury hotels than by the hotels themselves.

Now, am I being overly critical? Perhaps. But as a part of one of the top DMCs in the nation, it is my right to be demanding and expect our hotel partners to match our speed. I want them to be partners in the passion and dreams we try to sell. As it is, selling India is tough. Having boring people assisting you makes it tougher.

What would I want to see? Here we go

• First, ask us the objective of the visit and what we are looking for in product and categories. Maybe sending in a short advance questionnaire is in order.

• Judge the level of the visit and assign an appropriate sales person. Don’t assign a trainee if I am coming to talk about a group of 50 rooms.
• Create a story about your property. Invest in training your team. If the sales pitch is only to be on how many rooms and restaurants you have, your website does the job.

• Asking to have a cup of coffee is the blandest thing you can do. And we all know it takes no effort. What about a quick small sampling of food from your restaurants? Even if it was just a few canapes. Give the visitor an experience of what you can do. 14 years ago, I did an extensive visit of Sri Lanka with a partner after the Tsunami. I told her to refuse all artificial fruity welcome drinks. When we got to the St. Andrews in Nuwara Eliya, there was no welcome drink. But what they brought out was a bowl each of fresh strawberries and cream. Score! So different. I still talk about that till this day.

• Be ready. You know we are coming. Don’t go and get the keys after we have arrived. And for god’s sake, please check the keys and do not stumble with doors that don’t open. Know where the rooms are when you get off the elevator. It would not hurt to send someone in advance to have each door open.

• Keep it simple. Focus on the needs of the client rather than showing every corner of the property.

• Be innovative. Express passion. Make the visit experiential. Try to create hands-on experiences. Get the visitor physically involved. Create a first-hand story to tell.

• Inspire us to sell your property.

• Make us feel special.

It’s really not rocket science. Making a property visit feel different doesn’t require any investments. It just requires creating pride in what you sell. I want to share a short piece from a professional friend’s blog. Worth the read, www.shawnasuckow.com/a-tale-of-two-site-inspections/

Here is a challenge I will throw out to my hotel friends – any hotel who wants to show me they can blow my socks off, give me a call.

Your success is our success.

Happy to get feedback and thoughts on this issue. As I say, debate is healthy, rajeevkohli@creative.travel

When Price is the Weapon of Choice

Cutting prices is the Nuclear Option. Once executed, there is no going back. You have to live with what you did for the rest of your lives

There is no question that business in India is under stress. It doesn’t matter which segment of the economy you operate in, everyone is facing some level of disruption that is causing us to react in various ways.

The Indian tourism industry is no different. There has set in a very strong sense of the “Chicken Little Syndrome’, a sense of despair or passivity which blocks the audience from actions. (Google it, its comes from an early 19th century folk tale).

What makes me say this? You do. Because it’s the only thing I read on Facebook and WhatsApp everyday. Complaints, moaning, despair. The level of pessimism in our industry seems to be high.

The reaction has also been pretty consistent. Fight on price alone. We have taken the culture of Athithi Devo Bhava a bit too far. When the customer says jump, we say how high. When the client says drop prices, we say by how much.

This is NOT a discussion of big agent versus small. Because I see this behavior more from the smaller and medium companies where the desire to get business at any cost has overtaken the sense of business sustainability.

Competing on product, competing on innovation, competing on creativity are all tough. It takes investment of time and money. Competing on price, is easy. I can see how in a tough market one can see reducing prices as an easy and a reversible action. This may give short term gains. But it also leads to a price war and long-term consequences.

I remember when in the early 2000’s the Hyatt in Delhi dropped its rates for a particular operator to $52 cpai. The reaction was severe with every other hotel matching or going lower to survive. Tour operators did the same with their margins. The recovery never came. We know of so many great European accounts where business was taken at a loss. No one has ever been able to make real money of those since.

Price – the only weapon that seems to be left. A weapon that erodes brand value, that erodes all the hard work one puts in to building their business.

Cutting prices is the Nuclear Option. Once executed, there is no going back. You have to live with what you did for the rest of your lives.

Why are so many behaving this way? Well, there are two key reasons. First, dropping prices can be done quickly and doesn’t require much thinking. Changing product or introducing innovation takes more time and effort. The Second reason is that dropping prices look like a cheap option. In the marketing mix of the ‘Four Ps’ – Product, Place, Promotion and Price. The price is the only one that does not cost money.

Many think price reductions are reversible. Has anyone in our segment ever been able to increase prices after a drop? Is the foreign agent sitting with a kind heart to help us be profitable? Or he is sitting playing one tour operator against another? Keep in mind, when you drop price, your competitor’s response is to do the same and the loop starts. There is rarely reversal. I have never seen it.

So, what can companies do instead of cutting their prices? There are several things, all of them connected with adding value to the consumer or the client.

The first thing is to rethink your value proposition by offering more for the same price. These can be things that cost relatively little but have a meaningful impact for the customer. Would it not be smarter to give the customer more value for what they are spending? Offer more options and choices?

A second option is to have brand differentiation and sell different things to different segment. Like hotels do with luxury brands and budget brands in the same portfolio. We know of companies doing this.

Third is to be better at the way you communicate your value proposition to the customer. My business philosophy has always been that when business is down, you need to increase your marketing and communication. That’s when you need to express your fresh ideas the most. Unfortunately, the conventional action is to do the opposite.

Finally; as one looks at price, one also needs to look at costs. How can you reduce your costs? Realign your expenses. Firing employees is not the only solution. Find other areas where you can squeeze out a few dollars. Every little bit counts.

When all of this has been done is when you should look at price reductions as a tool to compete. It should be your last option as it is by far the riskiest of all action you can take.

The light at the end of the tunnel

So, we are at the start of a new year. It’s been 27 years since India’s economic liberalisation started, 18 years since the millennium, 10 years since the dastardly terror attack in Mumbai, 8 years since India’s first mega private airport opened in Delhi, 4 years since India put a spacecraft into Mars orbit, 1 year since the sloppy demonetisation, 9 months since GST rocked our world.

Time flies and we don’t even know it. Yesterday my boys were babies who needed their dad’s hands to go around. Today, they are strapping young men who offer me their shoulders for support. Many of us remember the days when we had more hair and flatter bellies (and boy do we wish for those days). We used to travel the world scouting for jeans and shoes of foreign brands. Today, we only have to drive to the nearest mall to buy the best of the world. The days of $1000 BTQ a year for foreign travel have long gone. Getting a new phone connection is now an hour’s job. You can walk into a car showroom and drive out with the latest model.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a different India we live in. My children cannot relate to stories of how we used to watch pirated movies on VHS, how Coca-Cola was a smuggled brand, how life could be without cell phones. Who could imagine that companies like Google, Microsoft, Pepsi could be headed by us tanned people. A country that is chaotic, that is disorganised, that is multi-cultural, that is corrupt and yet, despite all the sh** we deal with in our daily lives, we are still growing at 7 percent a year. Just imagine what would happen if we behaved more civilly.

We live in a country that makes me very proud. I am an optimist. I wear a swiss watch. I like my Brook Brothers shirts. I love Japanese food. But inside, I bleed Indian. I will defend my nation to the end. So, when I speak to my friends in the industry, it depresses me to only hear moaning, crying, bitching, backbiting and sadness. Have we really forgotten all we went through to get where we are today? Do we really not see the opportunities that lie ahead?

One can get consumed by looking backwards to what happened in the past. One can spend endless hours in pondering what should have been. Intrinsically, we are not people that believe in looking back. As a nation fascinated by astrology, palmistry, numerology, palm leaf reading and what you have, we always look at the future for what it holds and for the opportunities it will bring. If there is something we don’t like, there is always a religious ceremony around to fix it. We are a nation of contrasts, of challenges, of organised chaos, of enormous beauty. We are people who believe in the power of the self and the power of the almighty. India is an unexplainable phenomenon and Indians can sometimes be odd, but we are a people who truly believe the future holds better times for us.

I am blessed to have been trained by one of the pioneers of the industry, my father. I am fortunate that my parents were able to give me a solid global education. I am honoured to have played roles in some of the most prominent associations in global travel. I have done all this with my eyes wide open, listening to colleagues across the world, participating in educational forums, absorbing experiences and learnings that have helped me become a strong and successful professional.

Therefore this is what I think…

The issues in the Indian tourism industry are many and often intertwined and most of them can be very easily resolved if the players come to a table with a sense of maturity and leaving their egos outside the door. It is time to pause, take a deep breath and evaluate what we in the Indian tourism industry may have been doing wrong. Where have we made missteps, where have we had successes and where can we make a difference. Let me share my views on some broad areas where I feel some positive thinking would go a long way.

Again, this is just my opinion based on my life experiences.

Having curated the content for five IATO conventions, what frustrates me the most is almost a complete lack of desire in our industry for knowledge and self-improvement. I often travel internationally to participate in seminars and conferences. I find listening to speakers from outside our space to be most insightful. Listening to world leaders in tourism share their mind, allows me to pick up small ideas to use back in the business. I have taken many such experiences to create special sessions in IATO events that are very different from other industry associations. We have brought in fabulous speakers from different walks of life. We have focused content on helping our members improve our business. Yet, members show very little interest in sitting in the session and would prefer to be outside gossiping. There seems to be no internal drive to become better at what we do.

And then we wonder why we have challenges in Indian tourism.

Our engagement with the government, central or state has always been subservient, slavish at times. We attend meetings, say ‘yes sir, yes ma’am’ and take instructions. This industry has always kept its engagement on a one-way street. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the role the government has in our industry and understand the power they have to facilitate growth. There are some amazing people working at different levels of the administration. But we refuse to acknowledge that the policies followed by tourism administrations in India, state and centre, are archaic and no longer relevant in this new world. Our needs are different, the customers are different yet we keep doing the same thing year after year and expect different results. That is the definition of insanity. The fact is that we in the private sector understand the ground realities. We pound the pavement every day. We understand the pulse of the market. We know what sells and what does not. Yet our associations completely refuse to hold our ground and push a viewpoint that makes business sense. We are not assertive. We are not professional. We go into meetings ill-prepared. This is true across all associations, even my beloved IATO. Socialism is far from dead in tourism and we are suffering because of that.

And then we wonder why we have challenges in Indian tourism.

Our associations are political cess-pools of greed and personal glory. At least, I know in IATO this is a bit less than others, but the fact is that all our travel associations have popularity contests every few years. Elections are not run on merit, campaigning is dirty and personal. Already, IATO is seeing finger pointing start as elections are in four months. No association has a strong secretariat and none has a top-notch professional running the affairs. I say this with the utmost due respect of course, but it is a fact. Look at NASSCOM, CII, FICCI, bodies that are not much older than the likes of TAAI and IATO. NASSCOM was started in 1988, a kid in our times. Yet, they helped create an industry that has completely taken away the golden mantle that tourism once held. How did they do it and why can’t we? Because we do not believe in hiring professionals to run our affair. The reason a handful of companies have grown the way they have is because they made professionals take accountability. I have been advocating this path for IATO for some time. It is an uphill task. The bottom line is that as long as members vote on issues other than merit, we will never get out of this deep hole. It’s as basic as that.

And then we wonder why we have challenges in Indian tourism.

FAITH is the tourism industry federation we created at the fourth attempt in 40 years. I along with a few other buddies put in sweat and toil in getting this off the ground. I am very emotional about this subject as it is my dream that one day we have one and only one association in tourism. There can be no difference in opinion in the fundamentals of the need and approach taken in creating a common federation. Yet, it became such a political issue that the levels of disgust went through the roof. Even today after five years of creating FAITH, there is still squabbling. The lack of unity in our industry seems to be insurmountable. The mistrust is intense. The desire to make a point at one’s own detriment is prominent. And because we are so disjointed in our voice and thought, we get taken advantage of. No wonder the Finance Minister hates us (my personal opinion as there can be no logical reason for him to consistently ignore a sector that makes for 9 percent of the GDP). We behave like school children.

And then we wonder why we have challenges in Indian tourism.

The spirit of support and volunteerism is weak in Indian tourism. Ask for inputs and suggestions, you get a handful. Ask people to participate in annual conferences, interest is weak. Organise meetings to discuss issues, few show up. The interaction between the stakeholders and their elected leaders is very weak and therefore the associations have very little to work with. There is no ground support. Fundamentally, we in Indian tourism do not seem to talk to each other. We do not share what experiences we have had. We do not help each other. We work in isolated silos hoping someone out there will fix things for us. And this is just talking about the individuals. It is even worse when we talk about the different segments of our industry. HAI doesn’t want to talk to IATO. IATO doesn’t want to talk to the guides. TAAI, TAFI and others fight for the same issues. ATOAI is happy being in the great outdoors (truly love hanging out with these guys). ICPB has been ripped with incestitous infighting. ADTOI is still trying to get their feet back on track. ITTA has squabbles at micro levels. One can go on and on. And all these folks are my friends and peers whom I do admire. But it really seems like everyone is hoping some God out there will pull a miracle that will turn things around. A strong industry is one where stakeholders are engaged in dialog. Engaged in debate. Healthy sharing of thoughts. Not screaming and shouting as we mostly see. Can we not simply talk to each other and help each other out?

And then we wonder why we have challenges in Indian tourism.

I don’t want to forget the outbound segment for my company ventured into this area recently. It has been an interesting learning experience. It is very different from inbound and the opportunities are vast. Yet, look at the quality and content of what is sold in India as an outbound product. We have no base of luxury travel agents. We have completely lost credibility as an industry in the global market. To quote my many DMC friends from around the world – we shop around, we are rude, and we are unprofessional.
We don’t even have the courtesy of saying thank you. We make people work on proposals and go silent. Of course we have spots of excellence and people who do the industry proud. But as a whole, India has been branded as a very difficult outbound market that does not give a return on investment for efforts put in. It is a fact that in most destinations none of the leading inbound players want to operate with India. My playground is global, I travel the world interacting with people. This is the consistent feedback I get. I do not like to have to apologise for a country that otherwise makes me proud.

And then we wonder why we have challenges in Indian tourism.

So ladies and gentlemen, now that I have added many more to my list of critics, I want you to take a step back and without any emotions or feelings for me, ponder on some of what I have said. Am I really that far off from the truth? Do many of these issues need investment, government policies or major change to be different? Do we not have it within our power, our reach to make 2018 a true year of change and move forward together into a new era?
Nothing in the universe can stop us if we put our heads together. It is time to hold hands as one team and dream the same dream.
Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
Smile and have a great year ahead.

Why incentive travel is the best reward, by Rajeev Kohli

Incentive travel schemes are considered a huge success by employers, according to the respondents to a recent SITE index survey – an annual analysis of and forecast for the incentive travel industry.

Ninety-nine per cent of respondents said they believed “incentive travel programmes were ‘somewhat’ or ‘very effective’ in achieving important business objectives, with approximately eight in 10 reporting that they were a strong motivator of performance.”

Hinton says figures show that “every $1 invested in face-to-face [meetings and events] turns into $9.50 in new revenue and $2.90 in profit” – an ROI that would surely satisfy Hamso.

While the science of social behaviour, motivation theory, work ethics, psychological impact studies and ROI are at the heart of any study of modern incentive programmes, they are only a part of the story when it comes to implementation, which involves boots-on-the-ground planning.

“Destination and venue choice is dependent on the type, purpose, audience and length of the event. If the purpose of the event is to motivate, inspire and recognise participants, the event should be held away from an office environment to minimise distractions,” Hinton adds.

“For incentive travel, the destination and venue is critical. SITE research of incentive participants in the US, UK and India showed that destination ranked the highest in aspects that affect participants’ motivation. Also, changing the destination year over year had a high impact on participants’ future performance.”

Communication is vital

David Simpson, co-founder and director of learning and development with Team Building Asia, agrees it is important to hold incentive meetings away from the office, and equally vital to research what actually motivates individuals.

“It’s best to start with a comprehensive needs analysis, as motivation is subjective and what works for Mr X may not work for Ms Y,” he says. “So to take all the unknown factors out by putting the needs and expectations enquiry in to your programme planning.”

David Litteken, vice-president, Asia Pacific region, BI Worldwide, says that although most people think destination and hotels play key roles in successful incentive meetings, communication is a vital element.

“It is important to communicate with those eligible to earn throughout the entirety of the incentive programme period,” he says. “Excite them about the destination. Communicate how they are performing. Keep them engaged throughout.”

Incentive spend rises at cost of fewer participants

The latest Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Index 2018 survey has found that per person per incentive trip budget has risen from US$3,000 to US$4,000, a reverse from the drop and stagnation in the past few years.

However, despite the plan to spend more, 80 per cent of buyers surveyed are seeking to decrease costs and reduce the number of participants.

SITE’s immediate past president, Rajeev Kohli, said the survey, conducted by J D Power in English, Spanish and Mandarin, was different compared to last year, as different segments – sellers, third-party suppliers and corporates – were given different questions to make the findings more targeted.

Although spend is rising, buyers are also looking for more value, said Kohli, adding that CSR is also making a comeback, and it is “not for millennials only”.

“Corporates and third-party suppliers are increasingly mentioning less expensive destinations and amenities to manage the cost of incentive travel programmes,” Kohli pointed out.

Among buyers, corporates are driving growth, and incentive travel is getting even stronger as a motivator for performance.

But business tends to stay within their respective regions, and 43 of the buyers surveyed said they were not planning a trip to Asia. One reason is that it does not align with business needs, while other reasons included distance and travel time.

Kohli noted the number one concern in 2016 was the cost of an airline ticket but the industry was seeing an improvement. He added that there was also more optimism about the world and national economies among buyers and sellers. But while the threat of terrorism remains a concern, it has decreased as well.

Rajeev Kohli talks about the incentive trip

Recently we write about despite many challenges incentive travel is strong. We have had an interview with an expert on this subject: Rajeev Kohli, with 22 years of industry experience, and the president of SITE and the director of Creative Travel.

Trends in incentive experiences

Today, there is a much bigger service offering that incentive suppliers are being expected to deliver beyond the acquisition of a destination travel package. Customers are looking to their suppliers to provide consultation and value-added services to design a program that is unique, custom built, demographic appropriate and deliver measurable business results. And, participants are seeking more personalized, authentic experiences indigenous to the program destination, as well as activities that allow them to give back to the communities they visit.

A multi-generational workforce is changing the design of incentive programs, particularly when it comes to the types of activities offered. While golf and spa are still popular with an older generation, younger participants are seeking more authentic and immersive experiences.

A trend in activities seem is to make them more individual and at different levels of exertion to suit the demographics. For example, water sports are now surf lessons, kayaking and paddleboard rentals.  Biking options are coastal rides on beach cruisers or a city tour on regular or tandem bikes. Golf could be group or individual lessons with a video analyzing their swing or having a pro join a foursome. Food network fans are influencing the addition of restaurant hopping, food tasting options and beer, wine, tequila and scotch tastings and how they pair with food. Spa is still popular but it requires more individual offerings of treatments, fitness/health speakers, private or small group workout lessons, etc.

Millennial’s preferences for fun personalized workouts, healthy foods and holistic wellness are fueling trends with far-reaching implications for the travel and hospitality industry. Wellness is one of the areas that planners are focusing on to ensure that we are catering to these preferences. For example, supplying bikes for delegates to use to explore the destination or providing guides for delegates to walk the route to venues that are within walking distance and just simply require an earlier meet time.

Why incentive travel works and what are the most effective motivational levers

Research by the SITE Foundation confirms that incentive travel works. Once people have earned enough money to provide for their basic needs, they are driven by a desire to raise their self-esteem—not just their earnings. Most people feel that it is unacceptable to brag about their earnings or cash bonuses to their peers, family and friends. Incentive travel does not have that same problem. Although spending your own money to take a trip to an exotic destination may be perceived as frivolous, it is perfectly acceptable to talk about a travel award and say how great it was to earn it. This is why incentive travel programs must be created to provide experiences that a typical traveler would not think to do on their own, financially afford to do on their own, or even be able to do on their own, if it wasn’t organized as a group activity.

If a program’s objective is to attract and retain employees, studies show that “qualifiers” have an increased send of loyalty to their company, a sense of belonging that makes good employees stay where they are. People will strive that much harder to earn a trip to a destination they have always dreamed of visiting. An once-in-a-lifetime, high-end travel experience creates lasting memories that will be talked about and shared by participants and motivate future performance. And, during a program the positive reinforcement given by company executives to top performers increases the ‘trophy-value’ of the travel award and its usefulness as an incentive. Each time that the participant remembers a trip, they are reminded of the recognition, which increases their commitment to the company.

Destinations: are they changing, are we going back to long haul? What are the strongly emerging destinations?

With budgets increasing and air prices stabilizing, we are beginning to see a return to long-haul destinations, particularly to emerging destinations that offer good value for the money over traditional destinations.  Of course, the choice of destinations is also being off-set by concerns for safety and security.

Today’s incentive customers are seeking new or ‘reinvented’ destinations that provide unique, authentic and memorable experiences. There are many destinations that fascinate incentive planners – countries that offer great experiences in culture, gastronomy or adventure – and emerging and non-conventional destinations may be best able to deliver something different.

To be considered “ideal” an emerging destination must be able to demonstrate that they have a solid infrastructure – sufficient airlift, four- and five-star hotels that accommodate groups; experienced ground suppliers; interesting cultural activities and off-site venues. It should also be actively investing in tourism; have a strong potential for promotion and should be economically and politically stable.

Some emerging destinations: Southeastern/Eastern Europe – Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic.Baltic Cruises-Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Malaysia. Latin America – Panama, Colombia. Winter Destinations – Iceland, Canadian Rockies, Colorado Rockies, Swiss/Italian Alps

Incentive Planning Is an Art

Incentive travel is, fundamentally, a trip that offers participants experiences that are once-in-a-lifetime, and/or that they could not easily afford to do on their own. Participants have earned the travel opportunity due to their performance, and therefore the experience needs to be meaningful to each individual guest. This is no easy task!

The purpose of an incentive program is different than the purpose of a meeting or other business event. A meeting is typically organized to educate, to plan, to bring people together in a working environment, so different factors are taken into account in the planning. Yes, we want to create a motivational meeting, but not in the same way as we would with an incentive program. A successful incentive travel supplier understands what it takes to craft experiences that reward people for their contributions to a company’s growth and business objectives. 

Today, there is a much bigger service offering that incentive suppliers are expected to deliver beyond the acquisition of a destination travel package. Customers are looking to their suppliers to provide consultation and value-added services to design programs that are unique, custom built, appropriate to the demographic, and deliver measurable business results.

Incentive planning is an art
Planning an incentive program is not rocket science, but it is an art and, like every art form, incentive suppliers need to have an inner passion to create. When you plan a meeting, you often don’t dwell upon the targeted results of the meeting and instead focus on successful execution. Planning an incentive program is different. You are working on generating feelings, moving a person emotionally, and motivating higher levels of performance.

Seven in 10 respondents to the 2015 SITE Index survey report they are developing newer and more creative ways to add value for their customers. This may include offering more authentic destination-related experiences; advising clients of local events they can take advantage of at no cost; sourcing unique venues for unconventional events; and incorporating ideas from other destinations/countries.
For every component of an incentive program, creativity is required to take ordinary to extraordinary. It is essential that suppliers start afresh on each project, beginning with a strong understanding of the target audience and core business objectives. You need to take into account what will be memorable to the participants and what experiences can be organized that they would not be able to do if they visited the destination on their own. Even if your program returns every year to the same destination, you need to think outside of the box and design an event that is unique and memorable, one that makes participants feel special and motivated to succeed for the coming year. 
Incentives are all about creating magical moments. With incentives, one aims not at affecting the intellect or mind, but at touching one’s hearts and emotions. 

A bright future for incentive travel

The SITE Index 2018 reports positivity and growth for the sector

The global MICE industry has been confronted with many challenges this year. From political uncertainty to natural disasters, from terrorist attacks to economic instability, much has happened in 2017 to impact business events.

The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Foundation recently released the SITE Index 2018. An annual analysis and forecast for the incentive travel industry, it explores the complex environment in which MICE professionals currently work and shows that, despite world events, optimism in the incentive travel sector is still high.

The comprehensive survey of 574 respondents from 74 countries, including 201 buyers, covers behaviours of both buyers and sellers of incentive travel services, revealing some positive indicators, as well as a look at future trends for the industry.

Nearly half of incentive travel buyers report an increase in their overall budget and the average spend per person has significantly increased from US$3,000 to US$4,000. This increase may be attributed to a greater number of responses from corporate buyers in the financial and professional services, science and technology, and pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, all of which are strong users of incentive travel.

TECHNOLOGY IS AN INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT PART OF THE DEPLOYMENT OF PROGRAMMES

Over half of buyers report that they are planning to increase the number of people eligible for incentive travel programmes, continuing the trend over the past two years. Buyers of incentive programmes universally believe them to be strong motivators of performance, with increased company sales and profitability remaining the most important business objective, followed by improved employee engagement.

More buyers say incentive travel programmes have been “very effective” (72
percent versus 51 percent in 2016). There is also a slight increase in the measurement of
incentive programmes, driven by one-third of corporate buyers reporting they “almost
always, or always” track return on investment or return on objectives.

Although budgets have increased, buyers are still continually looking for ways to reduce costs, with some selecting less expensive destinations and reducing amenities.

This may indicate a trend towards more elite programmes, with fewer qualifiers given even more extraordinary rewards in exchange for their exceptional performance. At the same time, sellers of incentive travel services are attempting to add value through greater creativity and innovative event design.

Air transportation still comprises nearly a quarter of budget, although technology is an increasingly important part of the deployment of programmes whether for communications, budgeting or operations . Programme apps and data tracking tools are now far more commonplace in the delivery of incentives.

The survey also found that there is more optimism about global and national

economies among buyers and sellers. Although safety remains a top concern, it has decreased since 2016 and both buyers and sellers report that it’s not a deterrent to a strong incentive market.

Despite terrorist incidents in Europe, buyers planning programmes to Western Europe increased four percentage points over 2016. Among Middle Eastern and African buyers, the most used destinations outside their region are Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Buyers and sellers were asked to rank seven criteria for selecting one destination over another for an incentive travel programmes. Destination appeal was the top reason, whereas access from a participant’s city or origin – a key criterion when selecting a destination for a meeting or conference came in fifth place.

The survey also found that the top three sources of influence when choosing a destination for incentives are recommendations from trade associations, from incentive houses and travel partners, or word of mouth within the organisation.

Both buyers and sellers also report that sustainability is having the most positive impact on incentive travel. This correlates to the finding that a majority of programmes now include at least one CSR activity.

Buyers and sellers of incentive travel will benefit greatly from reviewing the SITE Index report, applying the findings and implementing strategies, to ensure that their business will continue to grow and the global incentive travel industry will remain strong for years to come.

Rajeev Kohli talks about the incentive trip

Recently we write about despite many challenges incentive travel is strong. We have had an interview with an expert on this subject: Rajeev Kohli, with 22 years of industry experience, and the president of SITE and the director of Creative Travel.

Trends in incentive experiences

Today, there is a much bigger service offering that incentive suppliers are being expected to deliver beyond the acquisition of a destination travel package. Customers are looking to their suppliers to provide consultation and value-added services to design a program that is unique, custom built, demographic appropriate and deliver measurable business results. And, participants are seeking more personalized, authentic experiences indigenous to the program destination, as well as activities that allow them to give back to the communities they visit.

A multi-generational workforce is changing the design of incentive programs, particularly when it comes to the types of activities offered. While golf and spa are still popular with an older generation, younger participants are seeking more authentic and immersive experiences.

A trend in activities seem is to make them more individual and at different levels of exertion to suit the demographics. For example, water sports are now surf lessons, kayaking and paddleboard rentals.  Biking options are coastal rides on beach cruisers or a city tour on regular or tandem bikes. Golf could be group or individual lessons with a video analyzing their swing or having a pro join a foursome. Food network fans are influencing the addition of restaurant hopping, food tasting options and beer, wine, tequila and scotch tastings and how they pair with food. Spa is still popular but it requires more individual offerings of treatments, fitness/health speakers, private or small group workout lessons, etc.

Millennial’s preferences for fun personalized workouts, healthy foods and holistic wellness are fueling trends with far-reaching implications for the travel and hospitality industry. Wellness is one of the areas that planners are focusing on to ensure that we are catering to these preferences. For example, supplying bikes for delegates to use to explore the destination or providing guides for delegates to walk the route to venues that are within walking distance and just simply require an earlier meet time.

Why incentive travel works and what are the most effective motivational levers

Research by the SITE Foundation confirms that incentive travel works. Once people have earned enough money to provide for their basic needs, they are driven by a desire to raise their self-esteem—not just their earnings. Most people feel that it is unacceptable to brag about their earnings or cash bonuses to their peers, family and friends. Incentive travel does not have that same problem. Although spending your own money to take a trip to an exotic destination may be perceived as frivolous, it is perfectly acceptable to talk about a travel award and say how great it was to earn it. This is why incentive travel programs must be created to provide experiences that a typical traveler would not think to do on their own, financially afford to do on their own, or even be able to do on their own, if it wasn’t organized as a group activity.

If a program’s objective is to attract and retain employees, studies show that “qualifiers” have an increased send of loyalty to their company, a sense of belonging that makes good employees stay where they are. People will strive that much harder to earn a trip to a destination they have always dreamed of visiting. An once-in-a-lifetime, high-end travel experience creates lasting memories that will be talked about and shared by participants and motivate future performance. And, during a program the positive reinforcement given by company executives to top performers increases the ‘trophy-value’ of the travel award and its usefulness as an incentive. Each time that the participant remembers a trip, they are reminded of the recognition, which increases their commitment to the company.

Destinations: are they changing, are we going back to long haul? What are the strongly emerging destinations?

With budgets increasing and air prices stabilizing, we are beginning to see a return to long-haul destinations, particularly to emerging destinations that offer good value for the money over traditional destinations.  Of course, the choice of destinations is also being off-set by concerns for safety and security.

Today’s incentive customers are seeking new or ‘reinvented’ destinations that provide unique, authentic and memorable experiences. There are many destinations that fascinate incentive planners – countries that offer great experiences in culture, gastronomy or adventure – and emerging and non-conventional destinations may be best able to deliver something different.

To be considered “ideal” an emerging destination must be able to demonstrate that they have a solid infrastructure – sufficient airlift, four- and five-star hotels that accommodate groups; experienced ground suppliers; interesting cultural activities and off-site venues. It should also be actively investing in tourism; have a strong potential for promotion and should be economically and politically stable.

Some emerging destinations: Southeastern/Eastern Europe – Slovenia, Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic.Baltic Cruises-Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Malaysia. Latin America – Panama, Colombia. Winter Destinations – Iceland, Canadian Rockies, Colorado Rockies, Swiss/Italian Alps

As the world changes, so does incentive travel

Destinations the world over are dealing with the fallout from unpredictable events – incentive travel can help keep ties strong

The past year has seen the world change in ways one could never have dreamed of. Acts of terror, national elections and extreme social and economic policies – there is no region in the world that has not been impacted by a changing geopolitical environment. From terror, to extreme weather, to mosquitos, the travel and tourism industry cannot anticipate where our next challenge will come from.

Travel and tourism is the largest industry in the world. Sustained demand, together with its capability to generate high levels of employment, continue to prove the importance and value of the sector to global economic development and job creation. The latest report from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) shows that the global travel and tourism industry employs more people than the automotive manufacturing, banking, mining, chemicals manufacturing, and financial services sectors. Travel creates opportunities, empowers communities and enhances local livelihoods, yet it is the one economic sector that gets affected the most by any turbulence in any part of the world.

As the world changes, so does incentive travel. It is here I find the dichotomy in

OUR INDUSTRY’S SUCCESS REQUIRES AN UNDERSTANDING OF VARIOUS CULTURES

words and actions. Incentive travel is about motivation. About providing that special impetus to make one’s customers or employees feel good about their jobs. But incentive travel is also about doing right by the destinations we visit. Incentive groups not only leave footprints behind, but also valuable dollars in spending. So, when a destination is suddenly excommunicated, the effects are tremendous. Coming from India, a developing nation, I understand this very well.

Is not travel also a socially responsible activity? Do we not support local cultures, people and families when we take incentive groups to a destination? Do we always evaluate the consequences of placing a destination in cold storage? I have often been asked by our members across the world on why there are different yard sticks for judging an incident in the developed world and the developing? I wish I had an answer that could make everyone happy.

Terrorism knows no distinction between race, colour or creed. London, Paris, Sao Paulo, Istanbul or Bangkok are all equally safe or unsafe. Companies who sell, buy or source across different nations have a collective responsibility to stand up to those that wish to keep us home and show them that we will not be cowed down. This does not mean we discount real dangers, but rather we do not label every incident the same.

The bottom line is that in the world of incentive travel we often work with companies that are global. Companies who have strong economic ties across the world. Incentive travel provides an ideal platform to build stronger relationships

among colleagues from around the world. It promises unique experiences for qualifiers, exposing them to new destinations and expanding their understanding of people from different countries and cultures. In turn, it helps foster greater understanding, tolerance and empathy for others.

Our industry’s success requires an understanding of various cultures in order to design
programmes that embrace global diversity. Incentive travel programmes provide a
bridge between the power of diverse travel experiences that inspire people to deliver excellence – and the sense of human solidarity we envision as the most important benefit of a global economy.

SITE remains a champion for the global business marketplace, particularly for the experiences that serve as real inspiration for people, whether they are across the street or across the globe. Our international board of directors – made up of industry leaders from nine different countries is committed to engaging our members, chapter leaders, sponsors and partners to create a strong sense of community built around our core values of connections, creativity, trust and results. This is why it is more important than ever for industry organisations like SITE to embrace our responsibility to advocate for a world that is safe, open and inclusive, and educate our clients that today’s world is a lot smaller.

The world will always change. That is a constant. I call on the global incentive travel industry to embrace this reality and take on the challenge of delivering exceptional experiences with an open mind and large heart.