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Off the Beaten Path

How to size up emerging destinations for incentive travel

Incentive travel is, fundamentally, a trip that offers participants once-in-a-lifetime
experiences that they are most often unable to easily afford on their own. Today’s
incentive travel planners are seeking new 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 unconventional destinations may be best able
to deliver something different.

However, to be considered ideal, an emerging destination must be able to demonstrate that
it has a solid infrastructure, sufficient airlift, four- and five-star hotels that can accommodate
groups, experienced ground suppliers, interesting cultural activities, and off-site venues. It should also be actively investing in tourism, offer good value for the money over traditional destinations, have strong potential for promotion, and enjoy economic and political stability.

four- and five-star hotels that can accommodate groups, experienced ground suppliers, interesting cultural activities, and off-site venues. It should also be actively investing in tourism, offer good value for the money over traditional destinations, have strong potential for promotion, and enjoy economic and political stability.

A poor climate, health concerns, terrorist threats, and uncertainty about safety negatively impact the destination choice. This is why it is so important for incentive planners to have strong relationships with trusted DMCs and ground suppliers to ensure that they have all of the facts and are not just reacting to what is in the news. Local suppliers can advise you of the real situation and can help with due diligence to assess any potential impacts on your event.

Fam trips, trade shows, and industry events are effective ways for planners to learn about and
experience an emerging destination for themselves. You learn the most by firsthand experiences, and there is no better platform for that than the SITE Global Conference. With 2,000-plus members in 88 countries, the SITE global community serves as a valuable source of information on emerging destinations and incentive travel trends. I encourage you to join our community to connect with experienced incentive travel professionals from almost any destination in the world.

During this year’s conference — Nov. 5-7 in Panama City — delegates will explore for

themselves Panama’s potential as an incentive travel destination through experiential learning and illuminating pre- and post-tours. To whet your appetite for Panama — and to learn about three other emerging incentive travel destinations – please turn the page.

Incentive Travel Works

At a time when workplace engagement levels are sagging, incentive travel proves effective

According to a recent report by Gallup, “the world has an employee engagement crisis, with serious and potentially lasting repercussions for the global economy.” Recent tracking by Gallup Daily shows that 32 percent of employees in the U.S., and only 13 percent of employees worldwide, are engaged (meaning they are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace). While some companies believe that financial gain is an employee’s biggest motivator, studies suggest that non-cash incentives, specifically travel, have more impact and lasting value.

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 travelers would not think to do on their own, could not afford to do on their own, or would not 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 sense 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. A 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, he or she is reminded of the recognition, which increases their commitment to the company.

Choosing a destination and an itinerary that will motivate the target audience is a small part of the program. Designing a successful incentive program demands cooperative effort between corporate managers who identify the business objectives and skilled planners who can create a program to achieve those objectives. Before designing an incentive program, planners should ask: What is the business intent and what are the objectives? How will the program be measured? How do we encourage the best job performance? What can we do to ensure the program is meaningful, motivational, memorable, and delivers the desired business results?

Understanding the objectives of a program and how they align with an overall engagement strategy, and defining what motivates employees are keys to a program’s success and improved bottom-line results. When the goals are achieved, the investment in a program can be justified.

To charge or not to charge

Rajeev Kohli, 2014 vice president – finance, SITE and joint managing director of Creative Travel India, wonders why DMCs are exempt in a world where service providers are paid for their time.

Recently I was working on a project with a client out of Singapore (a fellow Site member if I may add). A quick turnaround was required, which we delivered.

However, much to everyone’s surprise, the end client came back to say that they had “changed their mind” and will not leave the country.

My client was quite livid at having been put through the wringer to create an overnight proposal and at having made his DMC partner burn the midnight oil – all for no billing to anyone.

It was his conversation with me that made me ask the eternal question – “Why can’t a DMC charge for making a proposal?”

Yesterday, an American client sent us a message after many days of silence. It said: “Thank you for the information, we have contacted the hotel directly.”

This is after weeks of sending venues options and giving our advice as a destination specialist. Many conference calls, many hours of research, only to be told that we’ve taken all your intelligence and will do it all directly. Again, all work and no pay. These are two scenarios that every DMC will recognise.

I’m not sure what happens in other parts of the world, but where I come from DMCs do pay their employees in real money and the government does demand hard cash to give us electricity and water. So when I put my team through hours of research and proposal making, it’s tremendously discouraging that our intellectual property is just taken for granted and, to use a harsh word, stolen.

Doctors charge for advice, as do lawyers, architects, interiors designers, tailors, wedding planners and many others. So in a world where we pay a fee to get many a service delivered, why is the poor DMC left to fend for itself as provider of free ideas?

I recently posed this question to a very senior American incentive planner. She gave a very interesting and very sympathetic response. It seems this predicament does not lie on the tables of the DMCs alone. Today, even the most established of incentive houses are having a hard time expressing value to clients. I was told that if they started charging for proposals, the client would go elsewhere. The competition is far too fierce, so we DMCs have no chance of getting anything.

Do I buy that argument? Not entirely, but I guess there are always two sides to a story.

At what point did we as a collective industry become so desperate that we dropped our services into the free zone? Why do we feel it necessary to treat our ideas, our intelligence, our sweat and toil as something of a social service to the incentive world? Did someone hit on a secret formula that allows them to use their employees and infrastructure for free so that the client pays nothing?

Stranger things have happened in our world, but this is one that no one seems to have any real explanation for.

When a company profits or fulfils their business mandate with the services of a supplier, it is only fair that the supplier be reimbursed for the efforts put in. That is after all the basics of economics. We have somehow created a parallel universe where the rules are very different.

I do realise that this is a fanciful desire and that it would take a lot more than an upstart DMC to change the world. But where does the solution lie?

If the airlines and banks can band together and set a system of service fees, why can’t we? It will take a great deal of will power and system-wide integrity for this to work, but I don’t think it’s impossible.

The objective is not to make tons of money but rather to attach a real value to the professional work a DMC does. No one values ‘free’ anymore and how can we take pride in working for free?

It’s time we recognise and appreciate the value a good DMC has to offer in making a great project even greater.

As long as we are treated on par with Google and used for free, that won’t happen.