Needing ROI on incentive travel?
Sue Jackson says only specialists need apply!

An incentive travel trip is not a program. It’s a reward. Too often I see incentive programs being evaluated based on the success of the reward (the trip) – did we negotiate well, did we come in on budget, did the participants enjoy the experience? These are critical to measure, but they are only one part of defining the success of your program.
What defines success is whether there was a discretionary improvement in the performance of, for example, the sales person or agent, and did this improvement result in a financial return on the investment in the program. To capture all of this, it is essential the strategy for measurement is built in from the program’s inception. The travel element is an important, very expensive moment in a complex timeline that is geared as equally to motivate the 80 per cent who did not qualify for the trip, as it is the 20 per cent who did.
On most occasions where I see the trip being evaluated in isolation, the company has either (1) engaged a travel company which is not an incentive specialist, or (2) relegated their incentive partner to that of a travel agent or event manager. Under either of these scenarios there will be difficulty assessing the ROI of the program. This is a frustration for any specialist incentive provider that’s in the business of helping companies achieve performance improvement. Companies miss out on a wealth of valuable guidance that a good incentive partner can provide; expertise around determining true motivators and building performance measures, communications and rewards to maximise results.
If you are selecting or evaluating your incentive travel partner simply based on participant satisfaction, logistical ability, event creativity and cost reduction skills, it’s not enough. True ROI measurement lies in the effects generated by the whole program, not just the success of the reward as deemed by a few participants. Select and evaluate incentive partners based on what they can contribute to behavioural change and the business outcomes. Ask what discretionary effort they can unlock with other motivational tools used within the program (personal performance criteria, competitive statistics, testimonials, milestone rewards, partner influence, communications), not just what motivation can be generated by the trip.
When a partner is at the business end of building incentive programs based on true engagement and motivation strategies, they analyse your objectives and program and identify gaps and opportunities. Any program should pay for itself and more. As a client you begin to see more than a financial output, you see an investment that pays immediate dividends and builds for stronger results in the future.
When a large manufacturer first came to us to fulfil the travel reward for a distributor incentive, they had already launched the program, chosen their destination, dates and more. We delivered a brilliant experience for their group, but noted opportunities for their next program. One simple thing we noted was that many of the distributors used their own frequent flyer points to upgrade the flights they earned to business-class. In the following year’s planning session we recommended building in a ‘stretch sales target’ for those who wanted to earn a business class flight. This stretch target was achieved by each and every qualifier, and our client delighted in even more sales, with a quantifiable analysis between the cost of the upgrade and the income from the additional sales. That’s assessing ROI!
Communication also plays a key role in improving results. A large telco we work with has increased the direct yield from their incentive travel programs by amplifying the communication element. Sure, there is glossy collateral, compelling teasers and themed web portal – but there’s more too. For example, carefully designed visual footage offers aspirational images and anecdotes from people who have achieved and experienced the travel reward. These are used year-round in print, electronic and face to face mediums to inspire those people who have not yet experienced the reward; to help make the reward more tangible, desirable and worth working to achieve.
An incentive program is a huge investment for any company. To maximise your ROI, partner with an incentive specialist. Work with someone who insists on continually reviewing all elements of your incentive program – including whether travel is even the best reward!

Sue Jackson is the executive chairman of Solterbeck.
Visit www.solterbeck.com for further details.