Excellence in logistics is paramount to delivering an exceptional incentive program.

It is a conundrum, however, that when we focus on creating an unforgettable experience for each individual or couple, often we actively remove them from the world of business – yet this is precisely where incentive travel objectives lie. At the outset of a program there must be a single-minded aim: the ongoing growth of our clients’ business.
This is where the two parts behavioural understanding should be added to the mix, with a clear objective of creating loyalty to our clients’ organisation. In short, to aim to create or strengthen a bond. We are not alone in the desire for that bond. Recent research from the US Incentive Research Foundation concluded that CEOs quote the three primary purposes for incentive travel programs are: Grow the business; Build relationships; and Motivate and reward.

A straightforward conclusion indeed. What is far more surprising is that participants see these trips exactly the same way; as beneficial to growing their business. The same research paper asserts incentive participants value highly the direct relationships they form with organisational leaders and other top performers. Essentially they understand and appreciate an experience which is rewarding to them not just short term, but long term; one which increases of their business future.

In this study, the top three ‘truths’ of incentive travel as nominated by program participants were:

  • “One of the greatest benefits for participating in an incentive trip is building relationships with the manufacturer and other dealers.” (70 per cent agreed or strongly agreed.)
  • “Incentive trips offer me an opportunity to get to know top leadership in the sponsoring company.” (69 per cent agreed or strongly agreed.)
  • “I am more loyal to the manufacturers that offer incentive travel programs.” (48 per cent agreed or strongly agreed.)

To quote participants directly: “The best part is meeting the people. It allows you to do your job a little better, to know the people a little better, put a face to a name, get that personal development, then even in making calls and conducting business, you have that next level up.”
And: “I do know that because the incentive programs are set up, it’s part and parcel of a tool for us to develop and build stronger relationships, of which a side effect is that we bring more of their products in and sell more. We are more committed to that company. We have a deeper relationship, deeper sense of trust, deeper sense of working together.”
Our challenge therefore is to harness this behavioural understanding and maximise the synergy of these desired outcomes. This is not always easy. Research tells us that participants who go on to the highest loyalty outcome scores must believe all of the following:

  • The program presented to them is positive for business
  • The program leads them to recommend the products/services that help them earn the reward
  • The destination influences and motivates to earn the reward
  • The trip is highly valued and worth recommending to others
  • There is opportunity to get to know top leadership
  • Leveraging behavioural understanding to get these factors right means you will be on your way to creating and building strong bonds as well as delivering flawless logistics.

So now your incentive trip needs to be not just memorable, perfect, experiential, indulgent, different and cleverly tailored, it also needs behavioural strategy, focused closely on bonding people. Objectives that sit under this strategy are:

  • Deepen partnerships between participants and the brand
  • Create closer peer-to-peer relationships between participants
  • Provide motivation to be rewarded in this way again
  • Reward each individual within their group environment

Bonding tactics include:

  • Build confidence in mutual worth between the company and participants. Start this bonding process early; well before the trip. Connect people. Use pre-circulated “humanising” profiles, mobile technology, gamification and unexpected moments of connection with the CEO. Share favourite sports, family names and common interests.
  • Treat each participant as an individual within the group. Research your audience and deliver a depth of understanding of their personal interests. For example, offer a half day photography experience as an optional activity if you have a few keen photographers in the group.
  • Ensure every experience proves to the individuals that the company values their performance. Be sure executives are fully engaged onsite. They are there to work; to deepen the partnership. Avoid having them treat the trip as a reward for company people!

The business of incentive travel is not just about creating a great event or reward – it’s about contributing to the overall business objective of giving people a reason to perform at their best.

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