Incentive Travel Programs
By Aaron Broverman
Whether it’s a work vacation at a conference in the Bahamas or a gamification-style points program rewarding a sales team for hitting a benchmark or the entire office for keeping active and staying healthy, we’ve all seen incentive programs in action.
But if you’re running a small business, how do you know which incentive programs are right for you and your employees and which programs are probably not worth pursuing for your company?
Finding the Right Match
Jim Ruszala, Senior Director of Marketing for Maritz Travel – a leading designer and executer of incentive travel experiences and corporate events – says it starts with matching the incentive program to your company’s culture and vision.
“If it’s an entrepreneur setting, whatever their vision is, which pretty much drives them, they need an incentive program to kind of mirror that because you want crazy fans of your brand involved in these sorts of experiences who know why they’re there, why they earned this specific program and why they’re celebrating.”
So how do you do that? According to Ruszala, it’s about living your values and figuring out what characterizes your organization differently from others, the culture and the setting you’re trying to create – not just for your employees and travel partners, but your customers as well. It’s about how you want to be represented in the market and that’s found in your vision, mission and values.
“It all centres on knowing your people,” he says. “You’re designing exceptional experiences that they can’t get any other way anywhere else and that helps create engagement; it motivates people, it helps educate people, it informs them and it creates this community network.”
What You’re Getting
So, what separates your average incentive program from those that go above and beyond the norm?
“It’s about communication,” says Ruszala. “You have to look at an incentive travel experience as something you’re really ramping up to.”
Case and point, Maritz just kicked off an incentive travel program on June, 13, 2013 and on June 12, 2014 they’re picking those who earned that trip. Up until then he’ll be pumping people up with a launch fair – maybe three to six months in – that features the local cuisine of the destination country and further education on other things that will be included in the program, such as activities for part of their free-time.
“I want them engaged,” says Ruszala. “I want them sampling the experience. I want them learning about the opportunity because the more that they learn and the more they’re educated, the greater value they’ll find in the experience. I’m continually engaged because just as quickly as someone can be engaged and find value in the experience, they can disengage just as fast.”
Plus, entrepreneurs value a lot of high touch with their employees, so you want to weave that into the program and bring their motivation into the weekly, monthly or quarterly status updates on people’s progress toward the end goal of the trip.
“The trip itself is less like a carrousel ride and more like a rollercoaster, with fun and thrills built-in to the entire experience,” says Ruszala. “You really take down all the walls and build a lot of bridges, and it’s natural. Employees don’t feel forced to socialize, but it’s just natural to socialize and for many entrepreneurs, it’s an extension of the entrepreneurial culture and it’s something they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
The Hottest Trends in Incentive Travel
When it comes to the things your employees can actually do on their incentive trip, the sky really is the limit, but it wasn’t always that way.
“Ten to 15 years ago, you’re out there at 7 a.m. and you’re going hot and heavy until ten o’clock at night and there’s not a scheduled moment that you can breathe,” says Ruszala. “Today though, what people are screaming for is more free time.”
In that time, employees can do what they want when they want and sometimes Maritz will even partner with the destination’s tourism board to drive the employees to shows, museums and various restaurants they’ll have access to.
Group team building activities are also a hot trend, but we’re not talking about paintball and the trust fall – that’s so ten years ago.
Ruszala recounts a time when one group, down at a beach, decided to play Water Scrabble. Water Scrabble has a helicopter fly overhead and drop hundreds of tennis balls, each with a letter on it, into the water. In this case, the employees split into four different groups. Some were runners who got into the water, grabbed the balls and gave them to someone on the beach. That person, in turn, would give the balls to someone else who would try to spell out a word with the letters.
“It was a great competition, it was a great team-building exercise and it seems so juvenile, but it’s not; it’s novel,” says Ruszala. “It was a novel experience that helps you create camaraderie and bring people together.”
What to Stay Away From
When contemplating an incentive travel program for your office, you don’t want to go for the free “Design Your Own Incentive Travel Package” deal that’s available on the internet.
Instead, Ruszala recommends assessing your own organization. The parameters include your business goals and your audience members: what’s important to them, what’s not so important to them and what the engagement temper is at that point. Then start measuring those attributes on an ongoing basis.
“If you’re trying to influence behaviors and attitudes, don’t just measure those once every year, but understand how those change over time and make sure you’re communicating, ‘This is great, you’re doing a wonderful job’ or ‘You know what? I think you’re coming up a little short. I think we can catch you up a little bit,” says Ruszala.
“It always comes down to having the right design, so have the right design for your organization. Also, look toward folks and organizations that can help you execute. We’ve seen organizations that have done it very well on their own, but we’ve also seen situations where organizations really should’ve never been doing it on their own.”