Did COVID kill travel incentive programmes?

Venue Spotlight: The Westin London City
October 25, 2021
Venue Spotlight: The Beaverbrook Hotel
November 1, 2021

Travel objects on wooden background

By Chris Parnham

International travel incentive programmes have always been one of the most effective ways of motivating a workforce to reach for more challenging targets, and for a business to improve sales, staff motivation and retention. But when COVID closed the World’s borders, it shut down this effective business improvement strategy.

Now as international travel begins to return, albeit with some trepidation, is travel still a treat?

Before flying, the paperwork and testing required is time-consuming and stressful. The airport experience is hampered with extra checks and slower queues. From entering the airport to arriving at your destination, masks must be worn, unless you are lucky enough to get a drink or something to eat. Even when flying at the front of the plane, you will still be lucky to find an airline lounge open. And if it is, you will likely have to queue for a limited selection of refreshments.

When you arrive at your hotel, you may find that concierge is no longer allowed to handle your bags. There may be reduced reception staff, hidden behind screens that prevent you from hearing each other as they explain the new rules in place due to COVID. These will most likely include reduced restaurant and bar service, limited menus, no turn-down, on-request room cleaning, and perhaps no pool or spa.

Have all the new safety measures employed taken the luxury out of travel, thereby removing the incentive?

Of course not. The luxury enjoyed by incentive winners is still there, but luxury has developed a conscience.

The lockdowns, caused by COVID, taught us all some very valuable lessons. We learned the value of time, of friends, and of loved ones. Many of us enjoyed the chance to slow down, to enjoy our home comforts, to take time for ourselves and perhaps time to improve ourselves.

So, taking these well-learned lessons on board, perhaps our incentive travel programmes need to evolve too.

A successful incentive programme must be aspirational. This is why luxury travel is the most common prize – a money can’t buy trip or experience. But now we have developed luxury with a conscience, we have the chance to add more than just extravagance.

An incentive winner is treated to the trip of a lifetime – and many memorable Instagram moments. But what if the winner can improve themselves as part of the programme too? To develop some valuable knowledge or insights, a life skill or talent?

How to create memorable incentive travel programmes.

In amongst the exclusive dining, fine wines, and beautiful views, try to work something into the schedule that the winners can feast on mentally. Something that will change them for the better – for the rest of their lives.

How about learning to paint, with a local professional artist? Learn how to take professional photos with only a smartphone. Hire an exciting and inspirational speaker, based in, or associated with the destination, who can also leave their book behind as a gift. Offer specialist tutors or presenters who can teach winners how to write their first novel or even their autobiography, or how to become a successful diarist or travel blogger. Perhaps teach financially motivated winners how to play the stock markets, or how to win at the casino. The options are endless. But the key is – how can you give something to the winners, that they will see as valuable self-improvement?

Depending on your group size and available budget, you could offer a menu of options to suit all tastes.

As we develop luxury with a conscience, let us also ask what we can do to give something back to our host destination too. It’s not difficult to find out what good causes are active at your intended destination and see how your group can do something to support this cause. If it involves some learning or team building too, then that’s an added benefit.

There is no getting away from the fact that travel isn’t quite as streamlined or luxurious as it was…

…but this is for good reason. We need to take more care of ourselves and each other when travelling, to reduce the risk of serious infection. As we travel, we take new risks and export potential risk too. Therefore, we must travel with a clear conscience, and take extra care.

The extra administration required to travel post lockdown, is just a chance for a good agency to demonstrate its value. By removing all this work from the traveller they can make it stress-free and as seamless as possible.

In short, yes, extra safety measures now hinder the travel experience, at the expense of some luxuries, but luxury with a conscience means we can appreciate new pleasures, those that add more valuable than mere extravagance.

Many of us have become better humans since COVID put our normal lives on pause for so long, and this appetite to better ourselves, and think and care for each other is like a positive virus, it’s infectious.

Find out more about incentive programmes and how we can deliver memorable experiences for your employees.