Tips for choosing the best incentive travel destination

Any destination can shine by incorporating immersive experience strategies.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand: an exclusive two-day buyout of the venue can include visits with the elephants in small groups.
Samui Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand: an exclusive two-day buyout of the venue can include visits with the elephants in small groups. Photo Credit: Lesley Fisher

ITA Group's lead buyer, Jodi Swailes, shares top tips for creating trip itineraries that match budgets and delight winners.

Bucket-list destinations may not be ideal

Everyone's dream destination is different, based on what activities they enjoy and what they have already seen. For example, luxury resorts quickly become "been there, done that, for repeat winners. This does not mean you have to scour the globe for hidden gems. Instead of focusing on finding a destination that is truly unexplored, there are other ways to add novelty to create memorable events.

We believe any destination can shine by incorporating immersive experience strategies. Even popular places like Italy and Mexico can be reimagined with meaningful surprises such as opportunities that winners cannot recreate on their own, which are tailored to their passions. For example:

· During a trip for car enthusiasts, a custom vintage Fiat driving tour included lunch at Castello di Monsanto.

· London is a popular destination, but an exclusive dinner on the London Tower Bridge Walkway gave attendees the best views overlooking the city that they wouldn't have experienced otherwise.

· It does not matter if guests on an incentive trip to Italy had already seen Vatican City; we arranged an elevated experience by hosting a private dinner in the Sistine Chapel.

Understand the audience

Incentive travel is about creating an unforgettable experience for the people who have earned the trip. Make travel design fun by framing your research as a travel personalisation quiz. You can use the data to build out personalised attendee journeys. When trips are designed around attendee needs and expectations, the programme becomes more meaningful.

Start your destination selection process by considering what you already know about your audience and their connection to your brand. Are they repeat earners? Channel partners who compete for trips from other brands in addition to yours? Regionally or internationally dispersed teams?

It can be tempting to infer what locations will excite attendees based on role-related information. But digging deeper into audience preferences will help you create a stronger connection.

Consider sending a simple survey that asks:

· How they want to spend their free time

· How far they are willing to fly

· Whether they want to be immersed in a single place or explore a region

· Who they will be traveling with

As an event designer, it is up to you to set up a storyline that excites participants and engages them from arrival to departure. Frame a return trip around traditions to build anticipation and foster a sense of belonging. Connect the experiences so they build off each other, peaking in a culminating event. And remember to book space early so you have more options during your desired dates.

Flex your budget where it matters

Be smart about how you allocate your incentive travel budget. Global markets are dramatically affecting availability and rates. Factor in local costs for food and beverage spends, too. Based on what matters most to attendees, invest in areas that will make an impact. This might mean opting for a more affordable destination so that a bigger allowance goes toward enhancing the experience, like securing luxury cars to greet attendees at the airport instead of a charter bus.

Adjusting accommodations can also bring costs down and better serve attendees. A four-star hotel in the city centre is more suitable than a remote five-star resort where it would be difficult for attendees to explore the destination during their free time. Or opt for a boutique property with fewer amenities, but breathtaking views from the rooms and connections to a renowned local chef.

Pay attention to social impact

During the destination selection process for an award-winning incentive trip hosted by a large technology brand, our clients prioritised making a positive impact. They wanted to benefit a tourism-reliant location that was hard hit by the pandemic. We discovered that in Koh Samui, Thailand, the Samui Elephant Sanctuary depends solely on tourism donations. There had not been any for two years, jeopardising the venue's charitable work.

To fully connect the attendee experience with the destination and CSR goals, we incorporated Asian elephant imagery into every detail of the trip, from the custom pre-mailer, tied with a ribbon and elephant charm, to onsite branding on embroidered pillows, miniature elephant figurines, wooden drink tokens and more. An exclusive two-day buyout of the sanctuary was a highlight for participants, who visited the elephants in small groups and helped make food that met the elephants' special dietary requirements.

This partnership gave back to the local economy and helped attendees build an authentic emotional connection to the culture. It also shed light on the decline of Asian elephants, a critical conservation issue.

Seek knowledgeable experts

Trusted relationships with destination management companies and resort staff are essential for creating the extra-special moments that incentive travel guests crave.

Source: Northstar Meetings Group