Before asking ourselves why second- or even third-tier destinations are becoming more popular for incentive travel, we should answer this question: what makes an incentive a real incentive? As planners, what is it that we are looking for?
In Latin, the word' incendere' means 'firing up' or 'to set fire'. When it comes to incentive travel, we want to create one-of-a-kind experiences that leave positive, long-lasting memories for our incentive participants. It is all about touching the emotional side of the guests so that the experiences are remembered forever in positive ways. I believe that going off the beaten track to look for new ideas is one of the chief missions of an incentive planner.
However, where can we find these extraordinary, unique and exceptional experiences? Are there any left?
Looking for that special touch
Most planners agree that it is becoming more and more challenging to find these experiences in first-tier destinations. That is because guests who travel frequently have already seen the world over, and it is much harder for us to find unique experiences in larger incentive 'hubs'. In most cases, our target guests have already been to most big cities.
No worries though, because this presents a huge opportunity for second- and third-tier destinations. As planners, we have observed many local suppliers - especially those with great potential in the incentive field - coming up with new approaches and creative ideas. These suppliers are also the ones competing harder to get the business and going the extra mile to make the impossible possible.
Besides, second- and third-tier destinations continue to be alluring to travellers. Aside from their unique nature, these destinations continue to feel untouched and undiscovered, at least to majority of our guests. These are the exact qualities - authenticity, uniqueness, as well as new, memorable experiences - that we look for in a destination.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows
However, that is not to say that second- and third-tier cities do not have their downsides to begin with. For one, these destinations tend to be less developed. The tourism industry, too, is often less mature. Then there are other challenges as well, such as the lack of suitable hotels, the lack of necessary equipment (if needed), logistics in disarray, just to name a few. Even accessibility is an issue, since these destinations might require multiple transfers that last for longer times. These elements make second- or third-tier destinations sometimes difficult to promote. That is why it is so important to gain the support and inputs of local CVBs and DMOs alike.
To work around these challenges, one idea is to find something the second- and third-tier destinations are famous for.
Let's take my hometown, Cologne in Germany, for example. We have strong media-related businesses, as well as many research institutions and universities. The local identity, too, is very strong, since our history dates back 2,000 years to the Roman Empire. As such, Cologne is the capital of carnivals, as well as the home of 'Koelsch', a local beer. My hometown also hosts several famous football and ice hockey clubs.
With that in mind, the local CVBs in my hometown are actively promoting these in their marketing - and their efforts have been met with great successes, too, especially against their larger competitions, such as Berlin. Also, these CVBs have been sparing no effort when it comes to offering local experiences found nowhere else in the world, let alone in Germany.
That is why it is important for CVBs, knowing what planners need and what local suppliers can provide, to play the role of consultants between all parties involved and create common grounds for the betterment of incentive experiences for clients.
I see huge opportunities coming up for second- and third-tier destinations. Compared to their bigger, more established counterparts, these destinations have unique sparks that the more mature first-tier hubs now lack. It will be interesting to see how the next few years are going to develop, as first-tier destinations look for ways to redefine themselves.