Previously published in Incentive Magazine.
Without a doubt, travel is the ultimate motivator. Program participants dream of exotic getaways for months, and they increase their efforts to get there. Program communications keep the possibility front-of-mind. Upon returning from a trip, winners share stories with colleagues and keep photos on their desks, constant reminders of the benefits of the engagement and effort. The award extends well beyond the dates of the program, giving a residual lift to discretionary effort which impacts the bottom line. For the sponsoring organization, the ripple effects of the program have long-lasting and far-reaching effects.
But what kind of travel award is appropriate? The scope and effects of group and individual travel are quite distinct.
Group travel offers an unparalleled opportunity for networking and to deliver unifying organizational messages to top performers and senior leaders, as well as recognition in front of peers and loved ones.
Individual travel allows winners to choose when to travel, and where to go. More importantly, it provides an opportunity to share the experience with children or friends and often becomes the family vacation. In our Great Escapes program, we’ve even planned honeymoons!
So, when planning a travel incentive, how do you know what to choose? There are three primary considerations: budget, organizational goals, and audience.
Budget A good rule of thumb is that 25 percent of the incremental increase in gross profit resulting from the contest should be budgeted to an incentive program. Divide that by the number of anticipated or pre-determined winners for a per winner budget.
Typically, group travel requires a minimum of $5,000 per winner to provide a full-service travel program with spouses included. Individual travel packages typically range from $1,000 to $5,000 per winner and include certificates or planned holidays. Below $1,000 per winner, certificate or merchandise packages offer the best value.
Quality really matters. The perceived value of the program should be directly proportional to the efforts made by program winners. It is better to offer a really great individual travel award than a mediocre group travel experience.
Organizational Goals Is the opportunity to bring senior leaders together with top performers important for your organization? Group travel provides the pinnacle moment for formal recognition before peers. What’s more, in their recent study, "Striking the Balance: The Integration of Offsite Business Meetings and Incentive Travel," the Incentive Research Foundation found that “Reward earners appear to accept and even prefer at least one business meeting as part of their reward travel, as long as the meetings are meaningful and beneficial to their work.”
This provides a great opportunity for organizations to communicate directly to their best people in one place, at one time. It is also an opportunity to engrave the corporate fingerprint on the experience and to do ambitious events which connect lifetime memories with the client sponsor.
An individual travel reward has different benefits. Time to relax and enjoy the trip with family – often with children, as well – is deeply treasured by program winners. Choice of destination and dates are highly prized. It is still entirely possible to formally recognize the accomplishment within the office or at a local event. If networking or meetings are not necessary, individual travel achieves recognition and reward goals.
Audience Does the competitive sales culture at your organization thrive on public recognition before peers and senior executives? If so, group travel is for you. Or are you rewarding Millennial workers who value choice and independence most? Then, individual travel is it.
It is critical to consider the culture of your organization to understand what is most motivating and most highly valued by the people you are setting out to inspire. You might survey likely winners or form a focus group to ascertain what will connect best with potential winners.
Group travel may be growing again in popularity, but individual travel may still be the right solution for your budget, goals, or audience. Either option will provide lasting effects, positively impact the bottom line, and deepen employee engagement when you make the commitment to deliver with excellence, no matter which form you choose.
As Vice President of Travel & Engagement at Next Level Performance, Susan serves on the board of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and chairs the IRF Research Committee. She has also served on the board of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and is a past president of the Recognition Council, and a past member of the Performance Improvement Council and the Incentive and Engagement Solution Providers (IESP). She is interested in the strategies and benefits of employee engagement, incentive, and recognition programs. An avid traveler, she is also passionate about the art and science of incentive travel.