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Incentive travel can pay for itself with increased sales or business performance

Industry trend: growing market for special trips

Incentive travel, rewarding sales people and other employees as well as clients with vacations, continues to be popular with Mississippi businesses with cruises and other trips to the Caribbean being one of the most popular offerings.

“There is a big market for incentive travel,” said Donna Hall Jones, group coordinator for Avanti Travel, Jackson. “Most people want to go to the Caribbean, and their focus is on the activities there including water sports, historical sites and cultural offerings. Most of the time incentive travel is an awards program to top sales people. But many insurance companies, telecommunications businesses and banks offer incentive trips to consumers.”

The incentive travel can be for taking out a loan, opening other accounts, or sometimes is just a group travel offer that allows customers better rates.

Destinations can vary depending on the age of customers or employees. Hall said younger people lean more towards the Caribbean, and all-inclusive resorts that provide the hotel rooms, food and beverages and water sports for one price are increasingly popular. Older people tend to be more interested in cruises and visiting Europe. The emphasis is more on sightseeing than sports.

Hall said the advantage of using travel agencies for incentive travel programs is that the suggested destination properties have been thoroughly checked out. That avoids the disappointment that can come from substandard accommodations and food.

“Do a lot of research before signing up for incentive travel programs,” Hall advises. “Especially with groups, you want to offer something that will not be a disappointment to them.”

Kim Loeviere, agent with Gulf National Travel, said one trend with incentive travel is three- or four-night packages rather than longer stays.

“A lot of clients are so busy that they just can’t get away for very long,” Loeviere said. “The budget may not be as large as in the past, either. So the three- to four-day trips to the Caribbean are popular. Cancun is popular. We have even done New Orleans. As close as it is, it is one of the trips that people say they enjoy the most.”

While most incentive travel is to reward top sales people, Loeviere said that some businesses also do individual employee incentive travel. But whether the incentive is for one individual or a group, care needs to be taken that the recipient of the travel package doesn’t have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses associated with the trip. For example, it is a good idea to make sure port taxes and tips are included for cruise packages.

Flexibility is important, too, so some companies opt for programs where they can buy a certificate for a cruise, for example. Carnival Cruise Lines has a program where companies can purchase cruise packages that can be used anytime within an 18-month period. The person receiving the trip then can make arrangements with the travel agency to go when and where they want. Arrangements are made through the travel agency.

Loeviere said these packages give the company and employees more flexibility, and also allow people to travel during the high season rather than the off season.

Some corporations purchase gift certificates that can read “Two night stay in New Orleans” or “A trip to Europe” rather than containing a dollar spending amount.

Does incentive travel work? Loeviere said judging from the reports, people are very pleased.

“People come back all relaxed and excited,” she said. “They feel wanted and important. We have had a lot of clients come back and remark how much they enjoyed the trip. They are always eager to know where they are going next year.”

Incentive travel is being used today not only to encourage peak performances from employees, but also to attract and keep good employees in today’s tight job market. Incentive travel can be a way to offer a competitive edge, and show that superior results will be rewarded. Experts say that programs work best when designed to raise performance levels so a company can meet or exceed its business goals.

Proponents of incentive travel say that a properly designed incentive program should pay for itself out of profits generated by increased sales volume or cost savings. In some cases incentive travel has come under fire from stockholders who believe it is an unnecessary and costly expense. So it is important to be able to quantify the company’s payback for an incentive travel program.

Another consideration is promoting the incentive travel program within the company. The program needs to be presented in a way that generates excitement and increased motivation within the company.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.


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