Ask a recently returned incentive travel winner to describe his or her trip to you, and it usually starts with a plane ride to an exotic, warm-weather destination … a greeting by smiling, uniformed trip directors … a welcoming drink … a deluxe double room.

It continues with cocktail parties and poolside buffets … golf and tennis … beach parties and dine-arounds … and it concludes with a farewell banquet, abundant thanks, and kudos all around. It’s a pretty picture of pleasant recollections, and every time you hear a description like it, you’ll know that someone has just set the incentive travel industry back 20 years.

Was there not a single moment that burned itself in the mind forever?

One event so unusual and uncommon that the guests knew it was created especially for them?

Was there not anything they did that they couldn’t have done on their own?

Does the mind radiate, do the passions stir at the recollection and recounting of the experience?

If these questions cannot be answered with resounding affirmatives, then someone is guilty of creating a “typical” incentive travel program.

There Should be Nothing Typical about the Typical Incentive.

Picture it. You’ve just asked someone … a salesperson or a distributor … for a 20 percent increase over what they have been doing. Do you really think that people (who already think they’re killing themselves) will work 20 percent harder for a trip that they saw in the newspaper travel section for $449? Would you? I think not.

What, then, will drive someone to work the equivalent of an extra day every week for six months? The answer is not a trip. The answer is a travel experience … filled with surprises and special moments and personal touches and extraordinary events … an experience that they could not duplicate on their own no matter how wealthy they might be.

The corporate incentive award program is very much a moral contract between a company and its employees and/or customers. It says, in effect, “You do this for us, and we’ll reward you in a fashion that you’ll never forget.” The “typical” incentive trip can be quickly forgotten if it is simply a blur of pleasant experiences.

Every single destination in the world is a unique piece of earth because of what has preceded today, what has happened to it and to its peoples. There is history and culture to be drawn out and transformed into magical moments … into theme parties, into pillow gifts … stories to be told with flair and sparkle … places to be seen through the looking glass that only the imagination can provide.

The First Billion Was Easy

In the last few decades incentive travel has skyrocketed to billions of dollars.

To a great extent, the growth occurred because the idea was so very good and several persevering souls chipped away at the natural resistance to a concept not in wide use in the 60s and, to a lesser extent, in the 70s.

There are billions more waiting to be spent on travel incentives. But despite the acceptance of travel as a marketing tool, it’s going to get tougher every year … for several years.

The people we are trying to motivate today are not the same people that we aimed at years ago. They are more sophisticated, more aware of a world that’s shrinking daily … so the faraway places with the strange-sounding names aren’t so far away or strange-sounding anymore.

They’re people who are more mobile, have traveled more on their own … so the mystique of travel is evaporating. As incentive travel grows, so grow the chances that they’ve been on an incentive trip before, and their level of expectation is higher.

In short, good isn’t good enough anymore. While the past years called for good salesmanship, the next ten will call for imagination and daring … for excellence in the creation and delivery of extraordinary programs.

A Matter of Self-Interest

“Why should I bother with all these custom events and special touches?” you ask. After all, your programs are first-class, well run, and successful.

There are several reasons.

First of all, “first class” is a given … part and parcel of the incentive business. It is assumed that an incentive trip will be done first class … much like a diner has the right to assume that his soup will be hot and his utensils clean. So “first class” does not set you apart from the crowd.

“Well run” is as implicit in incentive travel as first class. Remember, we’re dealing with a winner whose expectations are high. He/she expects and deserves a well-run program without flaws. So, again, your program is no different than any others.

Successful? The first measure of success rests in the corporate sponsor’s business objectives. Were they achieved? Unlike most things in life, the greatest chance for success occurs the very first time you use incentive travel because the novelty of the idea will carry you through.

In subsequent programs, the participants will have lived through the award, and they’ll know exactly what they’re competing for. Simply because they left your last program with smiles and thanks and compliments and a tan doesn’t mean that they’ll kill themselves to do it again. (When was the last time that you left a party at someone’s house and told the host that the evening wasn’t worth the long drive?)

“First-class, well-run” programs have an insidious way of lulling us into a false sense of security … of letting us think we’re succeeding when we’re not. It’s what goes on in the winner’s mind but never gets said that does that damage. Like termites eating away at a beautiful home, you don’t see the damage until it’s too late.

The program is successful only if its impact is so strong that it plants a burning passion in the participants … a passion that drives people to promise themselves that nothing will stand in their way of participating in all future programs.

If you are a corporate person using incentive travel, you owe it to yourself and your company to do the uncommon, the extraordinary, or you’re wasting money. If you are an incentive travel professional, you’d better plan on doing things in a superior, spectacular fashion, or you’re going to lose your base of clients to someone who does.

All it takes is imagination.

Author's Bio: 

About Dittman Incentive Marketing

This article was provided by Dittman Incentive Marketing (, a quality leader in the field of people performance improvement. Since 1976, Dittman has helped companies achieve critical corporate goals via original, one-of-a-kind corporate incentive award programs that inspire a sales force to sell more, customers to buy more, and others to do more.