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2021 vision: What does the future of incentive travel look like?

Ulterior Events’ Graham Alderman airs his predictions on the future of incentive travel in a post-COVID climate…

Graham Alderman, CEO Ulterior Events

We need confidence for our industry to start working again. We need to know about the countries, airlines, hotels and airports with an offering that inspires confidence in travel.

At this precise moment in time, the ones that don’t are irrelevant. Striving for a ‘full recovery’ is a red herring, there have always been countries that aren’t safe to travel to at one time or another. A partial recovery is all that’s needed to get incentive travel restarted, a dozen or so inviting destinations that we can start planning trips to with full faith that our clients will have a terrific time, at home or abroad.

It took lockdown to remind us what a privilege it is to travel and the pent-up hunger to explore makes travel the ultimate incentive again as we emerge from our covid cocoons. There will be anxiety as we start moving again, akin to the jittery feelings that were common in the early days of mass travel abroad. Some individuals won’t have the consumer confidence to book private trips in the immediate future – for them, the idea of an indulgent, escapist, all-expenses company trip, with each minute detail taken care of, will be even more alluring than before.

A solid destination management company relationship will be invaluable

I’ve seen this time and time again with trips I’ve run to India; countless guests tell me they’ve had it on their bucket list for years but have been too overwhelmed or cautious to book. So it always goes down a storm as an incentive destination as guests know the transport, food, safety, and overall care will be first-rate, enabling them to have a truly relaxing time in a spectacular country that can otherwise be tricky to navigate under your own steam. For the client, trust in incentive agents will be more important than ever and for agents, a solid DMC (destination management company) relationship will be invaluable.

There will be an overwhelming desire to reconnect in 2021, so once it’s safe, and legal, to do so I think we’ll see a resurgence of bigger group getaways, whether it’s a whole company or a country team. Many companies are delaying their return to the office or abandoning their workspaces altogether, creating room for get-togethers in new places. One of our oldest clients swears by the benefits of the annual full company retreat we run for them, it gets employees away from their desks and into a completely different environment, providing a space for them to relax, re-energise, and let their hair down. Exclusive use properties will be in particularly high demand over the next year, whether they’re 25 rooms or 250 rooms.

Contributing to the destination (CSR) was an already fast-growing incentives trend that will boom post-pandemic as people become increasingly mindful. In the first instance, the very best thing we can do to benefit host communities that depend on tourism is to book trips there. As an industry, we help so many communities with the money we invest. It doesn’t get totally lost in the global airlines and hotel chains. It filters down to the people that need it the most. My dear friends Stan and Godfrey, the drivers we’ve used in Zambia for over a decade have suffered beyond comprehension in the last eight months. There is no furlough scheme in Zambia. It’s absolutely vital we get people travelling again to give people like Stan and Godfrey a means of putting food on the table for their families.

Our industry is now the tightest it’s been, in the face of an incomprehensibly challenging year we’re collaborating more than ever. Incentive travel specialists are incredibly well versed in adapting to changing circumstances, updating and improving plans to always remain two steps ahead of the client. I’m wholly confident that our workforce has the tenacity, resilience, and creativity to rebuild the incentive travel sector – and rebuild it back better.

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