Inside incentives: why it’s simply a waiting game

Elliott Grant, Site GB president 2020 and director of BLACK BOOK outlines the dilemma facing incentives organisers – evolve or be patient?

There’s been lots of debate on what the evolution of incentives is going to be in a post‐COVID world.

Elliot Grant

Agencies have been innovating and exploring different options for maintaining engaging and motivating incentive programmes. These range from individual incentive trips for winners and their partners, to holiday vouchers, to monetary rewards. Some have even created virtual experiences – being able to fly over Iguazu Falls or watch the Great Migration in the Serengeti, that can be enjoyed from the comfort of people’s own homes.

The reason for these endeavours are two‐fold. Firstly clients are still keen to incentivise their staff, now more than ever it’s key to retain good employees and motivate them to achieve goals that will drive company objectives. And secondly, of course, agencies need to make money. It’s been well publicised that the events industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and incentives more than most due to its very nature – group experiences, overseas.

The problem is, an incentive can’t be replaced with a virtual experience, an individual trip or a financial reward. The trip is just the bones of the incentive, the hygiene factor, the foundation of the experience. There’s so much more to it than that.

“We’re in the business of “experiences you can’t buy” – that’s the value an agency can provide when curating an incentive programme”

A group trip with colleagues is an experience shared, a long‐lasting memory that bonds the individuals on that trip. Financial reward will be spent quickly and forgotten, a holiday with a partner whilst luxurious and spoiling, will be one of many and one hopes that relationship will already be a strong one.

But a trip with the person who sits next to you, or your team members who’ve worked so hard with you to secure a place, that’s a priceless experience that does more to cement a team ethos than any financial reward could do.

Incentive trips provide experiences that you simply can’t do as an individual. Agencies and destination management companies (DMCs) work hard to open doors to venues, people, activities and culinary options that make their trip unique and this kind of cultural education is unique to the group incentive.

People often refer to “money can’t buy” elements of incentive trips – I always find this a bit of a misnomer, we’re in the business of “experiences you can’t buy” – that’s the value an agency can provide when curating an incentive programme and that’s a key element that is lost if trips are run individually or removed altogether from a company incentive structure.

This power of spending time with your peers, networking, bonding, building deeper relationships is even more prevalent with the engagement a group incentive offers with senior management. This could be something that employees get very little of during a working year but the opportunity to meet, talk and be seen as a high achieving member of staff can be key not only to the motivation of the winners but also a key driver in terms of the kudos associated with being on the incentive – something else that is missing from every sort of incentive product apart from a group experience.

The final piece of the puzzle that’s missing when not running a group incentive is the opportunity to promote and nurture a company’s culture and values. Events are a key part of any business as it’s an opportunity for them to express their company personality – this is in the form of their culture and values. Incentives are a great chance to do this not only through the programme itself where they can express what’s important to the business with elements like CSR and community outreach projects but also in the nature of the engagement onsite.

The benefits of a group incentive go on long after the incentive is finished which is where a company can really obtain maximum benefit from the money it spends on the trip. The morale of the office, the feedback from the event, the motivation to achieve a winner’s spot the following year, all of this heavily outweighs any long‐lasting benefits of individual of financial rewards.

In summary, people can build substitutes for incentive travel and some will create a product that ticks some boxes for clients and helps agencies keep their business going in these difficult times but the bottom line is that incentive travel has so many other supplementary benefits that simply can’t be replaced. The hard truth is that we’re going to have to ride this pandemic out until we can create the kind of experiences that tick all the boxes again.

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