What is an Incentive Travel Company?

Many individuals who are tasked with creating an incentive trip would first look to corporate travel agencies to help with the planning, but will quickly find that what they really need is a full-service incentive travel company.

Travel agencies excel with vacations meant for individuals or groups of less than ten. Their bread and butter are what’s referred to as leisure travel or transient business. Reservations are made one at a time and are transactionally focused: reserve the hotel room, rent the car, get plane tickets, and on to the next.

Incentive travel companies are similar in function, but their specialty is vastly different. For every incentive trip (or president’s club trip, circle of excellence, platinum club, etc.), a professional meeting planner builds out a true ‘incentive-quality’ group travel program that is designed with the travelers’ specific tastes in mind. Bespoke incentive trips give a VIP experience for top performers that they’ll be talking about for years.

If you are reserving more than ten rooms (which hotels define as a ‘group’), using an incentive travel company has many distinct advantages over travel agencies.

10 Advantages of Using Incentive Travel Companies

1. Destination Expertise – While most agencies know the best locations for one or two leisure travelers, incentive travel companies know what destinations have the best accommodations, event venues, and activities for incentive group trips.

2. Global Partnerships – DMCs (Destination Management Companies) work closely with incentive travel companies to provide local expertise and support. DMCs have the greatest knowledge of activities, travel, dining, and much more for their destination. They know the new and recently renovated hotels; what’s hot, and not so hot. Incentive travel companies have established relationships to deliver reliable quality and lowest cost.

3. Cost Savings – Management fees are often the line item that comes to mind first when considering an incentive trip planner, but the savings that result from their partnerships with hotels and vendors, and not having to use up your internal staff’s time is enough to offset the cost of hiring an incentive travel company. (Referred to as ‘Zero Net Cost’ explained below)

4. Program Management – A certified meeting planner (CMP) will handle the pre-planning, reservations, and on-site logistics. An incentive trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and is only as successful as it is memorable. Making sure that everything runs smoothly with air, hotel, and transportation is paramount, and a CMP also provides access to the best group activities, tours, and private events to create a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable program.

5. Up-to-Date Trends – Staying on top of new activities or gifts that will resonate with particular audiences is almost a full-time job in itself. Incentive travel companies know what will excite and what falls flat. With all the hype around ‘experiential’ and ‘authentic’ experiences, it’s becoming more prevalent that every element of an incentive trip resonates with the attendees’ interest.

6. Site Selection – Incentive planners use eRFPs (Electronic Request For Proposals) to uncover the best values at “incentive-quality” hotels. Hotel contract negotiations are taken care of to ensure the client is receiving the best deal possible. Cost savings can be in the thousands of dollars and can sometimes be enough to offset the management fee for using an incentive travel company.

7. Risk Avoidance – The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) says that nearly 60% of planners experience a disruption that affects the overall outcome of a program. CMPs specialize in providing solutions for possible emergencies and unforeseen roadblocks, and can likely be the difference between the success or failure of your incentive trip.

8. Communication Campaign – Creating a theme for the incentive trip helps tie the whole trip together from the first kickoff email until the plane ride back home. Combined with eye-catching artwork for all of the program’s collateral creates an atmosphere of excitement and increases buy-in from participants. Promotional marketing campaigns are built in parallel for the qualification stage. This is what boosts your team’s motivation and sales to drive your return on investment for the incentive trip. Emails, direct mailers, promo videos, and pre-trip gifts keep participants engaged and working towards the goal.

9. Custom Website – Participants will use a dedicated website to get news on the program and check for updates. Trip attendees register through the website and are officially handled without needing to keep track of emails on who is and isn’t able to travel. The secure website also eliminates data errors by accurately capturing exact traveler name, passport number, flight preferences, secure traveler information, activity choices, and even dietary restrictions.

10. Overall Expertise – Incentive travel companies have CMPs that specialize in start-to-finish meeting planning, negotiation, securing entertainment, arranging audio-visual needs, contingency planning and much more. It is truly a white glove service where any need can be satisfied.

using an incentive company starts with this how to guide!
When Should We Start Planning Our Incentive Trip?

The earlier you can start planning your incentive trip, the better. Not only for program effectiveness, but saving on budget as well. Hiring an incentive travel company early on in the process allows you to take full advantage of their skillset for the length of the program, not just fulfillment on the trip itself.  An example of an ideal 18-month timeline would look something like this:

Sourcing

Beginning the process by deciding on a destination and hotel through electronic RFPs uncovers the best value and options. Negotiations are handled by the incentive travel company, as well as preparing contracts and conducting site inspections. Professional sourcing usually accounts for the largest cost savings!

Planning & Promotion

The timeline to obtain your overall program objectives while keeping communications and excitement a priority. The amount of time differs from team-to-team, but a year-long program is often the model. Incentive trip planning occurs during this phase and will generate savings on F&B (Food and Beverage) while keep quality the same.

Travel

Now your attendees can experience what they’ve worked so hard towards. The months leading up to this will be used to organize the list of travelers, arrange flights and room reservations, and work with the on-site support team to get final numbers for activity participation. Our professional trip directors ensure the trip plan executes flawlessly and manages on-site logistics.

Wrap-up

After you’ve had a chance to bask in the glow of a successful trip, the meeting manager determines what can be improved upon even more for the next one, as well as completing a detailed reconciliation of the program financials.

Is an Incentive Travel Company More Expensive?

Zero Net Cost is typical with group incentive travel. Essentially, it’s the understanding that the ~15% incentive travel company fee is offset by ~15% trip savings. Incentive travel companies use their partnerships with hotels and DMCs to negotiate the best value for the client, and history shows the budget savings is enough to pay for these services. These savings combined with the additional ROI generated from program design keep the largest companies in the world coming back year-after-year to plan more programs with incentive travel companies (check out this Success Story on a Monaco Incentive Trip.) In fact, 46% of businesses in the United States spend a combined ~$22.5 billion on incentive travel every year to motivate, build loyalty, and help their bottom line.

From a recent joint study by the Incentive Research Foundation, Society of Incentive Travel Excellence, and Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals the average cost of an incentive trip is $5,193 per participant. We would recommend a budget of $5,500 per participant for a 6-day, 5-night trip in North America (US, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean), at an incentive-quality 4 or 5-star hotel or resort with two sponsored activities and all dining covered (including a welcome reception and awards dinner.) This figure can fluctuate significantly based on the parameters of the trip; feel free to play around with some ‘what-if’ scenarios on our handy incentive travel pricing calculator.

While this may seem like a daunting cost, the ROI or ROO (Return on Objective) created by the initial incentive design proves reason enough to keep the program alive. This is especially true when utilizing the expertise of an incentive travel company that doesn’t just fulfill the trip, but the incentive program’s design as well.

The Bottom Line…

Like you’re an expert in your industry, an incentive pro spends their days completely immersed in every aspect of the incentive travel industry. They know the group travel business inside and out. Their mission is simple: make your job easier and make your trip better.

Incentive travel companies offer valuable expertise and management services that save you time and money.

Incentive travel is a unique business discipline. It’s more than a ‘room and a ride.’ Experienced planners have seen great trips – and not-so-great trips. They’ve seen similar projects in similar industries for similar situations. Best practices is an overused phrase today, but incentive travel companies truly offer best practice expertise.

Chances are you need fresh ideas, and as travel thought leaders, we are actively involved in incentive travel industry organizations, research groups, and trade shows to stay abreast to the latest research and trends to make your incentive trip the best it can be.