Turning an Incentive Travel Program into a Traveling Roadshow
COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives – from the classroom to the conference room. One of the hardest-hit industries is the global travel industry, as business and leisure travel took a nose-dive just like the stock market did when countries across the world were faced with no other option but to shut down their economies and close their borders. The decreased travel demands have negatively impacted airlines, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment.
And by extension, the meetings and incentive travel industry has been severely impacted. Job losses, furloughs, and pay cuts are widespread within our industry. Scheduled Spring 2020 travel programs became Fall 2020 programs, only to ultimately become another canceled program in the year that is 2020. And while the U.S. economy is showing signs of a “V-shaped” recovery, it will likely be years before the meetings & incentive travel industry returns to pre-pandemic levels.
The Next Normal
Earlier this year, Brightspot hosted a series of webinars entitled “The Next Normal…What to Expect After COVID-19”. The purpose of the webinars (and follow-up blogs) was to discuss the role that incentives play in driving business results; and how now – more than ever – incentives can play a vital role in helping any business recover from the impact of COVID-19. One of our rallying mantras to clients is similar to that of NIKE: “just do something”. If you cannot meet face-to-face, consider a virtual conference. If you cannot operate your incentive travel program, consider merchandise rewards as a substitute. If you cannot travel by air, consider bus travel. Wait, what?!
That last scenario is exactly the challenge we were given when one of our clients told us they wanted to take their traditional incentive travel program on the road – literally. This domestic travel program brings together attendees from twelve different locations to one destination for a time of celebration and a national competition; and this program is co-located with their annual company convention. When COVID-19 turned their convention into a virtual one, we were forced to innovate and determine how we can still conduct the celebration and competition, albeit in a new format. Our challenge was to transfer 38 travelers (including our client, our on-site staff, and our production team) to 12 different destinations to bring this traveling roadshow to the “attendees”.
In a later blog, I will discuss more details of the program itself, but in this post, I will specifically cover the COVID safety precautions that were implemented to ensure everyone had not just a great experience, but a safe one. Just about every tool in our risk management toolkit was put to the test in planning this program.
Embarking on a 12-day, 11-city, 10-state, 5000-mile epic road trip across the U.S. is not something you do every day, let alone under COVID-19 conditions. Fortunately, our client was willing to invest in whatever it took to keep the travelers safe. While 38 travelers would easily fit into one 54-passenger motorcoach, we instead contracted three motor coaches. This allowed for ample social distancing, as each bus was only at 25% capacity. A COVID “safety captain” was designated for each bus and every passenger had an assigned seat for the duration of the 12-day trip. Every traveler was also asked to do a wellness self-check each morning and was temperature-checked before boarding their respective bus every single day. Additionally, every passenger was given a COVID safety kit, with masks/neck gaiters, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and electronic wipes. Every bus was sanitized by the transportation crew daily.
Needless to say, we took full advantage of branding opportunities: the safety kit, masks/neck gaiters, and the actual motor coaches themselves were all branded. These three motor-coaches were a bigger-than-life-size, rolling advertisement for our client as we traveled across the country.
Every day our busses trekked to a new city – sometimes 4-hours away, sometimes 12-hours away. And every night we were in a different hotel. Most hotel chains are doing everything they can to ensure their property and hotel rooms are clean and safe. Hilton properties were contracted throughout the trip to take advantage of their “Hilton CleanStay” commitment, allowing peace of mind to our travelers. Digital check-ins and their digital key technology allowed for a contactless arrival experience. Upon arriving to their actual hotel room, each guest was given assurance that their room was thoroughly cleaned and inspected, as indicated by the Hilton CleanStay safety seal over their door.
In each city we traveled to, we conducted pop-up (tailgate) events to celebrate the “winners”. But how do you do this under COVID conditions? We monitored CDC and all state/local guidelines to ensure we operated under prescribed regulations for public/private gatherings. All events were outdoors. Only invited guests could attend and all guests had to officially register at a central check-in station where they were temperature-checked before entering. Masks were required at each event and social distancing was encouraged. Meals were all pre-packaged. Hand sanitizer was here, there, and everywhere. No detail was left to chance.
Bad weather is always one of the top disruptions for any travel program. That proved to be true for our traveling roadshow too. Just as we were making our way through Texas and into Louisiana, Hurricane Laura caused us to make a major detour and skip one of our scheduled stops. Various scenarios were discussed before a final decision was reached. Hotel cancelations due to force majeure clauses were initiated and hotel rooms in a different city had to be sourced at the last minute. Additionally, our road trip was almost interrupted by other severe weather (tornado watches) as we traveled through the Southeast leg of our trip. Nevertheless, we pressed on.
Doing whatever it takes to make a program successful and our clients satisfied is always our top priority. But in this instance, ensuring that all travelers and attendees returned home happy and healthy was of utmost importance. Now that we are several days past the conclusion of this event, I can report that we made it through successfully and safely.
Read all about the Next Normal for Incentive Travel, Meetings, and Traveling Roadshows to stay informed on best practices for updating COVID-disrupted programs. Feel free to drop us a line and ask any questions you may have on keeping programs safe, healthy, and secure!