Planning the Return of Incentive Travel Programs
Travel is steadily increasing now that people are getting vaccinated, mask mandates are lifting, and borders are beginning to open. Although leisure travel has seen the biggest boost, Brightspot’s recent webinar, ‘Ready, Set, Rebound!‘, maps out how corporate incentive travel is slowly, but steadily, on the rise to recovery. With two program managers recently returning from President’s Club Trips; one domestic in Naples, Florida, and one international in Cancun, Mexico, we can see our industry beginning to rebound. These two trips show that there are important planning steps to consider, but the on-site experience for attendees is still very similar.
You can view the full webinar recording below for a detailed inside look at how these two incentive trips were planned and executed in a post-pandemic environment.
Incentive Travel Industry Outlook // READY!
Industry organizations like the IRF (Incentive Research Foundation) and SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence) are doing surveys and polls on a regular basis to monitor and track consumer confidence as we begin recovery. Industry surveys and recently published polls indicate that more than 75% of Americans are ready to travel. Although American’s are ready to travel, corporate travel is taking a more cautious approach and is projected to recover in Q3 and Q4 of 2021. However, 94% of executives remain supportive of incentive travel. To that effect, many companies have stated they will start conducting their first post-pandemic programs around Q1 2022.
With this pent-up demand, we are hearing from our hotel partners that there is a lack of availability for hotel space. Hotels are only willing to hold space for a very short period before they release and resell to the next person in line. In addition to the limited hotel space, we are seeing a lack of flight availability for Q3 and Q4 2021. This means, if you plan on holding a trip this Fall, it is important to move quickly to guarantee hotel space and desired flights.
For 2021 and early 2022 programs, you may want to start with one of the Top USA Incentive Travel Destinations to limit risk and keep program budgets flexible!
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Planning an Incentive Trip Post-Pandemic // SET!
Because of the pandemic, there are many new precautions you need to take into consideration as you begin planning your incentive trips. It is important to clearly communicate to your client and their attendees, so they are well prepared before the trip.
This ultimately begins with registration and pre-trip documents. On your website, it is important to include pertinent information regarding travel requirements for your program destination. For our program that traveled to Mexico, it was key to share the CDC testing guidelines for return travel back to the United States. Another way to clearly communicate is in pre-trip documents. Our domestic trip to Florida added a COVID-19 flyer that outlined safety protocols and precautions for both the State of Florida and the hotel property. All these resources together helped provide clear expectations to attendees before they traveled on-site.
HOTEL AND DMC ASSESSMENT
One important process we have at Brightspot is a Hotel and DMC Emergency Assessment. We require all vendors to complete this form and return to us during the planning phase. When the pandemic began, we felt it was important to add COVID-19 specific questions to this document, so we had a full understanding of what each vendor was doing to ensure the health and safety of our group. Some of the questions we felt were important to ask are:
- How have your company policies been updated because of COVID-19?
- What preventative measures will you be taking to ensure health and safety for our attendees?
- What is your policy for sanitizing guest rooms and public spaces?
- Which local area hospitals treat COVID-19 patients?
- What is the process in place should someone start showing COVID-19 symptoms or test positive?
In addition, be sure to check with your DMC on protocols for activities and ground transportation. During this assessment for our domestic program, it was discovered that the DMC did not automatically follow social distancing protocols in transportation vehicles, so we made a call to put in place guidelines for our group. Overall, these vendors want the business back and understand safety and sanitation guidelines are critical to recovery.
Attendee Experience in New Normal of Incentive Travel // REBOUND!
The attendee experience is key to any successful event and after two recently operated programs, we found that not much has changed for the attendee on-site experience. There are obvious differences when it comes to mask requirements, social distancing protocols, and certain food services but these are items we have come accustomed to in our everyday lives. The most noticeable differences were in on-site events and group activities.
On-site events are going to vary based on location but will still be possible. We noticed several different trends in both programs.
For our Mexico trip, they still had evening dinner events, however, no buffets were allowed. Instead, they incorporated tray-passed canapes or ordered a la carte options and servers took drink orders instead of full bar service. For our domestic trip in Florida, their evening event was slightly different. They did allow buffets; however, it was a cafeteria-style service, so no attendees were able to touch the serving utensils. Social distancing was also considered for set up, with a max of 6 people per 72’ round table. No matter the location, masks, and gloves were worn by banquet staff to ensure safety for all guests.
Activities are still going to be involved when planning your trips, but you might see some slight adjustments. During our Cancun trip, a Catamaran sail was planned one day for the entire group. To ensure protocols were followed, a motorcoach was used for the ground transfers and the Catamaran was doubled in size, so all aspects of the event followed social distancing guidelines. They also planned a beautiful group dinner in the caves of Rio Secreto, but dinner was switched to plated and all staff wore masks and gloves.
Our domestic trip in Florida took a different approach. All attendees received a room credit upon check-in. They could use these for any activities that were offered at the resort: spa, golf, and water sports to name a few. We will see a trend moving forward for a while where group activities move to individual activities to be conducive to social distancing.
A DMC partner local to the destination is the best resource for these types of activities. They know the destination’s health and safety protocols and are integral in implementing them for the group – ensuring that activities are provided by tour providers that also uphold those high levels of health standards that are expected.
Keep these three agenda builders in mind while planning:
Individual and Small Group Activities
Many activities that were originally designed for a larger group can be customized to fit individuals and/or smaller family or work team groups. These activities also trend on being outdoors, which makes it easier to socially distance and provides fresh air circulation. Ideas include ATV tours, individual speed boats, ziplining, Jeep tours, or individual wine tastings.
Health and Wellness
Mental and physical health is more important now than ever before. Providing individual options focused on these aspects provide attendees with a great way to safely participate in activities that are good for the mind and body. Ideas include instructor-led yoga on the beach, individual spa appointments, or individual meditation guidance that can be done in their hotel room.
Sometimes the best thing to reward an attendee and their guest with is free time. An open program of events, with a limited number of scheduled group events, gives everyone time to relax. Incentive travel planners could take the budget originally intended for group activities and re-distribute to attendees to be used during their free time in the form of a resort credit or spa credits for treatments.
COVID-19 TESTING INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS
At Brightspot, we are ensuring we stay up to date on the most recent CDC requirements. We all know the big news that was announced back in January 2021 that all air passengers arriving to the United States would require proof of COVID-19 negative test before boarding their flight. This change happened in the middle of planning our Cancun, Mexico President’s Club Trip. The resort was fantastic and pivoted quickly by adding on-site testing at no additional cost to attendees.
Once onsite and during check-in, attendees scheduled their testing appointment. Testing took place in a meeting space on the property that had clear signage and in a fully sanitized area. The lab technicians that were providing the tests wore full PPE gear for extra precaution. Once tested, results were emailed the same day to all attendees making it a seamless process.
ATTENDEE SURVEY RESULTS
Post-event attendee surveys are a crucial part of our industry and they have helped us gain positive and negative feedback that can help improve the next event. We felt it was important to add questions on these recent trips to help gain insight into the measures that were put in place to help keep attendees safe. Overall, for both trips upwards of 90% of attendees rated the health and safety protocols that were put in place for all vendors as excellent. This shows that both groups were eager and felt comfortable to travel, and we feel the trend will only continue to grow.
In summary, travel is coming back. At Brightspot, our Fall calendar has filled up and Spring of 2022 is starting to look like a normal year pre-COVID. There are extra steps we must take as planners to ensure our attendees’ safety; however, we believe these steps will become the new normal moving forward. People are ready to travel and so are we! Get in touch with us for a no-pressure consultation on how we can make your next incentive trip the bright spot of the company.