What is an Incentive Travel Company?

An incentive travel company helps businesses boost sales, productivity, loyalty, and morale by awarding top performers with a luxury trip getaway. Incentive travel programs motivate employees to increase performance and improve the company’s sales and ultimate success.

Definition of Incentive Travel Company

Incentive travel companies combine the services of a travel agency, event planner, marketing communications expert, and business strategy consultant. For the best corporate incentive trips, a professional meeting planner (or better, a CMP, Certified Meeting Professional) creates an “incentive-quality” group travel program designed with the earners’ tastes and demographics in mind. Bespoke incentive trips deliver a VIP experience that top performers will remember fondly for years to deepen their loyalty and elevate their performance.

Travel Agency – Incentive, Corporate, or Leisure

Many executives tasked with creating an incentive trip might look to their in-house corporate travel agency, but most corporate agencies excel at business travel, small meetings, or squeezing out the most economical flights (even if that means connections and inferior flight times). Their bread-and-butter is transient corporate travel.

Leisure travel agencies, on the other hand, excel with vacations for individuals, families, or honeymooners. Reservations are made one family at a time with a transactional focus. Reserve the hotel room, pick the cheapest plane tickets, rent the car, and on to the next transaction. They might handle small groups of less than ten or twenty, but they usually lack a group mindset to serve corporate expectations.

Incentive travel agencies (typically called incentive travel companies) are similar in function, but their specialty is vastly different. Incentive companies bring a group mindset. Hotels define a “group” as ten rooms or more. This means the incentive sourcing manager works with hotel sales teams who specialize in groups and offer better pricing, discounts, extra inclusions, and better contracting terms for groups. The incentive trip should be an elite, elevated reward, not the cheapest transaction.

The following are the advantages and extra benefits of using an incentive travel company rather than a corporate travel agency or leisure travel agency.

Expertise of Incentive Travel Companies

1. Destination Expertise – While leisure agencies know the best locations for honeymoons and family vacations, incentive travel companies know what destinations have the best accommodations, event venues, and activities for incentive-quality group trips. Certain resorts have a group mindset and better understand corporate service expectations. Smaller destinations and boutique resorts may offer a fantastic experience, but the small boutique can be overwhelmed with 50 couples. See Top Destinations for Incentive Travel.

2. Global Partnerships – DMCs (destination management companies), CVBs (convention & visitor bureaus), and DMOs (destination marketing organizations) work closely with incentive travel companies to provide local expertise and support. DMCs have local knowledge of activities, dining, venues, transportation, entertainment, and much more. The CVBs and DMOs know the new and recently renovated hotels. What’s hot, and not so hot. Good incentive travel companies have established relationships to deliver reliable quality and the best values.

3. Cost Savings – Management fees are often the budget question that comes to mind when considering an incentive trip planner. Companies fear an extra cost for the dreaded middleman. But the opposite is true. Incentive companies (with their expertise and partnerships) will negotiate a lower room rate, uncover value opportunities, recommend better resorts, or suggest alternative dates for substantial savings that might be merely one weekend sooner or later. In addition, savvy incentive planners will obtain extra concessions, such as complimentary upgrades, catering discounts, spa discounts, cancellation allowances, and more. These savings that result from their partnerships with hotels and vendors, other cost-saving techniques, risk avoidance, and freeing up a company’s internal staff time offsets the cost of hiring an incentive travel company. (Referred to as ‘Zero Net Cost’ explained below)

4. Turnkey Event Management – A certified meeting professional (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 remarkable. Ensuring everything runs smoothly with flights, hotels, transportation, event décor, entertainment, and catering is paramount. A CMP also provides VIP access to the very 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 the current interest in ‘experiential’ and ‘authentic’ experiences, it’s becoming more expected that every element of an incentive trip must resonate with the attendees’ interest. CMPs attend industry trade shows and conferences to stay abreast of trends, learn new ideas from industry colleagues, and complete continuing education courses.

6. Hotel Contracting – The sourcing department of incentive companies use eRFPs (Electronic Request For Proposals) to uncover the best values at “incentive-quality” hotels. These sourcing experts will know other outstanding hotels that might be unknown to the average traveler. Plus, the eRFPs alert the hotels that competitors are quoting too, so they need to provide their most favorable rate. Some incentive companies tout preferred hotel rates, but Brightspot believes that taints competitors’ independence and that the lowest rates are unlocked by surveying the entire target market. Usually, the hotel with the fewest reservations makes the most aggressive offer. The sourcing department then acts as an agent to negotiate all hotel contract terms for the best deal possible. Cost savings will be in the thousands of dollars and will wholly offset the management fee for using an incentive travel company, especially for trips with more than 25 rooms per night.

7. Risk Avoidance – The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) says that nearly 60% of planners experience a disruption that affects an incentive trip’s overall outcome. CMPs specialize in providing solutions for possible emergencies and unforeseen roadblocks. The savvy planner can be the difference between the success or failure of your incentive trip. Good incentive agencies have a disciplined risk management phase in their planning process.

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

9. Custom Website – The most common marketing tactic is creating a promotional website to build interest in the trip (and the goals that increase performance), to share news on the program, and for participants to check for updates, such as a leaderboard that tracks their progress toward achievement. Trip attendees register through the website, which conveniently records who is traveling, and who is not, without juggling emails and spreadsheets. The secure website also eliminates data errors by accurately capturing the exact traveler name, secure traveler information, birthday, passport number, passport expiration date, flight preferences, activity choices, and even dietary restrictions.

10. Overall Expertise – Incentive travel companies have CMPs specializing in start-to-finish event planning, contract negotiation, securing entertainment, arranging audio-visual needs, contingency planning, and even on-site logistical support. Strong agencies will have experts in different destinations – a Hawaii expert, Mexico aficionado, Caribbean czar, Europe (split for Western and Eastern), Italy (it’s so popular we have an expert for the whole ”boot”), Asia, and even for cruises. The Sourcing Department functions like your private attorney (but much cheaper). The use of a “working budget” monitors cost controls as if you have a personal accountant. It is truly a white glove service where every need is satisfied!

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Names for Incentive Travel Programs

When starting an incentive trip, most companies seek a program name that endures for many years.  Here is a list of popular incentive trip names:

• President Club Trip
• Chairman’s Trip
• CEO Club
• Circle of Excellence
• Winners Circle
• Platinum Club
• Diamond Club
• Achievers Club
• Elite Trip
• Leadership Council
• Top Performer Trip
• Group Incentive Travel
• Customer Loyalty Trip
• Partner Recognition Trip

Cost of an Incentive Trip

We would recommend a budget of $6,000 per participant (or $12,000 per couple) for a 6-day, 5-night trip in North America (US, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean), at an incentive-quality 4-star hotel or resort with two sponsored activities, and all dining covered (including a welcome reception and awards dinner). For Hawaii, bump up the budget to $7,000 per person, and for Europe, $8,000 person. This figure can fluctuate significantly based on the trip parameters. See the average cost of an incentive trip for more details. Feel free to play around with ‘what-if’ scenarios using this handy incentive travel pricing calculator.

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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.

ROI Benefits for Incentive Travel Programs

Incentive trips sound like tremendous fun, but the CEO and CFO ask about ROI (return on investment). See Best Incentive Travel ROI Statistics for more details.

• 46% of U.S. businesses use incentive travel
• $22.5 Billion is spent annually in the USA on incentive travel
• 3X higher revenue increases
• 100% of Best-in-Class companies use incentive travel
• 18% increase in sales productivity
• 112% ROI

An Extra Cost or Net Savings?

Zero Net Cost is the understanding that the incentive travel company fee (~15%) is offset by trip savings (15-20%). Incentive travel companies use their partnerships with hotels and DMCs to negotiate the best value for the client. History shows the contracting savings are enough to pay for these services fully.

These savings, combined with the additional ROI generated from program design, keep the world’s largest companies returning year after year to plan more programs with incentive travel companies (check out this Success Story on a Monaco Incentive Trip).

When Should We Start Planning Our Incentive Trip?

The earlier a company starts planning an incentive trip, the better. Not only for program effectiveness but saving on the budget as well. Hiring an incentive travel company early on in the process allows for full advantage of their skill set for the length of the program, rather than only fulfillment of the trip itself. An example of an ideal 18-month timeline would look something like this:


Begin the process by deciding on a destination and hotel through electronic RFPs to uncover the best value and options. Negotiations are handled by the incentive travel company, as well as preparing contracts and conducting site inspections. Professional sourcing captures 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 keeping quality the same.


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 on-site staff ensures the trip plan executes flawlessly and manages on-site logistics.


After basking 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.

The Bottom Line…

Like every business is an expert in their core competency, an incentive pro spends their weeks 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 planning services that save you money and time.

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 of the latest research and trends to make your incentive trip the best it can be.