Fly Away With Incentive Travel: Motivating Employees One Trip at a Time

Written by Paul Marchildon, on August 19, 2014.

incentive travel “People do not take trips – trips take people.” John Steinbeck

Trips take us away from our normal environments, from our everyday routines. They take us away from stress and the minutia of cramped schedules and to relaxation, recreation, and rejuvenation. Incentive travel is not only a killer way to reward and motivate employees, it’s a great way to make sure they’re fresh, energized, and ready to give work their all when they return. Little bonus for the company there, courtesy of leisureology. But how do you make sure your incentive travel programs hit the mark?

What Motivates Employees?

Cash. Money, moolah, scratch. If you were to ask employees if they prefer cash or a trip, most would choose the money in the abstract. That’s not surprising, but this may be: say you asked instead, “Would you rather have a cash bonus or a trip for two to Tuscany?” Research shows that the answer flips: when given a specific noncash option, employees will most often forgo the money and opt for the prize behind door number 2.

What’s this mean for incentive travel? It works. Ninety-six percent of employees say they are motivated by these incentives, and nearly three-quarters who earn them say they feel more loyal to their companies. Studies have also shown that noncash incentives, primarily travel, “capture an employee’s imagination better than cash – thereby motivating them to increase performance.”

But, let’s just make sure that it does.

  • Set realistic goals – that are a stretch. What are the criteria to win the prize? You need realistic goals; if they are out of reach, no one will participate. Say your people have a sales target of $1million. Telling them they can win an all-inclusive trip to the moon if they hit $2.5million is, frankly, ridiculous. Without reasonable and achievable goals, the program won’t work; no matter what fabulous carrot you’re dangling in front of them.

    At the same time, the goal is to encourage employees to go above and beyond. You’d never implement an incentive program if it did not create incremental sales. That $1million target: that’s what they were hired to achieve. That’s the basis for their current compensation. That’s what the business needs.

    The reward is for what they do after that: if they dig in, work smarter, stretch, and get to $1.25, then they deserve that beautiful trip for two to Tuscany with cooking lessons from Italy’s best chef. A trip like that could cost $10,000 – $20,000, but it’s more than paid for by the combined, incremental margin for which all the employees worked so hard.

  • Kick off the new program as soon as the old one ends. One of the dangers of incentive travel is that those who won will come back and life will resume as usual, that motivation and engagement will be fleeting. Don’t let it. In well-designed programs, as one contest ends, another begins.

    When people come back from their trips, a few things happen: they talk about it (complete with smartphone slideshow) and tell everyone how fantastic it was. They’re incredibly motivated to win again and will stop at nothing to achieve their numbers. At the same time, they’re stoking the fire in others and encouraging them to meet and exceed the new prize criteria.

    Sometimes the biggest motivator isn’t going; it’s not not going. These trips typically involve the president, CEO, and top executives, and winners have the chance to hobnob with the high-ups. Again, winners are motivated to strike gold again, and they motivate others to try to earn that same opportunity so they’re not not there.

  • Seed it. What happens in Vegas (or Miami, Hawaii, Tuscany, etc.) does not stay in Vegas. Generate excitement for the next program by leveraging the success of the previous. We used to take photos and video during trips. If we’re having cocktails with Clint Eastwood at Pebble Beach, we’d make sure to capture the moment. When we launched the new program, people could see just what was at stake, what they could earn.

    Even better, put a slideshow or video on a memory stick and send it home. That way, the employees’ spouses can say, “We have to go! Hit those numbers!” Nothing like some spousal pressure, I mean, support, to motivate people!

You don’t want an incentive travel initiative that simply allows your people to take trips. You want a well-designed program with trips that take them to increased motivation and engagement, to boosted performance and satisfaction. Money’s quickly and easily spent; its power to motivate disappears. Travel, though, creates memories that last a lifetime – and that continues to incent employees.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.