The hard choicesfor incentivesINCENTIVE TRAVELDirector of Client Relationships at the Grass Roots event management agency, Simon Maier, shares hisinsights into the planning of incentive travel programmes. February 2011Conference+Meetings World9The continuing fiscal crisis featuresprominently among theacknowledged external threats toany business. In the West, we're not yetout of the woods. Loss of capital andconfidence is affecting (and will affect) anumber of sectors, prompting challengeswithin both the workforce and the supplychain. Risks related to the loss of skills asa result of a downturn in human capitalwill be a big problem, as will the pressureon the remaining workforce. You'd be quite right that the word'problem' should maybe read 'opportunity'and it yet might. Motivating a workforce iskey and any methodology to producebetter results has to be in the mix.Underinvestment in motivation is aleading factor in terms of future risk. Theimpact of this on the business sector, ifignored, is potentially catastrophic. Despite the political instability of someparts of the world and rising costs ofothers, there is a thriving demand forexcellent incentive events and we don't seethat diminishing, even with cautionsurrounding the planning of someprogrammes. Now the imperative is beginning togarner the attention of those withresponsibility for ensuring that people inbusinesses (at all levels) are motivated, notjust for a few days, but always. There is some interdependent risk intravel and offshore programmes, but thereis also opportunity. The world of incentiveevents is linked closely with alliedcommunication strategies; recognising thisis the starting point to making them great. Employee engagement is a keydeterminant in the management ofsuccessful businesses. While many wouldagree, not all consider incentive events ortravel as important. A 2009 YouGov survey maintainedemployee motivation was "essential forcompany growth" and while this does notsuggest for one minute that the solution isalways incentive events, they do have a place at the company growth top table. Worldwide, the incentive event market islooking good. World Economic Forumresearch (2010) says so, as does theSociety of Incentive Travel Executives(SITE). And we're finding at Grass Rootsthe demand for information on 'exclusiveto the destination experiences' continuesto grow. We can see the incentive travel andevents market increasing, althoughpotential attendees do want moreinfluence on a programme. Companiesare paying attention to the wayemployees want to be recognised and Ithink we can all agree now that one sizedoes not fit all. The Gen X and Y people in businesses have influence and demographics are ever-changing and so is the need foragencies to understand the wide choices for wider tastes. Legislation may sometimes prove to be a barrier, but it can be managed. There'salso help in the pipeline. For example, theTour Operators Margin Scheme willundoubtedly be reformed to reintroduce a B2B opt-out option. There will likely be a more efficient visaprocessing system for visitors to the UK. The proposed European Bribery Act willbe undeniably hard to get our headsaround, but the industry will cope. Those are important side issues. The keyis content and strong messaging.Destinations with good resorts, excellentweather and a strong infrastructure willcontinue to lead the pack. Resorts knowthat they must invest and expand theirofferings to meet the demand for newexperiences.Beneficiaries of the thirst for 'newexperiences' are Europe, Asia Pacific,China, India, some of South America andthe UAE in particular. All are currentlyfavoured, as is the US, visas permitting. Client organisations are much moreknowledgeable when it comes tounderstanding destinations, properties,activities, teambuilding, motivation andcommunications. Even with that insight (ifit is shared properly and it often is not),it's important for an agency to reallyunderstand the client organisation'sculture or, more difficult, a prospectiveclient's. Knowing a great deal about theaudience, the modus operandi, theexpectations, the real reasons for thereward or motivation are super-importantand, if the information is in any way wrongor skewed, then what's put forward by anagency will be off beam, too. There are some in large corporationswho still regard an incentive event as justanother name for a business 'jolly' and a necessary evil.Of course, if any incentive activity isregarded as pointless, then something'snot quite right in management orcommunications. In Grass Roots'experience, clients are aware they need todeploy customised, high-impact incentiveprogrammes that reinvigorate how they goSimon Maier????
10February 2011 Conference+Meetings WorldINCENTIVE TRAVELto market, motivate their people, retainand grow business and measure results. We know that the solutions we offermust engage target audiences andinspire them to raise performance; liftsales if that's the aim; have a role inboosting customer satisfaction, and growloyalty or add to the bottom line.Measurement is fundamental. Without ityou can't plan properly for future activity.And that's dangerous.and expensive.The core solution to ensuring that theincentive event process is right beginswith the response to a brief. Potentialclients may (but actually may not) knowof the huge amount of work, researchand detail that goes into the preparationof a proposal. And the work really ishuge: reatively, logistically, financiallyand all stops in-between. There are aplethora of elements to consider, all ofequal importance including aviation,hotels, partner programmes and riskassessment. The pitching process doesn't need tobe fraught, provided the supplier agencyknows the potential client's culture, thestrategy into which the event fits, budgetparameters, demographics, thought-through objectives and the nature ofbespoke possibilities.The majority of clients want somethingthat is specific for a particular group;something that recognises age, likes anddislikes, purpose, experience - what willrefresh, what won't. Also key is anagency's understanding of event orprogramme legacy. Clients don't wanttheir people to have forgotten anexperience before they get home. Mission criticalUnderstanding brand is also missioncritical, both at the pitch stage andbeyond. If I'm going to manage a brandin some way, then I want to understandit. It's one of a client's most treasuredassets. Communicating brand onmessage every time is what organisationswant and internal audiences are just asimportant as external ones when itcomes to understanding a brand and itsmeaning. All brands require internalcommunication, otherwise employees willhave no real interest and the excitementthat an organisation trusts that externalaudiences feel just withers on the vineinternally. Changing people's thinking,refreshing attitudes, heightening brandexposure, promoting loyalty and buildinglong-term brand relationships can beimportant parts of an incentiveprogramme. Being creative in thisprocess is as important as the creativityof the event itself.The creative element of any proposal isone that Grass Roots takes seriously.Creativity necessitates the fun, craft,sense, sensibility and magic that a goodagency can bring. We exist to help ourclients grow their business in some way.It's one of the reasons why we've turnedattention to detail into a bit of a fetishand measurement is essential. That'swhy we look at business messages andclient ambition first. That's why wecollectively define what success will looklike; it's why we prepare scrupulousoptions and plan a programme that we know will entice,delight and work. Talk is cheap, butfailed incentive events are expensive.Successful incentive events require avast number of considerations. Forexample, discussions no longer onlyapply to hotel or property contractnegotiations and cost controlconsiderations. Air travel security isclearly much tighter than ever and clientswant, as much as possible, to ensurethat their event travel is hassle-free. Currency fluctuations can impactevents booked a long way out and fuelsurcharges can hike prices. Additionallythere's the growing need to consider thetechnology available to use pre-eventand during it (Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, iPads and the like). Corporate responsibility is again animportant ingredient. And clearlyattendee demographics matter. Someclients may want two events back-to-back at the same destination. Similarly,they may want to book events in longercycles. Then there is date flexibility,multi-year contract options. Clients mayalso want to consider some aspect ofLondon 2012 and the obviousopportunities therein. Delivery is a multi-faceted thing now. And most clients will want all the facets as well as the thing. That's good. Are incentive programmes fun?Absolutely. Innovative? Yes. Creative?Certainly. Challenging? Well, toparaphrase JFK, whose brilliantspeechwriter Ted Sorrenson died recently,we like incentive travel, "not because it iseasy, but because it is hard". Kennedysaid that, of course, in the context of'landing a man on the Moon andreturning him safely to the Earth', so itisn't really that appropriate in the contextof incentive programmes. Yet.Grass Roots' client incentive programme in Peru 2010'Knowing about theaudience, the modusoperandi, theexpectations, the realreasons for the reward or motivation are super-important'