Seeing the CEO and the sites

One of the mainstays of group incentive travel programs is the theory that they are excellent camaraderie builders for high performers. What’s more, they provide an opportunity for participants to rub shoulders with corporate executives, and allow those at the top to express their gratitude for a job well done.

According to research by the Site International Foundation and the Incentive Travel Council, when asked about the opportunity to interact with higher-level executives, 60 percent of program participants agreed that it was seen as a motivational value. Seventy-two percent of respondents felt that incentive travel rewards allowed them to build relationships with peers away from work.

Photo: CooperVision Chairman of the Board Tom Bender addresses a group of top sales reps during an incentive trip to Italy. Face time with the top executives is a valued component of incentive travel experiences.


“It is crucial to get agreement in advance on not only the primary objective of the program, but also on how performance will be measured.,” the Site report states. “For participants, it is about whether or not the opportunity to earn the experience is worth their added time and effort — return on experience (ROE). From meaningful to motivational to memorable, there is an experience value chain that is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Mary Rothermill of CooperVision, Inc., a global manufac­turer of contact lenses, says the CEO of the company’s U.S. division and other top executives make sure they are involved in the annual incentive trip. “It’s important for them to show our salespeople that they are important to us,” she says.

The annual CooperVision event includes a gala where participants have the opportunity to bring “talking points” to the CEO. “They have an opportunity to mention what they see in their world. That lets them feel connected with senior management,” says Rothermill.

Both users and suppliers of incentive travel programs agree that team-building events are fine in measured doses. More than 70 percent of respondents to the Site/Incentive Travel Council survey found fewer mandatory company functions more motivating. The inclusion of meetings during group-based incentive travel has been and continues to be a staple feature, but it is important to avoid going too far and diluting the motivational value from the participant’s viewpoint.

Group involvement in a charitable cause in the destination city is an increasing trend. In a twist on that concept — and the standard incentive travel model itself — IBM routinely sends groups to developing countries to get them out of their comfort zone and working on big, pro bono projects like improving children’s hospitals in Brazil. Mind you, this is more training and development than incentive oriented. The goal is to get them used to working with diverse groups.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the program encourages employees to stick around. In a survey of 575 workers who went through the program, 76 percent said the experience “boosted their desire to complete their business career at IBM.”

That said, doing good while celebrating sales success abroad is not for everyone. Elizabeth Becker, author of “Overbooked,” an in-depth look at the tourism industry, encourages incentive travel planners to build a day of deep learning into a group trip, even at the expense of a community effort. Learning about a new culture is a key means of making a trip more memorable.

“I have a lot of questions about the concept of having a day of volunteer tourism. It makes you feel good, but I’m not sure what it does for the people who you are supposedly helping,” Becker says. (Read a Q&A with Becker on page 58 and our full interview with her online.) “I would swap that out for a smart and fun travel guide to show your employees the history. I promise you you’re giving your employees something that is invaluable. If you want to be helpful to the locals, the best thing you can do is tip heavy. That goes much further than some of the one-day volunteer exercises.”