With many questioning the impact travel may have on our environment, it is relevant to consider whether we should travel at all. It goes without saying that we must urgently minimise the environmental impact of our actions, but as with all things there are often two sides to each story and a need for balance.
The first question to address is “Could business objectives be achieved through any other means?” Here incentive travel comes to the fore with the Incentive Travel Index demonstrating that incentive travel delivers higher ROI and business results, ahead of cash and other non-travel awards.
Bringing together top achievers and those responsible for driving the business has value far exceeding the program costs for a professionally planned incentive travel program and often also includes the less obvious. Employee retention, creative solutions to business challenges and building a team ethos are a few examples of those less measurable benefits.
Responsible organizations look at the wider impact of their programs, which not only contribute significantly to local economies but are also in a unique position to benefit the destination through sustainability, CSR and legacy initiatives. Recognising this, organizations, incentive houses and DMCs have for many years offered sustainability and CSR program inclusions, with SITE recognizing this since 2007 as a category in its annual Crystal Awards.
So back to “should we travel at all?” The answer in my view is “yes,” but with justification and conscience.
One thing the pandemic taught us is that we can successfully communicate virtually. In many instances this has enabled remote work and the ability to connect even global teams at negligible cost, with less environmental impact from reduced travel.
Humans are social beings however, and while this works well for some, not everyone functions optimally in a virtual environment. Experience has shown that over time, levels of engagement and participation drop off. In fact back in 2015, long before we enjoyed access to Zoom, Teams or Google Meet, a Harvard Business Review article that was decidedly pro-online collaboration also highlighted the benefits of face-to-face communication.
In conclusion, incentive travel is a proven tool delivering positive results that ensure the success of a business. There are also many ways to offset the environmental impacts of an incentive travel program. Several airlines offset carbon — United - Eco Skies , BA domestic now carbon free and many properties Coolest carbon neutral hotels are already partially there or heading toward carbon neutral status.
Individuals and businesses can further offset carbon emissions by contributing to offset programs or targeted initiatives such as “Food and Trees for Africa,” an organization that my own business supports. The added benefits in terms of economic and social contributions, especially when considering lesser developed destinations, and those that avoid “overtourism,” in my view more than justify incentive travel as a business tool.
Although often quoted, Mark Twain’s words "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime” are still valid today and highlight the need even for businesses to escape from the day-to-day to reward, explore and connect.
Perhaps it is time to put some of those environmental savings from operating virtually back into incentive travel?