So Much More Than Incentive: Let’s Start Saying ‘Impact Travel’ Instead

Thank you to 2022 SITE Global Conference keynote speaker James Wallman for the following guest blog entry!

The clue has always been in the name: since its inception, incentive travel has been seen as a carrot, a reward for a job well done. Of course, the aim is to give people a nudge after, as well as before.

But travel that’s designed right has the potential to do so much more, as new evidence is now making abundantly clear. That evidence — discovered by scientists at universities such Harvard, British Columbia, Tokyo, and Oxford — has become even more relevant as Covid has catalysed trends in the world of work.

Let’s begin with one key piece of scientific evidence: as Andrew Oswald at Warwick University has shown, happier employees are 12% more productive.

Let’s add a second piece of evidence, as laid out in my book Stuffocation and also an article I wrote for New Scientist that experiences make people happier than things.

If I was a teacher with a blackboard — oops, showing my age — if I was a virtual teacher using a Miro board, I’d write that up as an equation:

“Experiences (such as travel) => happier employees => more productive employees”

Now let’s consider two key macrotrends. First, there’s VUCA — volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity — which will be a defining feature of life in the 2020s.

Second, work is changing dramatically. From the “5 and 2” — five days in the office, two at the weekend, to the “3-2-2” — including two days working at home.

I think of this as the “Martini way of working”. Remember the old 1980s ad, “anytime, anyplace, anywhere”? Perhaps better is the term Julia Hobsbawm, chair of think tank Demos’s The Workshift Commission uses as the title for her new book,

The Nowhere Office.

This shift to work that’s asynchronous, place agnostic and actively distributed will continue. And yet, we’re still humans, extravert, introvert, and ambivert. Yes, we like time alone, to do deep work. But we’re also deeply social. So how to create a team out of a group of individuals? Again, this is where travel will play an ever increasingly important role in work.

Let’s head back to the science again to see why. We now know that experiences make people happier, improve their relationships, and increase their resilience — and hence, the likelihood that they’ll be productive employees who work together to drive the business forward.

To be clear, any experience should do this, to an extent. But, as an emerging wave of science is showing, some will do this job better than others. As I showed in my recent book Time And How To Spend It, just as there are junk foods and there are superfoods, there are also junk experiences and there are ‘superfood’ experiences.

If you want to deliver “superfood” travel experiences, the sort that are far more likely to impact wellbeing, relationships, resilience — and productivity and successful outcomes at work — you could follow the seven science-based principles in Time And How To Spend It.

But of course, you may want to go further than this. In this age of experientialism and the Experience Economy, there are many more approaches. There’s a burgeoning tribe of people making fascinating discoveries in the art and science of impactful experience design.

That’s why I sit on the exec committee of the Experience Research Society and why I founded the World Experience Organization to provide a platform for the world’s greatest experience designers to connect, learn, and share tools, tricks, techniques, frameworks that make experiences even more impactful.

You probably already create fantastic travel experiences. But those at the top know, like elite sportspeople, you can always improve.

Whether you come join the WXO — and I met and heard from many outstanding experience designers at SITE in Dublin — or you simply look into this exciting science, art, and craft of experience design, the more that incentive travel experts realise that they are delivering not just incentive, but impact — and the more that they sell their services based on this idea of ‘impact’ rather than “incentive”, the sooner the perception of the industry will shift from nice-to-have to must-have.

So, who’s with me? Should we rename incentive travel as ‘impact travel’?

Curious about James’ work with the World Experience Organization? SITE Global attendees can save 20 percent on their membership. To apply, simply visit the WXO homepage and click the APPLY button.

James Wallman on Experience Design


Written by

SITE Staff


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