Sustainability in Incentive Travel: Perception vs Reality

In the world of corporate rewards and motivation, incentive travel has emerged as a key tool for businesses across the globe to attract and retain talent, to increase revenues and ensure the embodiment of company values. Whilst there are significant benefits to the use of incentive travel, it also raises significant concerns about environmental sustainability. How does the reality of incentive travel's environmental impact align with our perceptions?

Understanding Incentive Travel

Incentive travel is a business strategy used to motivate and reward employees by offering group travel as a unique reward. This approach has seen a significant uptick in recent years, bolstering employee engagement and providing memorable experiences that align with the brand,  enhancing loyalty amongst recipients. However, as the world grows more environmentally conscious, the sustainability of such travel comes under scrutiny.

The Environmental Impact of Travel

Travelling, especially by air, has a substantial carbon footprint. It's not just about the CO2 emissions; there's also the impact on wildlife, pollution, and the strain on local resources in popular destinations. This aspect of travel often conflicts with growing environmental concerns.

Incentive travel planners are charged with finding those once-in-a-lifetime experiences and opportunities to enhance the trip. This usually takes the form of three key elements:

  • Travel – Its not just departure to and from the destination that causes a challenge. Often, planners use the opportunity of transfers between activities to enhance the overall experience, from the extreme of helicopter transfers to the more usual helicopter or motorcycle transfers. Planners will think outside the box to enhance the mundanity of travel but this comes with its own sustainable challenge.
  • Experience – In search of creating those wow moments, planners look for something that will provide an impact. Often, this can be the most sustainable of the three elements, but still has its challenges. There are millions of examples but one might be exclusive access to a venue or museum, but the impact of this is keeping lights, power, heating/AC on longer for a small group.
  • Food & Drink – this is a great way to enhance any experience but in doing so may not be the most sustainable. Fortunately using local produce is the in thing, but what about wastage, or the premium element, there are some that would argue wagyu is not sustainable as it is flown around the world. The same goes for premium brand alcohol, where is it sourced etc.

Perception of Sustainability in Incentive Travel

Common belief suggests that incentive travel is inherently unsustainable, picturing it as contributing to environmental degradation. However, this perception often overlooks the efforts and innovations in sustainable travel practices.

The Reality of Sustainable Practices in Incentive Travel

Many organisations are now incorporating sustainable practices into their incentive travel programs. This includes choosing eco-friendly destinations, using airlines that offer carbon offset programs, and engaging in responsible tourism activities. Such initiatives show a commitment to balancing rewarding experiences with environmental consciousness.

Balancing Incentive Travel with Sustainability

Businesses are adopting various strategies to reduce the environmental impact of their incentive travel programs. From selecting green hotels and resorts to encouraging eco-friendly activities at destinations, there's a growing trend towards sustainable travel. Technology plays a crucial role here, helping to track and reduce carbon footprints.

The Future of Incentive Travel

The incentive travel industry will likely continue evolving with a strong focus on sustainability. Innovations in green technology and an increased awareness of environmental responsibility are shaping the future of this sector. The trend is moving towards experiences that are not only rewarding but also respectful of our planet.

Incentive travel walks a tightrope between offering unique, motivating experiences and being environmentally responsible. While perceptions may skew towards unsustainability, the reality is that the industry is actively working towards reducing its environmental impact. It's crucial for companies and employees alike to be aware of these efforts and to advocate for continued progress in sustainable travel practices. We must also realise there is a significant dependency on cities and destinations to clean up their act and provide sustainable solutions. Incentive planners are starting to act with their feet, booking destinations that are forward-thinking about ESG.


Written by

Anthony Kelly

Anthony Kelly

Founder and Chief Marketing Officer


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