This February, Destination Canada’s Business Events team brought together international incentive clients for Incentive Canada Winter in charming Québec City. As one of their signature events, it spotlighted the exhilarating winter adventures, exclusive culinary experiences and meaningful cultural activities to reward and celebrate high achievers in Canada.
Through it, we gained a wealth of insights into what makes an exceptional incentive reward — something that’s more important than ever in today’s labour market.
Here are our three top takeaways.
1. Incentive winners prioritize authenticity.
As we developed this year’s Incentive Canada Winter, we knew that we wanted to create an event that immersed guests in unique and authentic French-Canadian experiences. In other words: our top goal was to showcase the activities that often can’t be found outside of Québec.
Take, for example, the afternoon spent at a cabane à sucre, also known as a sugar shack. Incentive Canada guests not only learned how maple syrup is made (Canada produces about 80% of the world’s supply), but they also experienced true French-Canadian culture in doing so.
This started with a traditional and hearty meal consisting of maple syrup-infused meatballs and split pea soup — while guests listened to a lively performance by famous traditional Québec musicians, Famille Painchaud. A local guide then showed them the secrets to making maple syrup, which involves collecting sap from maple trees and boiling it. This was followed by a traditional dessert, called tire d'érable, which consists of maple taffy poured onto snow and then rolled onto sticks.
Incentive Canada Winter occurred during one of the world’s largest winter festivals — Carnaval. The week-long event features ice sculpting, colourful night parades and the famous ice canoe race, and it allowed guests to take part in exclusive cultural activities. Among them: Carnaval’s first-ever after-hours experience. During it, they met Bonhomme, the jolly seven-foot-tall snowperson who is the ambassador of the winter celebration. Bundled up in his iconic red tuque and arrow sash, he took guests on a private tour of his famous ice palace.
These are just some examples of how planners can deliver on today’s heightened expectations by making incentives more authentic, exclusive and unique. And from what we heard, attendees were truly captivated by them.
2. Sustainability can be incorporated in creative and cost-effective ways.
A recent IRF survey found that 80 per cent of respondents reported some pressure from clients to offer more sustainable options in meetings, incentives and incentive travel venues, and transport. It also noted how program owners are increasingly paying attention to how incentive merchandise rewards are sourced, packaged and used.
We made sustainability a core part of Incentive Canada Winter, such as by ensuring that all gifts were sustainable. For example, guests received badges made from salvaged windfallen trees and recycled wood that were engraved using a solar laser technique, which has a lighter and cleaner footprint. Gifts were also reusable, including our canvas tote bag, Chilly Moose water bottle and mug.
Guests stayed at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, the first historic hotel in Canada to be fully carbon neutral. The hotel provided them with socks made of wool, a material known for being an environmentally positive fibre choice. Welcome notes were written on seed paper, which, along with being biodegradable, has seeds embedded in it that grow and become paper compost when planted in an earthen pot.
Sustainability goes beyond protecting the environment; it also means playing a part in supporting local cultures. One evening, we hosted a captivating fireside chat with Jason Picard-Binet, Owner of Bastien Industries — which has been manufacturing moccasins since 1972. Jason explained how he works with the local Indigenous community in Wendake, who draw on traditional knowledge of their ancestors to make moccasins. He also shed light on the importance of the moccasin to the Huron-Wendat Nation. Gifts like these help local communities thrive, while also leaving attendees with a greater understanding and appreciation of diverse ways of life.
3. Wellness should be a core component of any incentive program.
Incentive Canada Winter integrated wellness into the agenda through several invigorating outdoor activities. Adventure-seekers got the thrill of a lifetime during canot à glace (ice canoeing) — which is only offered in Québec. After guides gave them a tutorial on rowing, they set out on the St. Lawrence River, where large patches of ice turned the river into an exhilarating playground unlike any other.
Others created lasting memories while ice climbing at Montmorency Falls — which is home to one of the most-climbed ice routes in Québec. After gearing up, they ascended a 120-metre wall of ice guided by François Guy Thivierge, a local climber who has conquered the highest peak of each of the seven continents and skied both poles.
The rest of the Incentive Canada Winter group opted to spend an afternoon at the acclaimed Strøm Nordic Spa, where they enjoyed a signature treatment and relaxed in infinity pools that overlook the glaciers in the St. Lawrence River. No matter what activity they chose, attendees ended the day feeling more rejuvenated than ever. Of course, there was also ample downtime in the agenda to experience the magic of the city’s quaint neighborhoods, cobblestone streets and European-inspired architecture at their own pace.
While it may not be the first thing that comes to mind, giving back is another form of wellness. Incentives can have lasting impact by incorporating Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives into it. During our fireside chat, Jason told the group about an initiative that Bastien Industries is leading to teach Indigenous inmates at a jail in northern Québec how to bead and to sew moccasins. This is one way that companies can partner with local organizations through their incentive to make a real difference in communities.