The Value of Incentive Travel in a Post-Pandemic World

David Riddell Memorial Scholarship Winner

By Eugenia Solano, SITE’s 2021 David Riddell Memorial Scholarship recipient

Eugenia Solano, SITE’s 2021 David Riddell Memorial Scholarship recipient, is brimming with insights about the future value of incentive travel. Even though her winning essay (shared below) was penned before Omicron arrived on the global stage, Eugenia’s thoughts are still incredibly relevant as we all continue working to create an even stronger post-pandemic future for our industry.

As businesses move into a post-pandemic world, we all need to establish what worked before and what needs to change to move forward in the world of incentive travel. It's important not to lose sight of this and find a way to work until a new norm is set.

It is still difficult to think that our incentive travel was frozen due to a pandemic and that we, as actors of this industry, were involved, and we had to reinvent ourselves and adjust to realities that we never thought we would live in the industry.

However, our professionals in the sector have been working creatively to stand up in an unprecedented environment that often brings us to rethink our objectives and work in the short-term, putting into practice our ability to react to the opportunities instantly.

In my perspective, the major post-pandemic trends will be:

Health & safety: are paramount in this new era. Personal experiences, the fear of being stuck in another country, and concerns for physical distancing will guide consumer behavior in the short- to mid-term. Businesses will have to collaborate even more closely with their extended value chains, especially employees and suppliers, to ensure readiness and implement like-minded protocols. In this context, trust between travelers and employees, businesses and suppliers, and visitors and local communities will be a leading engine in the recovery of the incentive industry.

Technology and innovation: COVID-19 is proving to be a catalyst in the travel & tourism sector's quest for innovation and the integration of new technologies. Amid stay-at-home orders, digital adoption and consumption are on the rise, with consumers now expecting contactless technologies, among others, as an essential prerequisite for a safe and seamless travel experience. Cybersecurity is only becoming more important, particularly as remote work becomes the norm and digitized identities. While digitization and innovation offer tremendous opportunities for incentive travel growth, which should be embraced, precautions are needed to make sure employees and local communities are not left behind.

Sustainability: From widespread unemployment and anti-racism movements to restoring natural habitats, the world has been reinvigorated to tackle social, environmental, and institutional sustainability. In particular, heightened public awareness of wildlife markets and poaching has boosted advocacy for wildlife protections. Businesses and governments are facing growing scrutiny of their environmental track records and their support for diversity and inclusion. This is the time for the incentive travel sector to seize the moment and enact meaningful changes that will transform the world and make a lasting difference for future generations.

Creativity: Incentive travel programs have always been full of unique and breath-taking details, and I firmly believe that now more than ever, it is a must to create great design experiences that will have to consider the new standard rules that will stick for a long time as part of each logistic and program. Traveling to new and exciting destinations, staying in unique hotels with superb facilities, and taking part in engaging team experiences will indeed be something to look forward to, being both highly desirable and intensely motivational.

Talented teams and partnerships: I have always considered that the incentive travel industry is one of those sectors where all ages convert in a beautiful way crafting significant synergies. However, due to the personnel cuts some companies had to do to survive, it will become challenging to regroup the previously accumulated talent used to work in the industry. With so many moving variables surrounding incentive travel, it's our job to keep up with the latest advice and recommendations to our clients, so we need to have a great team that is always well-informed.

Also, having local knowledge and feet on the ground in each destination partnering with local experts is always an extraordinary relief that will significantly appreciate avoiding any safety issues during the programs.

Contingency planning more critical than ever: While always necessary, the need for planning for disruptions took top priority because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether designing a large-scale incentive travel program or a local experiential reward, contracts need to be carefully reviewed, and contingency plans need to anticipate new and evolving disruptions.

The terms of an agreement make a huge difference now and will be under scrutiny in the future. Contracts should be carefully reviewed by someone with specific knowledge of event- and hotel-related contracting. Hotel contract provisions should address known and anticipated risks, safety/cleanliness procedures, government rules and best practices for health and safety, and a written safety plan. Force majeure clauses may allow either party to cancel, reduce, or postpone performance.

Less is more: I forecast more individual travel incentives as well as private destinations. Probably the number of participants will be lower in incentive groups; however we will see more smaller incentive trips.

Travel incentives will become even more popular since people will feel more comfortable traveling solo or with a plus one. Therefore, instead of organizing an incentive trip for a large team or group of people, offer incentive trips for employees on an individual basis during different times of the year.

I am expecting to see an increase in the demand of private and exclusive destinations where the number of guests who can enter is easily enforced.

A new beginning is waiting for the incentive travel industry; we need to re-imagine and re-design our internal business plans and strategies, keeping in mind all the changes that we have seen in a short period in the last months.

I believe that the incentive travel industry will eventually return more robust than ever before, and its role as a key strategic driver in unleashing human performance will become even more potent in the future.

When this is all over, the need to connect personally, to spend quality time with colleagues and clients, will be stronger and more critical than ever.

The value of incentive travel has just multiplied exponentially and, if used correctly, could be a formidable tool in reinvigorating the world economy.

Written by

SITE Staff


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