As more firms realise the importance of motivating their staff, the use of incentive travel schemes is becoming increasingly commonplace. The real skill, however, is matching employees with their most cost-effective motivator.

SBHD: As more firms realise the importance of motivating their staff, the use of incentive travel schemes is becoming increasingly commonplace. The real skill, however, is matching employees with their most cost-effective motivator.

Persuading professionals to talk about incentive travel schemes for non-sales staff is difficult. Although it is supposed to be a thriving market, it appears that all the alleged activity is shrouded in secrecy and paranoia.

Grass Roots Group chairman David Evans says there is little discourse about this area because it isn’t sexy to talk about non-sales staff. But he does agree that travel is the great motivator. “The incentive travel industry has been on the increase for the past ten years, and most of the money has been made from the lavish conference incentive trips organised for sales staff in the Eighties. Now most companies are recognising the importance of other staff, and the use of the incentive is commonplace – whether it is an extra £30 a month in their pay packet or a trip to London with a good meal and a night at the theatre.”

Landround Marketing chairman Michael Crompton recognises the need for more incentives to be offered to non-sales staff, but warns companies that it is vital to find the most suitable reward. “Traditional thinking often dictates that the only people who require motivation or additional reward within a company are those who sell the company’s products. This can lead to a situation where other elements that are just as important to the manufacturing and distribution chain are actively demotivated. In particular, this can occur when they see colleagues jetting off on a fantastic trip but know, for example, that if they had not worked that bit harder or longer there would not have been sufficient additional produce for the sales staff to sell to reach their goals or, perhaps, that those products would not have arrived on time,” he says.

At the same time, the traditional travel incentive may well be inappropriate for other than a few sales staff. This is where creative thinking comes into play when structuring or finding the right reward. “The sales team might be used to flying and have, or aspire to, a luxury lifestyle, while warehouse and distribution staff might prefer something a little closer to home where the whole family can be involved, but where they do not have to spend all their time with workmates. This is where some of the more developed travel promotions can come into their own – offering, for example, hotel accommodation at a range of venues in the UK, a villa for a week or a mini-cruise to Spain. Even allowing the recipient to choose with vouchers redeemable against package holidays or free travellers cheques can prove very successful,” says Crompton.

But incentive travel opportunities for non-sales staff are often restricted by cost. One industry representative says: “In a recession it isn’t such a good idea to spend money on something that might be conceived as a company jolly.”

Conference and Incentive Travel Partnership (CITP) operations director Rob Clough agrees the recession has had an effect on the amount of money companies spend on holidays for their staff. “It seemed inappropriate to launch travel initiatives when P45s were being handed out to so many members of staff. I believe the problem for many employers has been justifying spending the same amount on non-sales staff as on those who are actively selling, and whose results are quantifiable. Sales is a risk industry, whereas the delivery or operational side of a business doesn’t involve the same challenges. But there is a need to motivate the backroom boys as sales are not the be all and end all. You can’t sell unless the operational people are motivated to do their job properly,” according to Clough.

CITP organised the August 1994 launch of First Choice Holidays, which involved consumer groups, trade groups and presentations to staff groups of 500 and 800 respectively.

Incentive travel has been the privilege of sales staff, largely because it is expensive, and easier to justify when the staff going on the trip are seen to have “paid for themselves” through the sales they made. Incentive Travel Meetings Association (ITMA) executive director Sarah Webster says: “It is not unusual for an incentives campaign to cost in the region of £1m, and normally this million has to be funded by self-liquidating participants. However, the incentives industry for non-sales staff – which incorporates travel – is a growth industry. There is a whole spectrum of people in a company who need to be motivated and a whole range of products you can use, from £5 Marks & Spencer vouchers to exotic breaks. But top earners, which are usually the salesforce, always get travel because that is seen as the absolute top award.”

But how much is the incentive business worth as a whole? “The incentive industry is such an imprecise science that it is difficult to come up with a figure, but I would estimate it is worth about £500m a year. It is yet to be recognised, however, in the same way as sales promotion and is shrouded in a lot of secrecy,” says Webster.

The Marriott Hotel chain has successfully capitalised on the excitement of travel as a way to encourage non-sales staff. According to Annie Brookes, director of sales, western Europe, the company is involved in a tremendous amount of non-sales staff initiatives. “There are two different types of incentive: the one that aims for total quality management and another that appeals to large purchasers and attracts customer loyalty,” she says.

“Marriott offers a selection of incentives, recognising that the traditional work outing to an exotic location doesn’t work for all staff. Many don’t want to take a big holiday with work colleagues. So we offer a voucher scheme, where the winners can choose where they would like to spend their prize,” says Brookes.

One group incentive travel scheme from Marriott was a week-long trip to Jordan, with dinner under Bedouin tents, a swim in the Dead Sea and a Royal Day – incorporating a champagne and caviar breakfast, a limousine tour of Amman, an afternoon at the Royal Racing Club and an evening banquet in a castle.

Nigel Woods, account director of business development for the UK’s fastest growing motivations group, MotivForce, says travel is often a more focused way of rewarding staff. He points out that if they were given a cash prize they might well just spend it on the mortgage or the gas bill.

MotivForce operates its own incentive travel scheme for all staff, called The Chairman `s Club. According to Woods, the competition is open to all of the company’s 90 staff – from the post boy to the person who writes the proposals.

The firm is divided into four teams. Each month the top performing member of each earns a Storepoint voucher worth £100 and points towards annual consistency requirements. Runners-up and good performers are also rewarded with points. Every four months £1,000 of Storepoint vouchers are distributed among the top ten performers. Each December, the top 12 accumulative scores are compiled and the top scoring staff win a holiday.

Last year’s winners fly out to South Africa in March. There are more points for helpers of the month, staff of the month, and every four weeks the employee of the month earns £150 in Storepoint vouchers, plus two points towards the holiday. A board featuring details of how well each member of staff is doing is displayed in the company’s reception area.

“It has improved productivity and teamwork. The key to an incentive drive that gets results is one which is fun, achievable and simple. It must be as objective as possible. If it is too clever or difficult, people will not enter into it in the right spirit,” says Woods.

Woods is slightly biased, however. He was one of the winners of the holiday to South Africa.

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