Travel opportunities are the most popular non-cash rewards despite their high cost. Team building using physical challenges remains the most common objective.

In a competitive market, it takes more than salary packages and benefits to attract and maintain good staff. One of the most popular means of motivating and rewarding performance is incentive travel.

In his book, A Manager’s Guide to Staff Incentives & Performance Improvement Techniques, John Fisher identifies travel as the most popular non-cash reward, even though it is the most expensive. “Travel sits right at the heart of effective motivation for all kinds of psychological reasons,” he explains. “It appeals to all the senses and offers relaxation from a stressful life.”

In addition, says Fisher, it has “trophy value”, allowing its recipients to show off their achievements.

While incentive travel has traditionally been aimed at individual high achievers, there is also a trend towards acknowledging the efforts of project teams.

Graham Keene, managing director of LMG, which organises incentive travel packages, says: “Team travel is a natural conclusion to a team-based incentive and continues the development of an integrated team spirit. Not only do individuals get to know each other better, but they learn to value the support and encouragement that a cohesive team engenders.”

Incentives, says Keene, should combine motivation with team building and individual skills development. “If the success of every participant depends on the performance of the team, then there is an incentive for top performers to support the rest, and to generate an overall better result. Ultimately it is total performance that matters,” he adds.

A natural consequence of this shift is that incentive travel is no longer seen as solely for the salesforce, says Ken Savage, marketing manager of Page & Moy Marketing Group. “Although in certain sectors, such as financial services and car sales, individual rewards still predominate, we are seeing a very definite shift towards non-sales-related incentives. We are being asked to measure performance on qualitative issues, as opposed to quantitative issues,” he explains.

Stephanie Kingsly Smith is corporate group manager of Page & Moy Worldwide Incentives. She sees many positive aspects to team reward schemes. “As more companies initiate team motivation campaigns, there is more involvement in the decision making process from human resource departments as well as the more traditional sales and marketing areas.”

This development, says Kingsly Smith, means that, “companies are looking for long-term relationships where incentive agencies are involved in the planning process, understand the business and most importantly the mix of employees as the nature of incentives evolves”.

The Grass Roots Group specialises in travel packages aimed at teams. One of its major clients is Camelot, which tries to give every member of the salesforce the chance of a day out or a more substantial reward. “Objectives for Camelot’s recent sales incentive included achieving optimum levels of coverage, building Christmas displays and hitting sales targets,” says James Penny, director of sales and marketing for Grass Roots.

Grass Roots is one of many companies that implements a tiered approach to rewards for its clients. Camelot staff could aspire to trips that ranged from a day in Paris (fourth prize) to a weekend at a health farm or a two-night stay in Amsterdam.

How does the team ethic affect the types of packages that companies want? “With an individual incentive, there is certainly more free time and more choice in the programme,” says Keene.

“On a team event, team members do activities together. It’s about things that affect the bottom line in a company, like fostering communication and building trust. We tend to put on events and activities that are a lot of fun, but at the same time reinforce some of the messages that the company would want.”

He stresses that, in contrast to the traditional view of incentive travel, the team package is not a holiday. “They may visit traditional destinations, but they will put into practice some of the personal skills they have developed over the year working together,” says Keene.

A recent trip took a group of 30 participants walking, rock-climbing and abseiling in Madeira and solving three-dimensional problems they came across along the way.

This trip is typical of current trends in team travel: action-packed and strong on physical challenges. What about team members who lack either the desire or the ability to participate in such strenuous activities?

Keene says teams would be expected to work this type of issue out among themselves, with all members being encouraged to put the team’s welfare before their own. Kingsly Smith says that to awaken motivation company-wide, an incentive organiser must be able to accommodate a mix of aspirations and personalities.

“The range of travel products required is changing and broadening. Some companies are also requesting a more individual product where scheme winners can choose the time of year and even the destination of their reward trip.

“Where group travel is still planned, the make-up of the overall event and the range of activities indicate a broad set of criteria. A number of companies are looking for programmes with high levels of participation (golf, skiing, water sports, etc) and in many instances a range of voluntary options – a direct reflection of the age range and lifestyle mix of the participants,” says Kingsly Smith.

Fisher notes that despite increasing team consciousness in business, there is an accompanying rise in individual incentive travel, with the US leading the field. “As people become more individual in their leisure tastes and more insular, group travel may well decline as a percentage of expenditure on rewards. Within Europe, group incentive travel is still in its mid-growth phase, although evidence from France and Italy reveals that individual incentive travel is becoming a significant part of the required reward fulfilment proposal.”

Yet whether teams or individuals are being rewarded, the net result for organisers is still usually the same: travel occurs in groups. In Fisher’s view, group travel presents an ideal opportunity to hold a formal meeting.

“The conference session, however short, allows the company to recognise publicly its top achievers, encourages active participation in corporate aims and binds the group together. Individual goal-setting and motivation can be vastly improved by insisting on a conference session, even though there may be little on the agenda which is serious business information,” says Fisher.

Keene agrees there is a trend towards the integration of motivational initiatives with skills development and team building. “Further integration comes of launching incentive programmes in tandem with new product introductions at corporate conferences. The typical sales conference is no longer an annual jolly: delegates are expected to actively participate in training exercises. In this way budgets are better deployed for the benefit of all staff, with incentives oriented specifically to key business and team objectives,” he adds.

Within these constraints, highly aspirational activities are still possible. Page & Moy Worldwide Incentives specialises in two areas: cruise packages and Grand Prix motor racing visits. Both offer exotic destinations and high status activities with flexible timescales.

LMG won the 1994 Incentive Travel & Meetings Association platinum award in 1994 for a trip to Nepal it organised for Janssen pharmaceutical. Says Keene: “The Nepal trip was a reward after a six-month sales drive for a new product. In selecting an unknown destination with cultural, environmental or physical challenges, team members naturally became better integrated and mutually supportive.”

According to Savage, Page & Moy Marketing Group organises “everything from a one-week trip to Australia to a day trip to France. There is a move towards the more long-haul, exotic, unique destinations. For a large computer manufacturer, we are taking 150 people to Barbados in March.”

Whatever the trends, cost-effectiveness is still a recurring theme in the planning process for incentive travel. “It’s not unusual for us to get a 250,000 budget to work with and the financial directors want to see some real incremental results for the money they’re spending. We are competing against above-the-line spend and other below-the-line techniques. This effectiveness requirement is making us devise cleverer, smarter and better functioning programmes,” says Savage.

Kingsly Smith echoes this: “While there is a continuing pressure to create more and more imaginative programmes, the end requirement from the client is for a programme which is relatively simple and most importantly, tried and tested. Very few companies will take the risk on what we would call a ‘leading edge’ product or programme.”

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