Why Incentive Travel Matters to You

Venice Italy is an ideal incentive travel destination

Let’s talk about incentive travel and why it matters to you.

Motivational corporate travel experiences with business results – that’s the definition of incentive travel in seven words.

But behind these seven words is an entire philosophy, methodology, and industry dedicated to this tiny yet mighty niche in global travel and tourism.

The principles of incentive travel also apply to personal leisure travel. It’s an approach that helps transform typical trips into remarkable, relevant, and resonant experiences.

So let’s dive into what is incentive travel, who is responsible for incentive travel planning, and which are the four key partnerships. (If this section gets a tad tedious, it’s okay to skip to the good part.)

Next, let’s get to the good part: first-class fun, epic events, and five-star fabulousness. We’ll unpack real-life examples from our proprietary framework in action, professionally and personally.

Then, we’ll explore how to apply this perspective and framework to your own travel itineraries in simple and easy ways.

Lastly, we’ll discover together why incentive travel matters to you and your meaningful travel experiences.

Ready? Let’s go!

What is Incentive Travel

Incentive Travel Definition

Whether a Fortune 500 corporation or a small business, company executives and senior management surely want to encourage, engage, reward, and retain the best employees.

Business incentives are powerful tools to enhance and increase employee performance in tangible, measurable, and mutually beneficial ways.

Let’s say, for example, an automotive dealership has a sales goal to sell x number of cars by the year’s end.

So, the dealership management announces a sales compensation plan with precise parameters: Key performance indicators (KPI), metrics, timeframe, etc. They specify prizes to their sales team to reward, motivate, and inspire them to achieve and exceed the parameters.

These parameters are the qualifications; the prizes are the incentive.

The three traditional and most popular incentive programs are:

  • Monetary incentives, i.e., cash
  • Gift incentives of merchandise or gift card incentives with pre-paid gift cards
  • Travel incentives, in other words, all-expenses-paid trips

The third and last category is the most powerful and meaningful of all: Incentive travel.

Incentive Travel Meaning

For corporate executives and senior management, incentive travel means engaged and enthusiastic employees performing at higher levels with a happier outlook. With measurable outcomes for the company’s return on investment (ROI) and better employee retention.

For the top corporate performers, the meaning is rewarding and inspiring travel experiences. The kind of moments, memories, and magic that only travel can deliver.

Similarly, for those employees who didn’t qualify this time, the incentive travel meaning is more motivation to go above and beyond for the reward next time.

Incentive Travel Benefits

Studies show that incentive trips for employees reward, motivate, and inspire to a greater degree than cash incentives, gift card incentives, or merchandise gift incentives for employees.

Additionally, travel incentives deliver longer-lasting satisfaction. Likewise, satisfaction enhances employee performance and increases employee retention.

Besides the benefits to the corporate employer and the incentive traveler, incentive tourism benefits countless businesses, communities, and people.

Two professional foundations for the incentive travel industry offer a wealth of academic research and case studies:

The Incentive Research Foundation focuses on research and education on merchandise gift incentives, gift card incentives, and travel incentive programs.

The Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE Global) is the world’s only professional association solely and totally fixed on business incentive travel. That’s been the case ever since its founding as the Society of Incentive Travel Executives in 1973.

As a two-term SITE Chapter Past President, this writer can attest to these associations’ purpose, prominence, and importance to worldwide incentive tourism.

Together, the Incentive Research Foundation, SITE Foundation, and Oxford Economics collaborate on a benchmark report for the incentive travel industry: the annual Incentive Travel Index.

The Incentive Research Foundation makes current and prior reports of The Incentive Travel Index available for free download.

If you’re interested in the benefits of cash incentives, Forbes Advisor evaluates the pros and cons with “Monetary Incentives in the Workplace” annual guide.

What Goes Into a Travel Incentive

Surprisingly, incentive travel is the smallest segment of the global travel industry, both business travel and leisure travel.

Not surprisingly, given its elite niche, incentive tourism has the highest per-person spending across the tourism industry worldwide.

All elements of a business incentive travel program are strategic, purposeful, and intentional. Thoughtful care goes into every step: From preliminary research, consideration, and selection to program creation, operation, and successful conclusion.

Success ultimately requires strategic planning, creative vision, complex logistics, and trustworthy partnerships.

And also: Investment in the quality, service, and expense of incentive travel programs.

Speaking of which, let’s talk briefly about the incentive budget. Big or small, there is always an incentive budget to be approved, followed, and tracked.

Quality and service are paramount to the experience. But the expense also matters.

Because an incentive trip isn’t extravagance for extravagance’s sake or for bragging rights. It’s not a boondoggle.

A travel incentive is a defined benefit and measurable investment in employee performance, recognition, reward, and retention.

So, whether the program is for a global brand or a small independent business, the incentive budget is an essential factor for all the responsible parties.

Who is Responsible for Incentive Travel Planning

Incentive travel is a highly specialized niche of the travel and tourism industry, with professionals at the pinnacle of experience and expertise.

Whether it’s for individual or group incentive travel, the program planning, production, and operations involve several layers of strategic and tactical partnerships.

Corporate Incentive Travel Planner

Firstly, corporate incentive travel planners are the end-user clients.

The corporate event planner typically works directly for the corporation, company, or small business that’s sending its top achievers and guests on the hosted trip. They are the final decision-makers.

The corporate planner, either an in-house salaried employee or a contracted consultant, often handles other business events and meetings for the firm.

Incentive Travel Companies

Secondly, incentive travel companies work both with end clients and key industry partners, particularly the two partners described below: the Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and the Destination Management Company (DMC).

Services of incentive travel companies or incentive travel agents focusing on this elite industry niche include:

  • Sales compensation plan, qualification, and results tabulation
  • Incentive destination research, requests for proposals, and selection
  • Hotel research, requests for proposals, and selection
  • Destination Management Company (DMC) research, requests for proposals, and selection
  • Airline ticketing
  • On-site supervision of program operations
  • Overall budget management of the incentive travel package inclusions

Incentive travel companies are sometimes called sales and marketing services or third-party management companies. Formerly, the terms incentive house or incentive travel house were in common use.

Besides employee incentives, these full-service firms handle recognition and award programs, customer loyalty programs, corporate meetings, motivational events, and more.

Destination Marketing Organization

Thirdly, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMO), also known as Destination Management Organizations and Destination Organizations, promote and support travel and tourism to their specific destinations.

The DMO is an official government organization or authorized agency responsible for promoting travel and tourism for a nation, region, province, state, city, etc.

The marketing purvey includes leisure travel and tourism, plus the sector known as MICE: the acronym for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions.

Besides leisure tourism, incentive tourism, business meetings, business events, conventions, and expositions, the DMO also supports major festivals and sporting events.

For incentive tourism, the Destination Marketing Organization provides services such as:

  • Marketing collateral about the incentive destination
  • Familiarization trips (fam trips) to show their destination to prospective buyers
  • Site visit coordination for specific consideration and selection by decision-makers
  • Requests for proposals (RFP) from its member hotels and other stakeholders

The terms Destination Marketing Organization, Destination Management Organization, and Destination Organization reflect contemporary usage. However, a DMO can go by another name, such as:

  • State Tourism Office or Tourism Authority
  • Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB)
  • Tourism Bureau, Tourism Board, or Tourism Commission
  • Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA)
  • Chamber of Commerce

To clarify, the DMO and its role are different from those of the DMC, which we’ll discuss next.

Destination Management Company (DMC)

Fourthly, Destination Management Companies (DMC) are the creative and tactical experts on the ground in incentive travel destinations.

Chiefly, the Destination Management Company partners with incentive travel companies on behalf of the corporate client. Occasionally in some cases, the DMC works directly with the corporate planner.

The Destination Management Company is responsible for designing creatively and delivering smoothly all the intricate program operations, from the first arrival to the final departure.

The DMC slate of services encompasses the complete spectrum, including:

  • Airport transfers and ground transportation
  • Daytime activities such as sightseeing incentive tours, team building, cultural experiences, and adventure excursions
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity to give back to the incentive destination and its community
  • Restaurant reservations and management for incentive travellers to enjoy the local restaurants on a dine-around evening
  • Decor and entertainment for on-property events at the hotel
  • Fabulous evening events at off-property venues
  • Keepsake gifts
  • Professional uniformed staff for all services, plus additional staffing requirements for the hospitality desk, incentive tour registration desk, coat check, and more
  • Management and supervision of local destination suppliers, vendors, and partners
  • Complete program coordination and on-site operations

The successful DMC must possess deep experience, broad versatility, and vast expertise in the incentive travel destination. Along with its own roster of professional local tour guides, transportation, and hospitality staff. As well as proven relationships with local suppliers, vendors, and providers.

With 20+ years in destination management, corporate events, and incentive travel, this writer describes the DMC’s roles and responsibilities as arguably the most demanding in the industry, equally challenging and rewarding.

Industry Associations, Certifications, and Accreditations

Membership in professional trade associations elevates and upholds the quality of people, businesses, and the industry as a whole through professional education and development, connections and networking, certification and accreditation, and advocacy.

Across the incentive travel industry, many in the community are – or should be – active members of SITE Global.

SITE Global offers two levels of certifications for incentive jobs: Certified Incentive Specialist (CIS) and Certified Incentive Travel Professional (CITP).

Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) is under redevelopment at this time. Eventually, this writer expects SITE Global once again to offer three travel incentive certificates for job positions up to senior management.

Destinations International (DI) is the world’s leading and largest resource for Destination Marketing Organizations.

DI certifications are Professional in Destination Management (PDM) and Certified Destination Management Executive (CDME). Its accreditation is the Destination Marketing Accreditation Program (DMAP).

The Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI) is the premier association for the global DMC industry.

ADMEI certification is Destination Management Certified Professional (DMCP). Its accreditation is Accredited Destination Management Company (ADMC).

This writer, after serving four terms on the ADMEI Certification and Accreditation Board of Directors, affirms the rigorous criteria and core competencies required.

These are the gold standards for incentive travel planners and incentive travel companies to seek in their Destination Management Company partnerships.

Examples of Incentive Travel

To imagine what an incentive travel program might look like, let’s unpack three signature pillars of Spotlight Sojourns’ proprietary framework:

  • The UNIQUE
  • and The WOW

This writer and this photographer describe three real-life examples, all from our first-hand experiences and events.

Additionally, this writer and this photographer apply the exact same frameworks for our meaningful travel and storytelling as The Hidden Gemologists.

Incentive Travel Example: The UNIQUE

Firstly, let’s clarify The UNIQUE: Something that’s proven and popular, but with a twist to transform the tried and true into one of a kind.

Now, let’s consider a real-life example of The UNIQUE in action.

The UNIQUE Incentive Tour

You’re excited to explore on your first full day in San Francisco, California. But this is no humdrum bus tour with canned narration.

Because you’re an incentive traveller. And today, your group incentive tour introduces you in style to the City by the Bay.

Get ready to enjoy this world-famous city’s best sightseeing, local culture, and authentic tastes.

You ride in quintessential San Francisco style aboard a private motorized cable car with a top-notch professional tour guide onboard. A personalized fleece jacket and logo blanket keep you warm and cozy in the inevitable fog.

Splendid sights unfold before you: The gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge. Colorful 19th-century Victorian homes known as “Painted Ladies” on Postcard Row. San Francisco City Hall with a golden dome taller than the nation’s Capitol.

Distinctive neighborhoods welcome you: Italian North Beach with la dolce vita spirit. Chinatown, the historic “city-within-the-City.” Haight-Ashbury, with 1960s Summer of Love vibes. Of course, the waterfront attractions of Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square.

At sightseeing stops and scenic photo ops during the tour, the professional uniformed staff greet you with the white-glove treatment.

You sample traditional treats. Skip the lines. And learn fascinating true stories of “Everybody’s Favorite City.”

When this delightful day draws to a close, and the motorized cable car brings you back to the hotel, there’s no doubt: You’ve left your heart in San Francisco.

Incentive Travel Example: The EXCLUSIVE

Secondly, let’s understand The EXCLUSIVE: Something that’s available here and nowhere else, or only at this particular time, or is original to this location.

Now, let’s envision the EXCLUSIVE in exciting action.

The EXCLUSIVE Team-Building Event

The landmark Major League Baseball stadium swings its gates open to you. But this is no public game day.

Because you’re the All-Star. And this afternoon, this stadium belongs exclusively to you and your team.

The team mascot welcomes you with a classic photo op. In your customized team jersey, you certainly look the part of an MLB player.

Then you explore the clubhouses, dugouts, press room, and other off-limit areas on a behind-the-scenes private guided tour. It’s a thrill to hear little-known baseball stories and see the World Series Trophy up close.

Next, your fantasy baseball dreams come true at batting practice with the team coach. Hey, slugger, that’s you on the scoreboard!

Bistro-clad servers and chef stations dish up ballpark favorites and gourmet cuisine. Micro-brewed beers, fine wines, and craft cocktails flow freely.

When this terrific team building experience comes to an end, the private luxury motorcoach whisks you and your teammates back to the hotel.

It’s a game-winning home-run hit for the memory books.

Incentive Travel Example: The WOW

Thirdly, let’s embrace The WOW: Something that pulls out all the stops, makes an impact, and leaves a lasting impression.

Now, let’s illustrate The WOW of a singular and spectacular soirée to remember forever.

The WOW Gala Event

You’re dressed to impress for your farewell fête, a private dinner cruise in Paris, France. But this is no typical tourist boat.

Because this is an extraordinarily posh private motor yacht custom-built for royalty. And tonight, you rule the River Seine.

Violinists serenade as the Michelin-starred chef and tuxedo-clad stewards serve a multi-course feast prepared freshly onboard in the galley.

With each mouth-watering course, the master sommelier introduces a perfect wine pairing.

Later as midnight nears, you raise a flute of Champagne on the yacht’s aft deck, under the black velvet sky and sparkling stars.

Finally, the Eiffel Tower dazzles and delights with its legendary light show. What a fairytale finale to this glorious gala event.

“Wow,” you whisper when disembarking from this once-in-a-lifetime event, “I can’t wait for the next trip!”

How to Apply Incentive Trip Ideas to Your Travels

Finding The UNIQUE, The EXCLUSIVE, and The WOW may seem easy in glamorous incentive travel destinations. In opulent hotels and luxury travel trends. And yes, in extravagant and expensive experiences like the above examples.

But setting big budgets, big cities, and all-expense-paid awesomeness aside – regardless, it’s important to realize there’s something special to discover everywhere.

So let’s look at a few incentive trip ideas to elevate and enhance your own travel experiences.

The following suggestions may spark your imagination anew while you or your travel advisor plan your trip itineraries.

Incentive Trip Ideas: The UNIQUE

As shown above, The UNIQUE is a twist on something that’s tried and true, proven and popular.

Let’s imagine how to apply The UNIQUE to your own meaningful travel without breaking the bank.

For instance, when arriving at a new destination for the first time, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with an introductory sightseeing tour.

Now, let’s add a little seasoning to the basic ingredients.

Using San Francisco as an example, here are two ideas for public tours:

The Hop-On / Hop-Off sightseeing tours are a favorite and fun way to sightsee. With the extra bonus opportunity to hop off and explore an area, then hop back on another vehicle.

A small group guided tour makes the sightseeing more personal. Choose one with a theme, like the San Francisco Filming Locations tour.

Incentive Trip Ideas: The EXCLUSIVE

As noted earlier, The EXCLUSIVE is found only in this one place, available at this certain time, or is original to this specific location.

Perhaps you’re going to travel through Europe, where the United Kingdom and European Union regulations protect the quality, characteristics, and “traditional know-how” of specific products.

The EU acknowledges the heritage of agriculture, viniculture, and gastronomy with the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for food and wine, as well as the Geographical Indication (GI) for spirits.

Similarly, North America recognizes distinctive Wine Appellations of Origin with official American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in the United States; and Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) in Canada.

So The EXCLUSIVE may incorporate a cooking class with the local gastronomy or a wine tasting with regional wines.

Or perhaps The EXCLUSIVE takes you to a cultural landmark, like the breathtaking medieval monasteries of Meteora in Thessaly, Greece.

In fact, you can even build an entire travel itinerary around The EXCLUSIVE: Like the 8th wonder of the world, the Erie Canalway in New York State. Or the ultimate epic road trip in the United States, Route 66.

Incentive Trip Ideas: The WOW

All in all, The WOW aspires to ensure a highlights reel for your memories. Whether it’s razzle-dazzle or simple and sweet, The WOW is an experience to re-live and a story to re-tell.

Maybe that means tickets to the theatre or the performing arts – a Broadway-style show, the opera, ballet, or symphony concert.

Perhaps it’s a wonderful meal beyond the ordinary: Coveted reservations to a white tablecloth restaurant or Michelin star hot spot. Or at a beloved historic establishment open for decades.

Sometimes it’s the idyllic ambiance of a picnic in the park or on the beach at sunset – the effortless ease poet Omar Khayyam depicts as “a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou beside me.”

Why Incentive Travel Matters to You

In conclusion, incentive trips for employees reward, motivate, and inspire top achievers through strategic, purposeful, and immersive travel experiences.

These programs are designed to enhance employee performance, improve employee satisfaction, increase employee retention, and deliver a return on investment.

Planning, production, and operation thus must accomplish the key objectives to reward, motivate, and inspire incentive travellers by:

  • Elevating their experiences.
  • Engaging their senses.
  • Creating remarkable, relevant, and resonant memories.

A travel incentive is, therefore, the ultimate meaningful travel.

So, incentive travel matters to you because you can apply this same concept to:

  • Elevate your experiences.
  • Engage your senses.
  • Create remarkable, relevant, and resonant memories.

With this purpose in mind for your own meaningful travel experiences which will:

  • Broaden horizons, create connections, and deepen understanding.
  • Seek beauty and find joy wherever you are.
  • Collect moments that echo in memory.
  • Create stories that become part of your legacy.

Because meaningful travel is part of a meaningful life.
And stories enrich the meaning.


Check Out More Recommendations

FURTHER READING: Incentive Travel: For a New World by Patrick Partridge

Famous Landmarks in Greece to Visit in All 14 Greek Regions

Erie Canalway: Add This to Your Travel Bucket List

Route 66 Start to Finish: The Ultimate Epic Road Trip

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What is incentive travel?

Incentive travel programs are designed to reward, inspire, and motivate employees to achieve and exceed corporate objectives.

The award-winning top performers earn an all-expenses-paid incentive trip. The most popular format is a group incentive travel, where the winners and their guests visit the incentive destination together.

Other formats are incentive trips for individual couples and family travel incentives.

What does a travel incentive include?

Whether for an individual couple or a group incentive travel program, a travel incentive comprises a complete package to, from, and within an incentive travel destination.

The incentive travel package typically includes some or all of these services: Round-trip airfare and airport transfers, hotel accommodations, an incentive tour, and other daytime activities, hosted meals and evening events, as well as keepsake gifts for the incentive traveller.

What are the benefits of incentive travel?

Studies show that incentive travel programs reward, motivate, and inspire employees more than cash incentives, gift card incentives, or merchandise gift incentives for employees.

Incentive trips for employees enhance employee performance and increase retention due to greater anticipation and longer-lasting satisfaction than cash awards, gift card incentives, or merchandise gift incentives.

So, incentive travel programs benefit both employees, management, and also the corporate business overall.


All opinions expressed are Spotlight Sojourns’ own.

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