Departments - September/October 2011

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On the Rebound
Incentive Travel Benefits, Rewards Renewed

By Deborah L. Vence

After two years of holding back on travel incentive programs, many companies now are planning to revive their incentive travel benefits and rewards for employees, channel partners and customers, according to a new white paper, "Incentive Travel Recovering From Belly-Flop," published by the Incentive Travel Council (ITC), a strategic industry group within the Incentive Marketing Association.

"It's a perfect time for corporations to get back to the grass-roots value of incentives, particularly travel," as stated by Carol Wain, president of the Incentive Travel Council (ITC) and of Marquee Incentives, a consulting firm that helps businesses find creative ways to optimize employee engagement, in the ITC report. "Short, mid or long-term, it's a proven and psychological fact that employees, channel partners and customers respond better to the carrot; not the stick. It's unfortunate that those organizations that abandoned these investments had to learn the hard way that the people involved and participating in their overall mission are living, breathing assets that want, need and deserve to be motivated, recognized and rewarded."

The report also cited a recent Society of Travel Executives survey in which more than 80 percent of companies surveyed said they plan to incorporate motivational travel in the next one to three years, and many of the same companies report a current, real-time return to travel incentives.

And, why are companies planning to do this now? Because they have discovered once again that travel incentives are linked directly to employee performance and customer loyalty.

"There are a variety of reasons [why companies are renewing incentive travel programs], but it boils down to one point, the absence of these programs took away a significant strategy that supports business objectives. When it's bad times, there is no [substitute] for an incentive travel program," said Jim Ruszala, director of marketing for Maritz Travel Company in Fenton, Mo., in a recent interview.

"Typically," he said, "when I start thinking about [incentive travel programs] I think about the three M's. When you are looking to achieve significant impact, you need to look at it from what's the level of meaningfulness, motivation and memorable value that this provides to program participants."

Citing conversations he's had with many different organizations over the past couple of years, Ruszala said that almost 90 percent of those companies that had postponed incentive travel programs now are bringing them back. He also noted a study that indicated that for every dollar spent on incentive travel, there was a $4 return on investment.

To prove that more companies are making a return back to incentive travel programs, the ITC report profiled Novato, Calif.-based DriveSavers, a company that specializes in data recovery services and was profiled in ITC's white paper, has found creative ways to lean on incentive travel.