How to Effectively Utilize Incentive Travel

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How to Effectively Utilize Incentive Travel  

By Beth Buehler

Even though the hosting of meetings and events has slowed down during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have still depended on employees selling and performing at the highest levels possible and have gotten creative with how they reward top performers. However, it’s hard to beat incentive trips as a motivator and thankfully they have returned!

We’ll take a look at how to effectively utilize incentive travel, why Colorado is a popular destination, some recent incentive trip examples, tips for success and more through the eyes of three destination management company pros based in the state.

First let’s define incentive travel. “Incentive travel is a recognition of success and being a top contributor to an organization,” says Rebecca Steffen, a Vail-based senior account manager for ACCESS Destination Services.

Melissa Layton, principal at Operation Altitude with offices in Vail and Denver, adds, “Corporations award their employees, usually for sales achievements, by offering trips to exciting destinations. The winners bring a spouse/guest and the company pays for travel, hotel, choice of activities and meals. There is usually an awards banquet to call out the successes of winners in attendance.”

Nicole Marsh, partner at Denver-based Imprint Events Group with locations in Colorado, Florida and Las Vegas, also provides helpful insights on this important topic of how to effectively utilize incentive travel.

A woman with long brown hair wearing a white winter coat with a fur-trimmed hood is smiling outdoors in a snowy setting, perhaps enjoying the delights of an incentive travel experience.
Rebecca Steffen, ACCESS Destination Services
A woman with long, wavy blonde hair and a black blouse smiles with her arms crossed against a white background, radiating the confidence of someone recently rewarded through incentive travel.
Nicole Marsh, Imprint Events Group
A woman with blonde hair is smiling at the camera. She is wearing a black top with layered necklaces, standing outdoors amidst green foliage—perhaps on an incentive travel adventure.
Melissa Layton, Operation Altitude

Has incentive travel returned to the meetings and events mix since the COVID-19 pandemic started? 

Rebecca Steffen: Yes it has! We are seeing programs come back better than ever. Companies really want to honor their teams and bring them together, and they have a big focus on making their future programs more unique than ever.

Nicole Marsh: There is definite compression with built-up demand and trips that had been earned pre-pandemic. Many have returned to live programs this summer and fall, with others still taking place virtually. We are seeing a little slow down with the Delta variant, but for the most part planners are continuing to move forward with plans for Q3 and Q4 events.

Melissa Layton: Incentive travel did come back this summer, but now groups are questioning moving forward with their groups in the fall and early winter because of the variant.

How do companies/organizations utilize incentive travel?

NM: To motivate their employees to reach or surpass individual and company goals. The trip is a reward for an individual and often a spouse/guest as a thank you for their supporting role.

ML: To inspire employees with exciting travel based on their performances.

Why is Colorado an attractive incentive travel state?

RS: It is due to the enormous amount of outdoor interactions people can accomplish and the ease of getting to the mountains. There is no international travel or extra COVID tests.

NM: Incentive usually means luxury and exclusivity, and Colorado has a lot of both! The remote options and outdoors also have made Colorado attractive for planners. In fact, we had a program that just selected Beaver Creek for a fall incentive that moved last-minute from a more populous destination. 

ML: Colorado is the perfect corporate playground for appealing activities and scenic dinner events.

What are some of the most popular Colorado destinations for incentive trips? 

RS: Vail, Beaver Creek and Aspen are gorgeous mountain towns that offer upscale experiences with the opportunity to wow guests.

NM: The mountain resorts of Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen and Telluride are the most popular destinations along with The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Gateway Canyons on the Western Slope also has been popular because of its size and remote location.

ML: The Rocky Mountains are especially popular now because attendees can get into the great outdoors without any social distancing or mask concerns.

Examples of favorite incentive travel programs that your firm has helped organize. 

RS: We most recently created a live concert nestled in the hillside of Beaver Creek Mountain. Naked tipis and velvet couches adorned the lawn, and a five-course dinner was prepared inside Beano’s Cabin. A violinist entertained the guests during dinner and guests transitioned to the lawn and danced the night away to a celebrity country singer.

NM: We’re actually in the middle of one this week with several fun elements like custom blue jean fitting, Stetson hats, helicopter tours, an intimate experience with a celebrity singer/songwriter, and more!

ML: We had a pharmaceutical group in Vail earlier this month, and the attendees were so excited to travel and see each other again. On the first activity day, it was raining but everyone showed up to go rafting, downhill biking, golfing and Jeeping. They were good sports who weren’t going to let the weather spoil their Rocky Mountain adventures.

What are some recent trends for incentive travel? 

RS: Creating a party environment in a setting where there was none previously and having surprise entertainers.

NM: The more remote and less populated destinations are popular. We’re also seeing clients look domestic because of the uncertainty of foreign travel. There have been so many that have not planned their incentives domestically previously, so it’s opening up a lot of new and exciting possibilities. We’re also seeing planners strategically planning out opportunities for the achievers to spend quality one-on-one time during the program with senior-level executives or the CEO of the company. That could be designated seating at meal functions or smaller receptions, with that one-on-one time as the focus.

ML: Going to domestic locations vs. international.

What are your top tips for companies offering incentive trips? 

RS: Be open minded to the wow impact. Right now, it may be as simple as being together safely.

NM: Focus on experiences or moments within the program to make them truly memorable. It’s the small details or unique experiences that they’ll remember for a lifetime. More importantly, when they have to qualify for the next year, it will make them work a little harder so they can earn the trip again. These often become the Instagrammable moments.

ML: Pick a destination that will inspire employees to win the trip and offer activities and dinner events that showcase the location.

I hope this look at how to effectively utilize incentive travel will prompt more groups to consider moving forward with their programs in 2021 and 2022 in a way that is safe and truly memorable!

Top Photo: The setting for a live concert nestled in the hillside of Beaver Creek Mountain held during an incentive trip. Courtesy ACCESS Colorado.

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 16 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.