The fundamental purpose of any incentive travel for the achievers by any corporation is to strengthen the relationship between the individual and the brand or organization they work for. As companies are moving towards a measurable outcome from brand spend they are getting more and more inclined towards experiential marketing solutions and targeted spend which has direct correlation to revenue. In most cases incentive travel is offered against revenue achievements and in some cases, potential talent is ring fenced with such lucrative offerings in advance.

With the growing scale and intent to enhance the experience most companies are considering international destinations today when it comes to offering incentive travel for the best guys. This gives a moral high of travelling international. With tourist, friendly destinations offering so much from infrastructure to ease of travel and stay, with newest attractions and a mesmerizing weather international destinations across globe are within reach now.

Travelling in group with internal competitors puts a face to the name one would have otherwise seen only on ranking tables. This creates a good peer group of performers and drives healthy competition and consistency when executed with an inclusive strategy. In a well planned incentive travel which I say inclusive the traveler feels involved being on the driving seat from planning to execution rather than just being a passenger and feeling disconnected. Few smart incentive planners also demonstrate bias for action and traveler within the same group have differential treatment basis their ranking.

Evolution of Incentive Travel in Indian Corporate Scenario:

Incentives were mostly designed for sales functions across companies to drive high productivity levels. These were the typical cash rewards end of month or quarter, however like any other business challenge when some people hit the top slab and see saturation they tend to ask what next? A solution to such concern was then offering consumer durables over and above the cash rewards which had a higher market value but lesser real procurement value for the company. This became a good driver and attractive option for years. Top sales guys were seen carrying home the latest refrigerators, washing machine and air conditioners home every year. For few years in early 2000 this came in as an attractive catch. Now over time this also came under redundancy as the performers were consistent and so was the reward. One can manage with a second refrigerator or third air conditioner but what beyond that? Again, with online market places offering big discounts the perceived value of these products became lower than the actual. Also, every household has a specific need and a standard product in most cases wasn’t useful.

There was a time in my corporate tenure five years back I would get requests up to 75% of winners wanting to encash the gifts even at a discounted price rather than taking them home. There were huge logistic challenges anyway attached to it on delivering these large items across the country with local and national tax rules plus transit damages and post sales service issues. Imagine in places like Mumbai where people survive with space crunch some frontline guys run away from such rewards if its anything other than a mobile handset.

Couple of years back most industry regulators for financial services, pharmaceuticals and others came heavily on organizations on offering cash equivalent rewards to distributors and employees beyond approved limits. This controlled the bullion offering that was being offered in kind as rewards. While no one gets bored of making more cash or cash equivalents still in a situation where there was a tough competition in the market place and everyone was chasing the performing stars or trying to ring fence talent the performers expected some icing on the cake.

Incentive travel was pushed in as a real solution where many domestic training programs and study tours were also pushed to international destinations with bells and whistles making it an experience to remember.

India Focus Initiatives:

Today many countries through their tourism boards have started India focused schemes where they have put in their teams in India to promote destinations and inbound incentive groups to their country. Popular countries with Indian travelers like Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Switzerland, Israel, South Africa and many more are doing road shows, advertising campaigns, digital campaigns to attract incentive groups. They not only offer product support but also a lot of freebies and cash back rewards to corporates.

International hotel chains like Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood have set up global sales offices offering their accommodation solutions worldwide with relationship managers based out of India.

Embassies have stepped up with vfs to process high volume visa applications for peak travel season and have dedicated windows for incentive groups with a lot of special exceptions offered in documentation.

On airlines, we see some of the leading carriers like Emirates, Etihad and Singapore airlines adding A380 aircrafts to their India fleet to accommodate high passenger requests coming from incentive groups.

Delivering Successful Incentive Trips:

While the idea of incentive travel is tried, and tested however delivering a successful project is challenging every time with multiple variable factors determining success. Technology has so far made least entry and impact on this space with major innovation happening in individual travel, budget and luxury holidays. I have seen in most cases just because of the huge scale and large batch sizes many planners get defensive expecting just the hygiene levels to be right rather than raising the bar and brining in experiments and innovation.

While every planner starts with a purpose of offering a great experiential product the result is mostly far away from that just delivering a commoditized solution where the talent, the achiever who was supposed to be offered a moral high and brushed up with brand philosophy is now a headcount with his traveler code, hub and gender on some planning excel.

We often get to hear of budget constraints while discussing these products at ideation and even sign off stages, however I always have a question is this a true road block? Are companies not able to provide for their talent? Do they want to compromise on experience of their top revenue earners? Do corporations have priorities right when they planning something so sensitive and close to their brand? Can they afford to give their talent away to competition after a bad experience? Are companies not worried about the motivation levels of their top guys? Lastly are companies evaluating if they have got the real value of their investment? Too many mind boggling questions for which we shall discover answers in subsequent stories to come.

Happy Reading

Shivdutt Das

Group Chief Executive Officer
Victorian Design Studio Private Limited Mumbai: Dubai: Amsterdam: London

Author has spent 17 years in his corporate tenure across FMCG and Financial Services with leading brands like United Spirits, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, Bharti AXA Life Insurance, TATA AIA Life Insurance and Reliance Life Insurance at CXO levels before he got into his entrepreneurial journey in 2016. Travelled to 54 countries and executed more than 300 Incentive groups as head of rewards and recognition during his stint and a noted speaker in industry and trade events. Victorian Design Studio Pvt Ltd is into management consulting and destination management services with offices across the globe offering b2b solutions to leading corporates and travel agencies in India.

Wouter de Vries