Award to Reward

Every time your best customer’s 72-year-old CEO is awarded a dream trek over the Himalayas as a reward for faithful patronage, he gulps, says “thanks” and immediately sends his undeserving nephew to visit the Dali Lama. In order for incentive travel awards to truly be considered rewards by the recipients, they must be customized and personalized. When it comes to incentive travel awards, “one size does not fit all”.

A New Art Form

Planning incentive travel is a fairly new art. Corporations have only recently begun to understand the motivating power of incentive travel awards, and planners have had to hit the ground running. Our initial idea was to design travel we thought would be “anyone’s” and “everyone’s” dream. Caribbean cruises, exotic golf trips to Scotland, foodie travel to chef-inspired Italian cooking schools, high-brow art tours to the museums and opera houses of ancient European capitals, and mysterious tours of China’s Great Wall all seemed “wonderful” to us and were sure to impress clients.

Problems in Paradise

We were surprised, however, when deserving recipients collected their “rewards” to mixed reviews. Some returned to their offices complaining about accommodations or weather or airline schedules or rude waiters or too much art. Some said they were “exhausted” and needed a few more days off to recuperate. Some said they wished they had just “gone to the beach”. WOW! We were astounded by the number of disgruntled “award winners” we had attempted to “reward”. Something was wrong, and clients were starting to lose faith in incentive travel rewards.

Blaming the Victim

At first planners and clients blamed the recipients themselves. “They were ungrateful.” “They were too entitled.” “You couldn’t make them happy no matter what you did.” After that misguided response played itself out, we all got back down to business. We realized that in order to ensure that an incentive travel award was truly a reward, it had to be customized to fit the individual recipient.

The problem we faced was how to customize an award before you knew who would be receiving it. The simple answer was – plan ahead. We started by developing the following procedure for designing nearly “bespoke” incentive travel.

  1. Engage with the client’s human resource department at the very outset of the company’s incentive program development, usually a year in advance of granting awards.
  2. Identify the potential recipient categories being considered for rewards (senior executives, department managers, line supervisors, productive employees, valued customers, or dependable vendors.
  3. Segment the potential awardee population by age, gender, function, hobbies, educational level, and family situation.
  4. Factor in any personal preference information available in public documents.
  5. Design a “finals” questionnaire that can be distributed to known finalists toward the end of the award period.
  6. Finally, design multiple alternative travel awards that can be selected by the ultimate winners.

Turning travel awards into rewards requires advanced planning and client coordination. One size does not fit all. Disappointment is never a reward.


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