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October 30, 2013

Why Do Half of Incentive Trips Not Include Meetings?

The Incentive Research Foundation recently released the results of a survey of over 200 program planners and managers and 1,000 people who have earned an incentive trip, with some interesting results about attending meetings while on an incentive trip. 

Most notably, the survey found that more than half of planners who include meetings in their group incentive travel programs either do so to maximize their investment in meetings and travel rewards, or to take advantage of having high performers in the same place as their top executives. 

Only 10 percent of these planners said they integrated meetings and incentive travel to save money, to receive tax benefits or to address possible media scrutiny.
Of the 52 percent of planners who do not combine meetings with their incentive travel programs, more than two-fifths said they had simply never tried it because, more or less, “it’s always been done this way.” 

Should Meetings Be A Significant Component Of A Travel Incentive Program?

So what were the determining factors in their decisions to include or not include meetings? By and large, the survey suggests that the decision is largely driven by the culture of the sponsoring organization. In fact, the organization’s culture is strongly reflected in the very design and characteristics of its group incentive travel program. 
Discussions with planners helped the IRF produce support tools that outline the characteristics (which they called "Signposts") of different organizations' incentive travel programs and the design patterns that best fit each type of program. All Incentive Travel programs may display each of these signposts to some degree, but all programs will have at least one signpost that stands out most strongly. The following lists several high-level design implications for each program type.

1. Program provokes strong and immediate emotional reactions. 

The program must have an immediate, visceral and—perhaps most importantly—emotional appeal simply based on the choice of destination, venue, and activities. For these types of programs, time spent in meetings will be less important than time having fun; recognition will most likely not include parading winners across the stage; and communications require strong, vivid imagery.

2. Program creates advocates for business initiatives. 

Award-winners may be a small slice of the overall target audience base in these programs, but they’re the most active and vocal, and will exponentially increase the adoption and success of business initiative efforts. For these types of programs, meetings will be focused on business challenges, recognition will include simply being a part of new “solutions”, and communications will focus on past winner’s solutions. 

3. Program becomes “cultural shorthand” for a specific set of actions or values. 

Top Achievers represent such a distinct point of view in these programs that the very name of the program itself stands alone as a symbol for a defined set of values. The name becomes a reference point for how people identify themselves and their work world.
For these types of programs, meetings will be focused on sharing best practices, spotlights on earners will be an important part of recognition, and communications should focus on success stories of past earners.

4. Program incites conversation. 

In these programs, influential incentive travel program achievers spark conversations -- they are talked about and held up as examples by their peers. For these types of programs, meetings will be focused on how earners can experience new initiatives and spark change. Recognition should not be formal and communications should focus on how past attendees’ ideas are being implemented.

5. Program prods others to realign around the behaviors & activities of incentive program winners.

Award earners think, act and behave differently than others within the organization in these programs. Often, these people inspire other employees or partners to follow in their path. These types of programs should be more focused on friends and family and less on meetings. Recognition in front of a spouse is a must and communications should focus on images of happy groups enjoying the destination together. 


Perceptions of Meeting Time

For those organizations that do include meetings in their group incentive travel programs, the amount of time spent in meetings revealed a surprising difference of perception: Meeting planners overall noted that they restricted meetings to less than 20 percent of the combined event.

On the other hand, the award earners themselves felt a considerably higher percentage of their total trip was spent in meetings. 
Almost as many award earners reported spending 40 percent or more of their time in meetings as those who said they spent 20 percent or less. This finding could either mean the award earners perceive the time spent in meetings to be longer (because they are not experiencing value) or that planners under-estimate meeting times. Additionally, award earners might consider unstructured business conversations to be “meeting time” while they are enjoying an incentive travel reward. 
Most importantly, as the study showed, an organization’s culture is distilled and reflected in the design and characteristics of its group incentive travel program.  Therefore, the important aspects of Incentive Travel programs (including recognition, meeting time, and experience design) require specific tailoring to individual organizational cultures. 

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