The time for travel – is it now?

Posted by Juliet Caswell

The travel and tourism industry has taken a big hit, but whilst the world put steps in place to recover post-pandemic, what’s the future for incentive travel?

In June the Incentive Research Foundation released their research paper: COVID-19 and Disruption in the Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events Industry: Adaptation and Recovery. The surveys, interviews, secondary research, and focus groups conducted for this paper took place between February and May 2020 while COVID-19 was thoroughly disrupting the MICE industry and most others.

The research gave the industry confidence in the return of travel, incentives and events but warned that it would take time as personal confidence builds and spend restrictions. During this period large group events and group incentive reward programs involving air travel will not likely return to pre-COVID-19 volumes for at least 18-24 months, so what can we do to keep the industry going during this period?

The use of event & travel specialists is more important than ever to help guide, advise and inspire on group or individual rewards

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Small localised events, rather than group travel

When asked about traveling for an overnight work-related trip after all COVID-19 restrictions have been removed, almost 57% of would-be travellers reported feeling either very excited and grateful at the prospect, or at least looking forward to it – people are beginning to anticipate and crave travel as restrictions are lifted. With restrictions now easing, the opening hotels and quarantine restrictions are being lifted for the approved list of countries, people are starting to think about personal and family travel.

Whilst corporate travel is expected to return in 2021, it will still be sometime before we are taking large groups to long haul destinations. Social connectivity is a fundamental human need and this doesn’t mean that we should be avoiding all travel incentives. Instead, focus on new experiences at safe local locations within driving distance or that involve shorter flights. Replace your European channel incentive trip or Annual Presidents event with multiple, local events which feature safe, outdoor and experiential destinations and reduced group sizes. Unique local properties that offer incredible outdoor experiences, like Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve or Solent Forts will almost certainly appeal to incentive reward earners.

Personal rewards for outstanding employees 

Program owners who postponed incentive travel programs expressed a strong need to continue recognizing and rewarding outstanding employees. Look at offering more personal rewards.

Earlier in April 2020, the IRF conducted a survey aimed at incentive travel program design providers and firms that operate incentive travel programs. Almost two-thirds of the 250 respondents reported that incentive travel programs scheduled for the first half of 2020 were postponed into the second half (~37%) or into 2021 (~25%). Overall, fewer than one-quarter had cancelled their incentive programs entirely.

And whilst trips are postponed, companies are looking to reward employees and channel partners in more meaningful ways. With personal travel bouncing back first, many are looking to offer family travel or unique local experiences as a way of rewarding those important to their business. Tinggly offers a great global option for this with experience boxes available in over 100+ countries and 600+ luxury activities and adventures to choose from. With experiential rewards being 5x more emotionally impactful than physical rewards, this is a sure fire way to deliver an memorable experience. And with customized gift packaging and messages you can really add the personal touch.

Switching your incentive event to an online reward programme is also an option. In an economic climate where sales revenue is critical, it’s not necessarily appropriate to cut back on a planned sales to channel incentive scheme. The switch from events to a points based programme is an easy and painless one and has the benefit of ROI reporting, consistent rewarding and the element of choice to participants.

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The use of event & travel specialists is more important than ever

Safety concerns prevail. The first question a client asks when deciding whether to proceed with their event or not is “will anyone attend?”. Personal safety is at the forefront of everyone’s decision making and its important to give your attendees confidence in the steps and measures that have gone in to making sure your event is a safe space and set their expectations.

Event and travel specialists have on the ground relationships with restaurants, venues, logistic providers, local government, police & healthcare to provide you with the best expertise and guidance to ensure protection, cleaning and social distancing measures are met. Whilst it’s tempting to save money and do it yourself (especially now that groups are smaller), event specialists will conduct risk assessments, as well as documenting COVID contingency plans and are on the pulse of ever changing advice from the industry.

Financial security is also important and you event planner will add enormous value in negotiating preferable terms, postponements and refunds on your behalf.

When we can expect incentive travel to return to normal?

Using 9/11 and the Great Recession as reference points, and assuming a vaccine is available next year, the industry might expect and plan for a return to pre-COVID-19 revenues by late 2022 or early 2023. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t incentivise and reward those most important to your business. Get creative, try new things and work with your event and reward agencies to innovate. You never know, the performance impact on your business might even exceed your expectations!

CR Worldwide have a team of award-winning event specialists. To discuss ideas and inspirations for your next incentive trip or individual rewards, contact us today. Or check out how we have successfully implemented event solutions in these businesses.

As a founding partner of CR Worldwide, Juliet began her journey with the company in 2002. Moving from Operations Director to Product and Propositions Director in 2014, she has played a significant role in shaping all aspects of the business to help it become the award-winning company it is today. In this time, she expanded the operational side of the business, – from her sole role to a department of over 40 – a team that successfully delivers and manages over 1000 reward and recognition programs for clients worldwide.