Develop Incentive Travel Programs for Your Workplace

They Can Be an Effective Way to Motivate Employees to Reach Goals

Incentive travel programs reward successful employees and are also opportunities for team building.


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Would you like to sip cool drinks on a tropical island? Would you like the experience even more if your spouse or partner were next to you and your company paid for everything? Sure you would. Incentive travel programs are a reward incentive your employees really like.

When companies reward employees with travel for meeting a goal, the incentive travel program increases both employee loyalty and engagement.

What Is Incentive Travel?

Incentive travel is a reward for achieving a goal. For example, every salesperson who produces $X worth of sales gets a free trip to the Carribean. These trips can offer pure fun or can combine a few company events along with the pleasurable vacation.

Spouses or partners are usually invited to make the incentive travel a vacation rather than an additional work event. Incentive travel programs are most frequently found in sales, financial services, and insurance.

Why Employers Are Using Incentive Travel for Employee Recognition

Employers are using incentive travel programs because business has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of organizations using incentives to motivate and emotionally engage employees for productivity and retention.

In 1996, only 26 percent of businesses used incentives for these purposes. As of 2016, that figure stood at 83 percent and was rising to engage and retain millennial employees. Each year, US businesses spend more than $14 billion on employee incentive travel programs.

Can Incentive Travel Help You Meet Goals Better Than a Bonus?

Everyone likes cash. But, a trip is a special option for employees. It gives them something to look forward to; it's not just an additional payment on their student loans. Of course, not every employee would prefer a trip to cash, but incentive travel has advantages over cash bonuses.

For instance, if you pay out cash bonuses, you can announce that “the following 10 people achieved their goals and will each receive $2500.” This announcement is not as public as an award that provides a trip.

When these same 10 employees go to the Carribean together, they are out of the office, they are on social media, and people talk. The incentive travel provided becomes a focal point for the staff to encourage them to meet the upcoming year’s goals.

Generating discussion and interest can help motivate your employees. Every time they see their pictures from the trip, they’ll hope that they can meet the criteria for the next trip.

Incentive Travel Programs Are Powerful in Employee Emotional Engagement

An Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) study found that tapping the emotional engagement of your employees through rewards and incentives is a powerful way for businesses to motivate their employees. They point out that one of the best ways incentives such as incentive travel are powerful in motivating employees is that they tap into employee emotion by providing them with experiences.

So, all employees will be aware, all of the time, of this particular travel incentives program. Culturally, people don’t talk about money, so once you hand out a bonus check the recipient might hear a congratulation or two. But six months later no one will say, “Hey, remember when you got that $2500 bonus and made an extra payment on your student loans?” It just won't happen. Money, once spent, is quickly forgotten.

Remember, though, incentive travel should reward employees over and above any promised commissions or cash bonuses.

Factors to Consider When Deciding to Provide Incentive Travel Programs

Design the Incentive Travel Program Fairly—Ensure That It Meets Your Goals

Take these five steps to design an incentive travel program that demonstrably delivers on its goals.

  1. Tie the earning and selection criteria for significant business goals.
  2. Clearly and consistently provide feedback about progress to eligible employees.
  3. Design the program with employee input about destinations, the presence of senior leaders, and activities included.
  4. Provide a measurable link between the performance of your top performing employees and the performance of your business on its goals. Measurement and documentation are key.
  5. Finally, find ways to allow your superior employees to interact with one another and with other less successful employees to encourage shared knowledge and continuous improvement.

The Affect of Incentive Travel Programs on Spouses and Families

For reward travel, you'll want to include partners. You may think you are saving costs to say “only spouses” or “only spouses and live in partners” can participate in incentive travel. But this defeats what you want: for people to have a good time and look forward to going.

If this means that Jane brings her sister as her partner, who cares? You should not base Jane's earned reward on her marital status when it comes to a plus one.

Take into consideration also that spouses and partners who are not invited or able to travel will not regard your reward as a positive. "You mean you’re going to the Bahamas for three days while I stay home with the kids?” So, make the choice about whether to pay the way of a plus one carefully.

Consider providing help with babysitting. Not all of your employees have grandparents nearby who are eager to take care of children. You may have employees who can’t take advantage of incentive travel because of childcare issues. This is not just a single mom issue. Anyone with a child can find overnight travel more hassle than it’s worth.

Remember ADA and Employee Preferences When Offering Incentive Travel Programs

When it comes to trips, the Americans with Disabilities Act is important. If you arrange a ski trip, for example, Steve may be unable to ski because of his heart problem and John may not like skiing. Make sure you make other activities available. You want this trip to reward employees. And a reward means everyone needs to have fun.

If an employee is punished or left out because of a physical or mental disability, you’re at risk for an ADA violation. You also show your employees that you don’t care about them as individuals. Make sure you provide options that fit your staff.

What Employers Need to Do If an Employee Can’t Attend

Remember, this is a reward. Don’t punish an employee who is unable to attend. When your group consists of more than a couple of people, finding a time when everyone is available is often impossible.

Offer a cash bonus to these people. But, because your hoped-for bi-product from incentive travel program rewards is team building with your employees, you can pay less than the actual cash value of the trip.

The goal of an incentive travel program is to offer an excellent reward for above and beyond contribution. So, make sure it’s a great experience for everyone who earns it.