By Belinda Shillcock, Regional Managing Director at Abercrombie & Kent Southeast Asia
As the world begins to slowly reopen, incentive travel is being re-defined too, gearing towards group incentive trips that cater to each individual’s sense of personal growth and happiness while also delivering the goals of the corporation.
This article will help you to understand how to maximize emerging concepts in the new world of incentive travel, learn how simple adjustments can be made to some of the classic concepts of standard group incentive travel to elevate the experience and satisfy the needs of both the individual and the group.
Yet first, what is Luxury Incentive Travel?
Luxury Incentive Travel
Luxury Incentive Travel is a loyalty or recognition program — an important business tool designed to improve employee or customer engagement, and ultimately improve business profitability.
Corporations know very well the impact a happy employee can have on their organization, and an employee who understands themselves and the world around them is ultimately a better communicator, a better leader and a better team player. Happy and fulfilled employees are more productive in producing results, which, in turn, increases profitability for the organization.
The ability to design and successfully implement a Group Incentive Trip that can cater to each individual’s happiness is key to creating the ROI we all desire from our incentive programs. And this is what I want to focus on – the Individual within the Group – and how to maximize emerging concepts in the new world of incentive travel.
In today’s world, what are some of the elements, trends and desires that are important to travelers? And how can we adjust some of the classic concepts of standard Group Incentive Travel to satisfy the needs of an individual and create a successful group trip with ROI from each participant within the group? Over this past year, our offices around the world have collaborated to identify the trends for travelers in the post-COVID world, and we are finding four strong trending desires for travelers: Personalized Experiences, Being Away from the Crowds, Responsible Tourism and Wellness.
Personalized Experiences: “This is Your Day Concept”
Often flexibility and individual preferences are not a choice when operating Incentive Travel Groups. Yet this concept is exactly what luxury incentive groups are looking for: How they can incorporate an element of flexibility and individual tailor-made experiences into the touring options.
This concept can be achieved through “This is Your Day” options. By offering participants various touring options, allowing individuals to personalize their experience within a group setting and choose their preferred activity for the day.
A variety of “This is your day” options are scheduled to take place at the same time, allowing guests to choose the most relevant activity to their hobbies and personal interests.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, for example, a selection of small group activities can be offered whereby each individual can choose what they wish to do – some may enjoy meeting an archeology expert for an in-depth tour of a remote temple, others may want to join an art expert for a day of visiting local artisan studios. Those who enjoy being active can participate in a morning bike ride through local villages in the countryside, while others may prefer to roll their sleeves up for an engaging and hands on Cambodian cooking class.
The options range from active to creative experiences as well as informative, cultural and wellness, which not only allows people to take part in activities that are more meaningful to themselves, but to engage and learn in a smaller, more intimate setting where it is easier to form personal connections and relationships compared to the larger group. Ultimately, these personlized experiences allow each individual within the group to feel they have gained personally from the experience whilst still being a part of a corporate incentive group trip.
Being Away from the Crowds
Almost all new incentive requests we are receiving now ask us, “How can we be away from the crowds?”.
History has shown it was not always possible to achieve privacy and exclusivity, especially in large resorts or big cities. However, we are seeing the desire to be further away from the crowds trending stronger than previous years. Travelers are demanding exclusivity and privacy, redefining what we now consider as a luxury. Everyone, from independent travelers to those part of a group, are seeking travel experiences in luxury off-the-beaten path locations with a wide range of tailor-made individualized options.
Luxury Group Travel is now being defined by the steady increase in requests we are seeing for private yacht charters, boutique luxury hotel buy-outs and private villa stays, offering the ultimate in privacy and exclusivity away from the crowds.
Previously, a group incentive trip, would often include a stay at a large resort, typically with multiple restaurants and various sized function rooms. Now, we are seeing demand increase for more bespoke experiences such as private yacht charters where groups can explore, say the Spice Islands of Indonesia with options for scuba diving, snorkeling and swimming.
I would like to share a case study with you.
A small incentive culinary focused business, whose leader has a passion for local history, travelled from the United States to Southeast Asia. This group successfully managed to travel in a COVID safe bubble, by privately chartering a top luxury train from Singapore to Bangkok, using private planes for all regional flights and taking over the entire luxury river boat vessel for a cruise on the Irrawaddy River of Myanmar.
“Chartering” gives you the flexibility to reroute the scheduled itinerary and adapt the touring experiences and activities for more personalized, customized and rewarding outcomes. The group was joined in their “safety bubble” by local insiders and experts who offered specialist knowledge in their particular field or niche, offering pearls of wisdom whilst travelling through the expert’s hometown. By inviting these experts, such as top political scientists and culinary chefs, we were able to bring their trades, knowledge and expertise to the group. They were able to learn and engage on a far more personal level and connect with the experience as an individual, whilst travelling in the group.
Other great examples of tailoring a group incentive program away from the crowds is a complete buy-out of either a small boutique, such as a luxury tented camp property in the remote jungles of Cambodia, or a villa stay in northern Thailand, offering a variety of optional experiences participants can choose from. These range from exploring the local villages and countryside, to engaging in the local culture and participating in culinary master classes.
Connecting with the world through responsible tourism has been top trending topic of 2020.
Throughout the past 14 months of the global pause on international tourism, travel companies, corporations and individuals alike are taking this opportunity to reflect on what they perceive to be the important elements of travel, and how their experience within the destination will impact the people and the communities they are travelling to. There is a far greater emphasis on business alignment when choosing a destination partner to deliver on the products and services that reflect their company’s values.
Travel companies that can detail their ongoing commitment to giving back through various ethical and sustainable projects are seen as highly desirable in destination partners. The ability to develop dedicated responsible travel programs, promoting sustainable tourism and ensure that local communities continue to benefit from their natural and cultural heritage is not only one of the hottest topics for the future of travel, but also a key guiding principle in sustainable tourism forums.
We found a proven model is to engage individuals and companies with philanthropic projects prior to departure. Responsible and sustainable projects like these provide the opportunity to connect individuals and members to the destination long before they arrive in the country.
Our “Clean Water Project” in Cambodia is a good example of connectivity that starts long before the traveler has started to pack their suitcase.
In Cambodia, access to safe, clean water is a scarcity, particularly in rural parts of the country. Villagers sometimes have to walk for several hours to reach the nearest clean water source or risk their health by using contaminated water sources. Destination travel companies can act as a bridge between organizations and local NGO’s bringing about awareness and offering solutions to the problem. By making a small contribution to such projects, organizations not only fulfil their own long-term sustainability goals, but can also help communities at a grass root level. In addition, this also provides a channel through which individuals or members of the group are able to engage and connect with the people and the geopolitical climate of the place they are travelling to, long before they arrive at the destination.
The process of scouting out a community and installing the clean water solution starts before the group departs. By providing regular updates on the project in the months leading up to departure and by arranging a visit to the community when in destination, the group and individuals begin the educational element travel brings long before they board the plane and are able to bear witness to the real impact of their company’s contribution.
Wellness is possibly the hottest trend in travel now. This is why we suggest a new concept to take wellness beyond the boardroom.
Not only are individuals seeking wellness elements in their personal holidays, but corporations are also considering wellness as a reward and incentive for employees and members.
This new concept of wellness goes beyond the typical offerings, which traditionally focus on meditation and yoga retreats, holistic wellness programs and spa treatments. The biggest trend of the future circles back to the very definition of incentive travel: “An incentive, loyalty or recognition program, which is designed to improve profit, cash flow, and employee engagement.”
So, how is Incentive Group Travel able to achieve this through wellness?
By incorporating a professionally designed and individually or group tailored coaching program, which is incorporated within the incentive group trip, corporations can achieve their goals of happy and fulfilled employees who are more productive in producing results.
By now we recognise our personal and professional life is intertwined. Effective coaching sessions can help individuals to be responsible for their own well-being, become aware of their personal needs and provide clarity about their qualities and assets. Most importantly, it allows individuals to constructively collaborate with others. They become leaders who act as role models and influence others. A coach will help leaders to manage or regain energy and focus, recapture their sense of clarity and purpose, test ideas, navigate through tough decisions and grow overall personally and professionally.
This concept pushes beyond the normal team building incentive group activities. By involving professional coaches to develop highly individualized programs within the inventive group trip, employees or members are able to overcome their limiting beliefs and old habits and move forward in a productive and effective way, improving employee or customer engagement, and ultimately improving business profitability.
This concept of “Wellness beyond the boardroom” is best delivered in a location away from the crowds, private and exclusive villas, yacht charters or buy-out of luxury boutique hotels creates the ability to design and successfully implement a Group Incentive trip that can cater to each individual’s happiness.
Furthermore, we have found the nirvana of incentive group travel experiences to be a combination of all four trends: When your destination management team can combine an incentive group package which incorporates individual experiences away from the crowds with personal growth and development, whilst creating a connection with the people and the destination through philanthropic experiences; employees and members return from incentive group trips happy and fulfilled and more productive, which in turn, increases profitability for the organization.