Incentives work, but the message is muted

FMI Group’s John Fisher asks ‘Whatever happened to incentive travel?’

You remember that guy? The one in his 60s, with the double-breasted jacket with shiny buttons, looking a bit the worse for wear, scuffed shoes, carries a battered, brown briefcase? Great fun at industry events, keeps the bar open until late with amazing stories of airplane near misses, lost passports and delegates being arrested. Hates flying, but hey, someone has to do it.

But who is actually doing incentive travel these days?

Time was when corporate groups of 300-400 pax were not unusual. Add to that cruise ship charters, back to back events in various Mediterranean luxury properties, taking over entire Greek villages for the gala dinner and the opportunity to provide an amazing experience in return for better sales and the briefs just kept coming and coming.

Nowadays I reckon the average ‘incentive trip’ is probably no more than 50 pax, if the client is feeling expansive, singles rather than couples and no more than a couple of nights abroad. If we can organise overnight flights, both ways, to save on the accommodation costs, even better.

The reason for this is legislation. First the pharmaceutical industry adopted the US Code of Conduct for drug representative incentives. This was swiftly followed by action by the then UK Financial Services Authority to outlaw direct selling of single products…you had to switch to an advice service or be put out of business. The two biggest markets for incentive travel were wiped out.

This left overseas hotels, DMCs and airlines scratching their heads as to why the ‘big incentive groups’ had all disappeared. Simple really, no demand.

Is incentive travel dead? I still believe incentive travel is the most powerful top-level incentive for sales and distribution and travelling as a hosted group is a life-changing experience. We just need to get the message through to buyers, again, that it works, it’s fun and sales really do go through the roof when you offer it.

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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Paul Colston

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Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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