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The great fragmentation

The great fragmentation: the future of incentive travel

Alistair Turner, managing director, Eight PR and Marketing, shares his findings from the recent Twickenham Stadium roundtable. Eventprofs believe incentive travel must be experiential and include corporate social responsibility.

A leadership group met earlier this month to discuss the direction of travel for incentive events over the next five years. The main outcomes of which centred on the continued value in the fragmentation of the sector.

The discussion took place at Twickenham Stadium and bought together opinions from across the incentive industry, including agencies, corporates, venues, and entertainment businesses.

Set under global trends such as sustainability, ethical and transformative travel, and the changing face of working and work forces, the main findings looked at how incentive programmes are adapting but breaking up and extending their reach.

According to Andrew Rae, founder of Anotherway, the nature of incentive travel is changing and therefore, the wording around incentives must change with it. “We are increasingly using the word ‘activation’ in place of incentive,” he said.

This trend was endorsed by Nyomi Rose, event planner and social media influencer, she added: “if we think about what we are doing here, it’s about creating ‘moments’ and ‘experiences’ for guests, something that changes them, and leaves them with something personal and inspiring”.

David Taylor, non-executive director, BCD Meetings & Events, agreed and said: “The wording is changing. We are seeing businesses relabel incentives to show positive impacts on people, planet and profit. ‘Engagement events’ is often used as well, it underlines that the new currency isn’t just about ‘reward’ it’s about long-term engagement and the establishment of shared values.”

Corporate social responsibility

The meeting discussed the transition over the last 20 years from the corporate junket into something more sustainable, embracing transformative travel, wellness, and cultural enrichment.

Rose said: “These experiences need sell to a new kind of delegate not impressed by beautiful hotels and luxury travel. Modern delegates need to understand not just what travel does for ‘my life’ but how it contributes to the lives of the people and culture they are travelling to. This is about wellness and mindfulness, but also awareness.”

These experiences are also influenced by the ethics and the values of the host business or brand, and sustainability remains an important influence here as well.

As Perrott added: “You can’t have a conversation about events (with a client) without talking about sustainability”.

For Neda Tootoonchi, director, Falkenburg & Florence events, this also included Inclusivity, “Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity is closely aligned with sustainability, especially around events,” she added. “It’s all about how a business wants to portray its values, and how it wants to communicate with every employee in their business.“

Louise Dormer, business development manager, Twickenham added, “it’s all about culture. Business and events need to have great cultures to be successful. The event needs to reflect the business culture and vice versa.”

Industry trends

So how is the market performing, what value is business putting on this changing shape of incentive events?

Savva Hadji-Savva, vice president, Venue Search, BCD Meetings & Events, added his own insight: “We are seeing some of this market coming back, a lot is dependent on the banks and the recovery of other sectors. When they come back though, there is an urgency to them, they missed Q4 last year and that wanted to capitalise early in 2022.”

Emma Freed, business development manager, GOTO Events, agreed with the urgency surrounding many incentive events, she commented: “Short turn around is also a big trend we are seeing. Businesses are looking to get these events in and organised in really quick time. The demand is there and the need to get teams together and bonding feels really pressing. They want to have fun, but as part of a wider company objective.”

Taylor agreed but added caution to the scramble to get events in the diary, often with hugely reduced lead times. “The industry will mature. There is a race for space out there, but we’re encouraging people to think more deeply about incentives. It’s not just about nailing dates as soon as possible, it’s about having a considered and strategic approach to the meetings, to think about the experience that they are getting and how to make it meaningful and valuable in the long term.”

It’s this, purpose first, creativity first approach that typifies where incentives are now heading. The approach leads to the fragmentation of the traditional group trip to make more personalised agendas for delegates and more sustainable programmes.

It leads to elongated programmes that continue to communicate with the subject and regard them through message as well as physical experiences. They also speak to a new consumer that needs to be rewarded emotionally though values and impact both personally and professionally.

It’s a model not unfamiliar to other parts of the meetings and events industry and one worth keeping an eye on as industry businesses look to predict what the ‘new’ industry could look like.