Asian incentive planners see hope as regional destinations slowly reopen

Langkawi recently opened its borders to domestic travellers from all over Malaysia; Kilim Geoforest Park in Langkawi pictured

Incentive trips took a major hit during the pandemic, but cautious optimism is brimming on the back of partial reopenings, such as Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lane with Germany, Thailand’s sandbox schemes, Langkawi’s domestic travel resumption, and private sector appeals in Indonesia.

Victor Mogilev, group director of sales, Diethelm Travel Group, expects incentive trips to return to domestic destinations in 2022, with possible international movement towards 2H2022 should more travel bubbles be formed between countries.

Langkawi recently opened its borders to domestic travellers from all over Malaysia; Kilim Geoforest Park in Langkawi pictured

“The faith of the industry will rely heavily on the governance and clarity of international travel regulations and adherence to minimum health standards to travel and cross borders,” he added.

Asian DMCs share similar sentiments. Singapore’s SingExpress Travel reported that deferred RFPs are being revived for 2022, while Vietnam’s Luxperia DMC has an incentive client looking to revive travel plans for 1Q2022 after cancelling the trip in May 2021.

Marie Anne Palces, Luxperia Collective’s director product and marketing, said: “For now, it remains domestic (Vietnam) only.”

She expects Singapore groups to lead market recovery for north and south-east Asian destinations, with a preference for “Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Thailand’s Phuket, Cambodia, and then Vietnam”.

Incentive travel is also likely to rebound with specific interests in mind. According to the Incentive Travel Industry Index (ITII) 2020 survey conducted end-2020, there is a strong preference for luxury travel, cultural experiences, CSR and flexible activities instead of golf, teambuilding and mandatory events. Destinations and suppliers that satisfy these interests could benefit.

Minor Hotels’ Anantara brand, which has a strong presence in Thailand, the Maldives and Bali, is among the optimists.

Marion Walsh Hedouin, vice president public relations & communications, said: “We see strong potential for small, high-end incentives such as private buyouts and leadership retreats. City destinations
will remain popular, but there will be heightened interest in resort destinations which boast beautiful outdoor settings and ample space, for instance, in Vietnam and Malaysia.”

Other DMCs suggested breaking a group into smaller sub-groups and offering each a different itinerary. Dine-arounds, popular some 20 years ago, may well return under current size limitations.

However, small-group programmes cost more per head, longhaul air travel and resort accommodation are also expensive, and sudden travel suspensions could scuttle even the best-made plan.

An interesting idea is individual incentive travel, reminiscent of the late 1980 and 1990s, when award winners could bring a partner, akin to a staycation. This is still available in the US but hasn’t caught on in Asia. Tiered rewards offer a choice of destinations, flights, hotels and activities. Although such programmes forego the group bonding, camaraderie, awards celebration and entertainment that typify group trips, sponsor companies save on work disruption, administrative and venue-hosting costs while recipients enjoy flexibility and quality time with their partners.

Two top achievers in insurance and health supplement sales agreed that individual incentive travel could be suitable before ‘big bash’ events return. During the pandemic, they’ve been receiving cash rewards, shopping vouchers and home-delivered gourmet meals instead of incentive trips.

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