Exclusivity, family inclusions top post-lockdown incentive travel expectations

Companies are eager to resume travel rewards with a big bang, and are qualifying more top performers, packing in more treats, and inviting loved ones to join in

  • Clients and their top achievers are ready to fly out within a month or so
  • Programmes are longer, more eventful and involve more people
  • Destinations that are most accessible and without travel restrictions are favoured

Spurred by ease of travel, companies across South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand are rushing to confirm their long-delayed incentive travel programmes, with some ready to pack up and go in just a month’s time, find events specialists from CWT Meetings & Events.

In an interview with TTGmice, Singapore director Petrina Goh revealed that the scale of requests for incentive travel programmes has exploded as more governments in the region dismantle travel barriers for incoming international travellers and residents.

“Clients are hyper aware that regulations can change at the drop of the hat, so the moment restrictions are eased they immediately want to go ahead with their event next month or within the next two months,” Goh said.

From left: Michelle Sargent and Petrina Goh observe quick return to incentive travel planning and demand

Echoing similar observations in her markets, Australia & New Zealand director Michelle Sargent said clients are calling her team now and saying “let’s do it”.

Both Goh and Sargent said compulsory pre-departure and on-arrival Covid tests as well as mandatory quarantines were big hurdles to incentive travel programmes, as people feared the risk of being stranded overseas and companies could not afford the business and financial cost of programmes being stretched by lengthy quarantines.

While CWT Meetings & Events teams are able to deliver events on short notice, Sargent said the wave of rushed event confirmations sweeping across the industry is resulting in an availability issue, especially in popular destinations.

Stronger travel confidence
While eager to revive incentive travel plans, decision-makers know they must be sure that their staff and business partners are ready to get back in the air. To determine travel readiness, they conducted surveys to understand intentions.

And the results show an intense desire to take off.

“More than 90 per cent of respondents expressed willingness to travel, and they were keen on mid-haul and longhaul flights,” shared Goh, adding that many who had performed extremely well at work for the past two challenging years were more than ready to accept a much-needed travel reward.

Sargent said: “Many companies have been offering cash incentives over the past two years, but nothing replaces the thrill of a travel reward. People have been so starved of travel that even a domestic incentive trip is alluring.”

For companies that have not been able to utilise their travel and event budget all that time, decision-makers are happy to splurge and “get everyone involved”.

“We are seeing more people qualifying for incentives now,” said Sargent.

Big, eventful gatherings
Incentive travel programmes are getting longer in duration, even for those held close to home. Sargent is seeing programmes that used to be for three-nights turning into five-night celebrations; five-night programmes were once reserved for destinations farther afield.

Another pleasant change in programming is delegates’ desire to have a packed and eventful itinerary.

“Whereas they used to want time to relax by the pool and go shopping, now they want to smash their itinerary. I had a recent group bound for Fiji and the programme ran from 07.00 to midnight every day. They had breakfast, a tour, an offsite lunch, another tour, and a themed dinner that was followed by an after party.

“It is like people are suddenly let out of a genie bottle and they want to have loads of fun. It is a beautiful thing,” she said.

Group sizes vary for both Goh and Sargent, ranging from 50 to 2,000 pax.

“Client have a stronger sense of security, and they are not holding back on group size,” observed Sargent.

Goh observed that clients are now willing to put all participants together instead of splitting them into small groups – a preference once shaped by fear of Covid infections that could disrupt business continuity. She sees this change as a sign of confidence among employers that people are able to bounce back from an infection now that everyone is vaccinated.

Exclusive arrangements are another welcome trend, found CWT Meetings & Events. From hotel buyouts, either of the entire property or a specific wing with dedicated guest facilities, to hiring out business class across a few flights, and private use of a restaurant or tour, post-lockdown incentive travel programmers are determined to make their valued staff and partners feel like superstars.

“This is a trend that is here to stay,” remarked Sargent.

The preference for exclusivity is likely driven by companies’ desire to bring travel rewards back with a big bang, as well as health and safety concerns.

“People love the networking opportunities afforded by business events, and exclusive arrangements give them a sense of security knowing that they are interacting with people of a fixed group,” explained Sargent.

While many destinations have removed Covid measures for big events, do delegates expect some form of health and safety assurance when attending events with so many others?

Goh and Sargent said event attendees are responsible adults, and the act of social distancing is so ingrained in people’s habits that they naturally distance themselves in mask-off settings.

“We are still doing the things we need to do – we are not piling people on top of each other, we are distancing tables and seats, and being extra mindful about buffet arrangements and F&B management,” said Sargent.

“But I enjoy the fact that people know it is on them to ensure their own health and safety. We still see the majority of people sitting in a plenary hall with their mask on, especially when the room is full of people. In Australia, the only places where you must wear a mask are on public transport and on a flight.”

Some companies are taking a family-first approach in their design of incentive travel programmes

Extended stays and recognition
Even as incentive days get longer, delegates are happy to extend the trip for their own leisure and pleasure, with many flying in loved ones to join them.

Goh told TTGmice that many clients are planning events that stretch to the weekend to enable pre and post extensions.

“Employers recognise that their people are now on longer trips with the company, so allowing family members to come along will ensure that their people can focus on the official programme and still enjoy leisure time with their loved ones in the destination,” she said.

This trend creates new business opportunities for CWT Meetings & Events, as service teams are tasked to handle travel support for family members of attendees.

Among the many positive changes to post-lockdown incentive travel needs, the inclusion of family members is the most meaningful. Some of the upcoming incentive travel programmes arranged by CWT Meetings & Events include curated activities for accompanying partners and/or children.

Goh said: “This is part of a growing mental wellness awareness, and a recognition that an employee’s achievement is not theirs alone but only possible with support from the family. So, family units are invited on such incentive trips, and children are included.”

While a travel reward may be designed for 50 people, the actual programme could be for up to 200 attendees.

Goh shared that a client is now considering the Maldives and Sydney, and the programme will involve children.

“It is great that companies are taking a family-first approach,” opined Sargent, adding that the recognition of family contribution to work performance will also improve staff retention.

Ease of travel afforded by the Phuket Sandbox has left a good impression on some clients, encouraging them to prioritise the destination for upcoming incentive travel programmes

Destinations in demand
Among CWT Meetings & Events clients, destinations that are most accessible are winning.

Sargent said clients in Australia and New Zealand favour Asia-Pacific destinations, as they are just one easy flight away. Fiji, New Zealand and Thailand are especially popular.

“We’ve done a few site inspections to Thailand, and everyone has come back to say the same thing: there is ease of passing through the airport and professional handling of requirements,” she said.

Among South-east Asian clients, Thailand has also come up tops.

“The Phuket Sandbox really placed Thailand ahead of the pack when it comes to ease of travel. We have a client that has done Phuket before, but is willing to go back because it is one of the easiest destinations to enter and get around. Bangkok has recently removed Test & Go, and that has helped to spark demand,” added Goh.

Australia is also loved, thanks to open borders for fully vaccinated travellers.

Beyond the region, Barcelona and Dubai are popular with Goh’s clients. Dubai’s visa on arrival makes travel planning a breeze for an international delegation while Barcelona – and several other European destinations – has done away with social restrictions and compulsory masking outdoors.

“Europe also holds appeal for South-east Asians because there is a nice change of season,” remarked Goh.

Goh recalled that incentive travel planning earlier on during the pandemic saw shorthaul destinations in favour, as clients needed assurance that getting their delegates home would be easier if the destination was closer. Improving conditions around Covid management have inspired greater travel confidence in destinations farther away, especially where people can move around with ease.

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