Rewarding incentives

As corporate incentive trips return, planners are spotting a stronger desire among top achievers to travel more responsibly and to leave their destinations in a better place than they were previously.

A stronger desire to build back lives better post-lockdown has influenced people to travel more responsibly, and this in turn has shaped corporate incentive trip programming.

Zaim Muhammad, managing director at Dubai-based Red Berry Travel & Tours, told TTGmice that he has noticed an uptick in clients’ requests for programmes that offer opportunities to preserve the local culture and to minimise negative impact on the destinations. There is also a preference for destinations where tours can directly support the local community. For instance, money will be spent at local restaurants, shopping will be made at small community shops, and local guides will be hired.

Along with conscious travel goals, big cities have fallen out of favour while requests for “mountain hiking and train journeys” having surged in recent months.

Sugeng Suprianto, managing director of Top Indonesia Holidays, echoes the shift away from big cities. His European and American clients are requesting cultural experiences in Bali instead. In response, his agency has put forth walks in rice fields, where attendees can “burn some calories while learning about traditional rice farming”, as well as water blessing rituals “that are very famous in Bali to help wash the bad luck away”.

These activities are “immersive and meaningful”, allowing travellers to learn about the local culture and “providing the local community with a sense of pride that their culture is being appreciated by people from other countries”, Sugeng said.

“This is one way culture and traditions will continue to live on,” he added.

Petrina Goh, director at CWT Meetings & Events, observed: “As people return to travel, it is all about coming back better…as a more informed traveller that is more conscientious about their impact on the community.”

She has noticed an increased interest in farm-to-table activities, where attendees would forage for ingredients, prep the meal together, and dine with local hosts. Attendees take away a joyful memory, knowing that the activity is off-the-beaten-track, and the experience is local and meaningful.

Making the first move
For corporates wanting to be more impactful with their travel programmes but are unsure about taking the first step, incentive planners can provide valuable direction.

Singapore-based MICE Matters’ director Melvyn Nonis takes the initiative to discuss with clients how the content can be structured responsibly from the get-go.

He would recommend maximising the number of seats on coaches to save on costs and minimise carbon emissions; choosing set meals over buffets to reduce food wastage; providing reusable water bottles; and purchasing room drop gifts from locals.

On the travellers’ end, Nonis would “remind delegates to be courteous and respectful to both the hotel staff and local guides given the shortage in manpower, be generous in tipping for good service, as well as (support) green efforts like reusing towels in the room”.

While some clients like to visit orphanages and children’s homes, Nonis offers a more meaningful approach by planning lunch with the beneficiaries, making monetary donations, and bringing items the orphanage might need, such as stationery and clothes.

While conscious incentive travel is becoming more common, AB Sadewa, corporate secretary of Panorama and chairman of Panorama Foundation, found demand for sustainable travel to come mainly from “the US, Canada and Europe”. There have been few requests from the Asian market.

The Panorama Foundation is a social body that focuses on sustainable tourism growth. It ensures its own tourism products are developed in compliance with Travelife standards, which are acknowledged by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council. Travelife itself is a system that helps tour operators and travel agencies manage and improve social and environmental impacts by complying with sustainability criteria.

“One of the ways we can encourage our clients to think more about responsible travel for their future programmes is by doing a post-event campaign that shows what their efforts mean to local communities,” Goh suggested.

This can be in the form of farewell notes or pictures, or even a short study on how the trip has helped to boost the local economy or supported the charity.

Goh believes that tracking legacy is the responsibility of planners and event agencies “because this will help make their planning for future events be progressively more meaningful than the last”. – additional reporting by Mimi Hudoyo

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