by Donna Airoldi | July 18, 2017
For travel incentives, the destination is the key motivator. But luxury merchandise can greatly enhance such programs. Here are eight expert tips on how best to utilize merchandise on a trip, from choosing top brands to delivering a customized experience.

1. Know Your Audience and Past Gift History
Before choosing merchandise for a travel program, understand your anticipated audience in terms of gender, demographics, and geography. Younger employees are not really into logos, so keep your corporate branding subtle. And figure out how many winners are repeat earners from prior programs. Rotate the gifts each year so you're not giving the same products and causing recipient fatigue.

"One year they may have gotten sunglasses, or luggage, and this year it's watches," says Adrienne Forrest, vice president corporate sales, Bulova. "But if the same people get watches [or any type of gift] every year, it may not be as special."

2. Make Sure the Products Have Broad Appeal

Unless you're catering to an industry that skews male or female, products should be gender neutral.

"We're lucky, as a consumer brand we're 52 percent male, 48 percent female. That helps for success," says Brett Hatch, senior director, global corporate gifts for Maui Jim.

Try to find merchandise people actually want and that will be used after the event. Especially be cautious if choosing a gift tied to the destination that may not be as appreciated once the recipients are back home.

An example is a group of financial services high performers attending an incentive in Texas Hill Country. The company spends $500 per person on cowboy boots and hats. "Eighty percent are from the Northeast, 10 percent are from California, and 10 percent are from elsewhere," says Patrick Corley, vice president for Incentive Concepts. "Ninety percent will never use them again."

3. Consider Transport and Shipping
Even when you choose gifts people want, they have to be able to get the items home. Sunglasses, headphones, and watches are effective because people can wear them or easily pack them.

You can handle luggage two ways, says Mike Landry, vice president, special markets, for Tumi: You award them with the products prior to the trip, so they can use the luggage on the program. Or if it's part of a selection of items during the trip, offer to drop-ship to the address of their choice.

Beverages can get tricky. If you're giving guests a $150 bottle of wine and most people brought only carry-ons, "the last thing they want to do is check a bag, so they'll leave it in the hotel room and you've just wasted $150," says Corley.

One way to handle that is to give the wine on the first night, so they have a chance to enjoy it during their stay.

For awards such as crystal items, Stephany Schmitz, team lead, event recognition, BI WORLDWIDE, recommends sending one down for the presentation, then shipping the awards to the participants after the fact. "It's the easiest, cleanest approach, and they don't have to worry about transporting it back. It also helps with breakage," she says. Also, lead crystal can cause TSA luggage searches because of the way it shows up on scanners.

4. Choose the Best Brands
Don't skimp on the budget, and aim for aspirational items and brands. "The higher the quality of the gift, the more memorable," says Hatch.

Agrees Forrest: "You want to wow them, and a trusted brand name with high perceived value is really key. Authenticity is a strong trend among today's consumers."

Planners say they've seen a switch to more luxury and demand for brand names, but "luxury" doesn't have to mean "high-priced." Schmitz says she's received a lot of positive feedback on Polaroids as gifts on programs. "They're amazing," she says. "You have an instant photo that you can upload to social media, and there's a [built-in] slide printer so you can give a copy to the friend you took the picture with."