by Samantha Decker | October 21, 2019

The incentive travel industry is growing. According to the Incentive Travel Industry Index from the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, the Incentive Research Foundation, and Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals, 43 percent of organizations said their incentive travel budgets increased in 2019, with 53 percent expecting them to grow in 2020. 

While spending is on the rise, however, it's more important than ever for those planning incentive travel programs to spend smarter. That means ensuring that managers execute their programs effectively to show a positive ROI and design them to keep their customers (and top performers) happy well into the future. You should also put together programs that will have long-term impact -- not just driving immediate sales increases that quickly drop off the next month. Forward-thinking is a must to future-proof your incentive travel programs and keeping them desirable to participants year after year.

Following are tips to help create a program that will evolve and stay relevant from year to year.

Offer more than one place to go

Travel is a universal motivator that breaks down barriers, but not all people want to go to the same destinations. We work with many Fortune 100 companies that have robust, multigenerational workforces. We are constantly tasked with creating incentive programs that motivate and reward all employees, regardless whether they just started their career or they are nearing retirement.

It can be challenging to find the right mix of incentives to resonate with all generations, which is why working with a professional is key. For example, we take a close look at the participant demographics before planning an incentive trip. If there are guests who haven't traveled much in the past, then taking them to a far-away, exotic location might be more stressful than motivating.

Learn the new definition of luxury

We're seeing a change in incentive travel. People want real experiences that they can't arrange on their own. When they head to a new place, they are especially interested in immersing themselves in the sights and sounds and culture of the destination. We're finding cultural experiences have a more positive impact on employees and the company as a whole.

People are naturally empowered to contribute to the destinations they visit while traveling, which is why corporate social responsibility initiatives are also powerful. Attendees want a sense of place. They want to know they are contributing to something bigger even while participating in an incentive travel program that's a reward for them. Plus, it's a great way for companies to tie the CSR initiative back to their own vision, mission and values.

Don't forget the mid-level performers

Oftentimes, companies want to recognize the top 3 percent of their workforce, and incentive travel programs are built around this key demographic. But what about the others? We want to see more employees enjoying the travel experience, which is why we work with companies to create a secondary program to recognize the top 5-7 percent of performers. This allows more employees to have access to these experiences and serves as a bigger motivation tool for next year's incentive program.

Seek up-and-coming locations

The destination is the base of your activities and excursions, so choose wisely. Finding the right mix of locations to meet the needs of attendees is important. But you must continue to curate new experiences to keep attendees motivated year after year. That's why we keep a keen eye on emerging destinations. We watch how the destination evolves and the infrastructure grows to determine if it's a fit for future incentive trips.

SITE plays a key role in helping identify these up-and-coming destinations. Each year, SITE picks an emerging city for its Executive Summit, with the goal of breaking down the perceptions associated with these relatively unknown location and to promote it as a great place to bring your incentive travel business.

Technology is key

Embracing new technology is important for communicating effectively with your participants. Mobile apps are a mainstay for any quality incentive program and there are fun ways you can incorporate the apps to make enhance the attendee experience. You can use mobile apps to help participants familiarize themselves with the destination, as well as to send push notifications to update attendees on upcoming spa treatments and other appointments. Moreover, mobile apps eliminate the use of paper, helping you create a more sustainable program.

But we often forget that there's a period of time before anyone is actually traveling on the trip where you have to motivate the employees to work hard to earn the reward. During that time, there are a variety of communication tools that can help. We work with our teams to make sure we are hitting the right audiences at the right time to keep them engaged. From email campaigns to digital postcards with images of their award destination to teasers about their progress, using technology throughout the program is essential to maintaining participation and continuously motivating employees. The companies that experience the most engagement are those that offer this communication all year long.

The more you can impact the entire eligible base of participants, the more meaningful the incentive program will be. Plus, you'll be able to compile the results and make the case for an increased budget for future programs. Technology like our own product, PerformX, helps show that you are driving business results.

More companies are turning to incentive travel as a tool for employee motivation and retention. But, not all incentive travel programs are equal. In order to create an exceptional experience that is future proof, you must be forward thinking and evolutionary. The best incentive travel programs use technology to keep employees engaged throughout the program, include destinations that are exciting and a great fit for attendees, and offer curated experiences that attendees can't recreate on their own.

Samantha Decker is the marketing director at One10. One10 provides travel and events, incentives and recognition and marketing services to motivate employees, partners and customers. Find out more at one10marketing.com. A version of this column originally appeared on One10's blog.