My Latin Teacher would be very proud to know that the dominant image in my mind as the meetings and events industry continues to be tossed about in the stormy seas of problematical perception and economic turmoil is that of Icarus, falling helplessly from the sky having ignored his father’s advice not to fly too close to the sun. Once the very apex of the meetings industry, incentives now may appear to be dead in the water!
A core learning from the current situation in which we find ourselves is the need for clarity and coherence around why incentive travel and reward trips exist in the first place. Meeting planners and their supplier partners need to be crystal clear that such trips happen in support of corporate objectives. The trip, therefore, needs to be planned and organised around these objectives. It needs to have its own business case or strategy and needs to generate a clearly measurable Return on Objective if not a Return on Investment.
So what’s the business case for operating a meeting in Italy or an event in Buenos Aires? Why is it not possible to achieve the same outcome by staging the meeting or event at a location closer to home?
The responses to this question range from strategic, aspirational reasons to tactical, pragmatic ones – from the sublime to the ridiculous, from reasons that please your HR Director to reasons that gratify your Financial Director. All are compelling business reasons in so far as they create conditions which allow for real, verifiable performance improvement – the keystone reason for organising the trip in the first place!
Since time immemorial, travel as been acknowledged as hugely impactful on people and societies in that it highlights and promotes diversity and all that goes with it. The Greek tragedian Euripides states “Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves”. Thus travelling overseas to countries like Italy and Argentina where the language, culture and society are drastically and challengingly different is informative, formative and potentially transformative from an educational perspective. We must confront the diversity and learn to adapt to it. Move out of our comfort zone and take on board new ways of doing things. Ultimately it makes us better people, better workers, better citizens. Thus companies that use motivational travel experiences as a core aspect of employee remuneration and reward are actively engaging in valid Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives that provide priceless educational benefits for their employees.
Such motivational travel experiences also, potentially, provide priceless economic advantages for the communities in whose countries they take place. The spectacular rise of CSR projects as a core inclusion in the programmes and itineraries of meetings and events staged overseas highlights the obligation that most companies now feel to “giving something back”. And clearly there’s more to give back when the event takes place in a so-called 2nd or 3rd world country where 1st world concepts of “need” are radically re-defined.
So now the HR Director is convinced but what about the Bean Counter? How can it make economic sense to stage meeting and events overseas? Is there real ROI?
Again the response is a resounding “yes” as the actual cost of overseas travel has reduced considerably over the years. Low cost airlines offer easy access to a range of European destinations and transatlantic travel has never been so cheap. Likewise, 4 and 5 star hotel accommodation in major world cities such as Shanghai, Sao Paolo or Stockholm is often significantly less expensive that such hotels in long established destinations.
When you add into the mix the peerless cultural experiences that are available overseas – dining at the Palace of Versailles near Paris, enjoying a private Opera experience at the Terme di Caracalla in Rome, scaling the heights of Machu Pichu in Peru, ambling along the Great Wall of China, pulling and drinking your own pint at Guinnesses brewery in Dublin – where the motivational impact on the individual lasts way before the experience itself, then the true return on investment becomes clearer.
Staging incentives, meetings and events overseas represents a real investment in people by making authentic, truly memorable motivational experiences available to them at prices which will surprise and delight you!