Five Key Ingredients for a Successful Incentive Travel Programme
Padraic Gilligan, Managing Director, Ovation Global DMC
For the past five days I assisted my colleagues at Ovation Switzerland in the operation of an incentive travel programme for a US based Finance & Insurance customer. On departure day I listened with great interest as the Incentive qualifiers profusely thanked their hosts. Their enthusiasm was authentic and genuine, all clearly motivated to achieve the qualification threshold for the next event at the Four Seasons, Firenze.
But what made this event successful? What caused 80 high achieving, and in some cases independently wealthy, insurance agents – and their respective spouses – to be so intent on selling Company A’s product rather than the products of Company B, C or D who also do incentive trips? I believe it’s due to a combination of the following 5 factors.
1. The Destination
Switzerland is, unreservedly, a top tier destination for incentive qualifiers offering incredible variety. It’s topography even has in-built marketing and promotional attributes – this programme, for example, was entitled “The Peak of Excellence”. During the 5 programme days qualifiers played in the sun-kissed snow, sailed across an azur blue lake, stood awe-stricken before the majesty of the Matterhorn and sipped wine in shaded vineyards. Internal transportation from airport to venue and between the various scheduled destination experiences was fully integrated, seamless and diverse.
So, the first reason for the success of this programme was the destination itself and its motivational assets.
2. The Hotel / Venue
Switzerland has a deep legacy in upscale hospitality and the Beau Rivage Palace is certainly one of the shining stars in an unenviably impressive constellation. And, speaking of shining stars, the following have all graced the beautiful rooms of the BVP with their presence: Victor Hugo, Camille Saint-Saëns, Charlie Chaplin, Coco Chanel, Gary Cooper, Sacha Guitry, Hirohito, Nelson Mandela, Hussein de Jordan!
Dating initially from the mid 1800s the immediate international success of the hotel led to expansion in the 1860s and again, with design input from architectural firm Jost, Bezencenet & Schnell, in 1908. What results is an upscale, luxury hotel with authentic period beauty and character and a service DNA that stems from a 150 year old legacy. We were greatly assisted by the following top professionals – Mathieu Peingeon, Groups and Events Coordinator, Sylvie Gonin, Chef Concierge and Marcel Bernard, Front Office Manager and their amazing teams.
Thus the second reason for the success of our event was the sheer class and quality of the accommodation experience and the amazing service ethos of an impeccably trained team that knows how to deliver a truly motivational experience to its guests.
3. The Programme
With a tip of the hat to Sebastien Tondeur, CEO of MCI, when good agencies who know their customers work with good DMCs who know their destination, then “magic happens!” When, as in this case, the customer himself is genuinely creative you add a third success element to the mix. Here are some of the highlights of this programme: a boat ride across a light filled lake to a banquet at a mediaeval castle, timed to coincide with a stunning sun set; a hot air balloon ride from an pure green Alpine meadow high into a crystal blue Alpine sky, the only sound being the distant din of cow bells from the valley below; a hands-on, adrenaline filled sailing experience across Lake Geneva; wine tasting, chocolate making, trips to glaciers, visits to Gstaad, Zermatt etc
4. The Entertainment
True incentives include a moment in the programme when everything fuses into an
intense shared experience. This, then, becomes the defining moment of the event and usually occurs towards the end of the programme, often during the final group dinner, Gala or Awards event. The “random travelling coincidence” as described so beautifully by Philip Larkin in his poem “The Whitsun Weddings”, is now a single unit, a community that has lived and shared extraordinary experiences together.
At our event this moment occurred as Eliana Burki took to the stage. Young, gifted and Swiss, Eliana plays jazz with tinges of hip-hop on the Alpenhorn. Her marvellous musical set fused Swiss traditions with cutting edge beats, challenged audience expectations and provided the perfect introduction for the main act, Naturally 7, on a break from their global tour with Michael Buble. With their astonishing wall of sound, all created with voice alone, Naturally 7 brought all 160 incentive qualifiers to their feet mid way through their performance and kept them their til the end. The symbolic significance of the merging of several musical traditions at the Gala dinner was not lost on the qualifiers who came from 2 corporations, now merging under a single brand.
5. The relationships
Thankfully corporate procurement now appears to be taking the first steps in acknowledging the primacy of relationships for successful purchasing within the meetings and events industry. Those of us on the inside know how crucial our networks are and how these are the true channels for success in execution and delivery. This event bore all the hallmarks of an exceptional web of powerful, legacy relationships. The US agency has worked with the corporation for almost 20 years, the DMC has worked in the destination and with the hotel for the same number of years. The agency and DMC have worked together for the same customer in another destination and are currently planning the 2013 event. Legacy relationships foster loyalty, trust and confidence. It becomes a meeting of minds and hearts with all sides going the extra mile not merely to ensure success but because, in the context of a meaningful human relationship, this is the least that you will always do.
So these are my 5 steps to incentive success. The 6th is one that you cannot count on or plan for. It’s freely given, or not, as the case may be. But, strangely, I have always noticed if you can get the 5 steps here in place the 6th usually follows. It’s the weather. This programme enjoyed 5 days of glorious Swiss sunshine, always accompanied by a soft breeze coming in off Lake Geneva making sure that nobody got uncomfortably hot.
Padraic Gilligan is Managing Director of Ovation Global DMC.
I’m privileged to have been able to collaborate in the delivery of this wonderful event with so many industry professionals – our customer, SEI Incentives out of Dallas, their customer and now one of my closest friends, Paul Eder; Project Leader for SEI, the funny, bright and beautiful Fernanda Nielsen, my Project Leader for Ovation Switzerland, the indefatigable Renato Grieco and his equally relentless colleague Gaelle.