The Anatomy of a Successful Incentive Group Travel Program

Narrated by Maggie Rimnac
Editor of the Beyond Excellence Blog

I recently met with a travel agent to assist me with the planning of a multi-city European vacation. Of course, I was a good little traveler and did some pre-research on my own. I estimated my budget, researched the various cities I’m interested in visiting, and looked into some tour companies. Overall I had a decent idea of what I wanted. Going into the meeting with the travel agent, I was expecting to be given information I didn’t already know. Things like which cities would appeal to my interests, which tours would have the best activities, and which companies would have the best appeal to my demographic. I was expecting expertise.

Unfortunately for me, though, the agent didn’t do much other than give me a stack of large, bulky (albeit beautiful) tour catalogs. Our nearly hour-long meeting consisted of me asking questions about the destinations, available activities, and so on – and her flipping through the catalogs and reading excerpts to me. Snore. I could have spent that time on the couch in my sweats reading the tour companies’ websites. The whole thing was a sad waste of a Friday afternoon.

So why am I telling you this sorry story of my wasted Friday afternoon? Because I sat down with our VP of Travel, Brad Hecht, to discuss this very topic. While we’re not a travel agency, we at Motivation Excellence take pride in the expertise we have in planning incentive group travel programs, so I decided to get the scoop on how he makes our programs so spectacular.

What are the first steps you take when planning a travel program for a client?
Brad Hecht: First and foremost, we need to evaluate ALL of the available information we’ve received from our client such as demographics of participants, budgets, program details (travel dates, number of participants, etc.), previous destinations traveled to, and program history. After that, our internal team holds a brainstorming session in order to build a variety of ideas for destinations, hotels, and itinerary content for their incentive group travel experience. There’s a lot to take into consideration, especially with a client who’s run programs before. Do we want to send them somewhere brand new, or do they prefer something tried and true?

Together, we’ll determine test destination ideas to present to the client. The last step of the initial planning is to contact our trusted supplier partners for quotes, proposals, and ideas.

What types of things do you take into consideration when selecting a destination?
BH: There’s a whole lot of things, like I mentioned earlier. Time of year of travel is probably top of mind, as weather and price play a large role in destination selection. Then we consider distance to destination and air travel logistics, as well as number of nights & days at the destination. We’re looking for destinations that have the highest probability to get participants engaged.

We’ll also talk about their prior travel experiences – do they want to go somewhere new? Where has their group been before? What did they like about past experiences that we can bring to the next one? Budget of course plays a large factor, so we need to be cognizant of that as well. We’ll look into finding the best possible value at the destination – what’s included, hotel choices – while still providing the finest experience possible.

Another thing I like to look at is the availability of unique and exciting things to see and do. If all we do is choose a beautiful beach, that’s only great for people who just love the beach. But we’re talking about making a memorable group travel experience here! We want a beautiful beach AND some really exciting events.

Same goes for event venues. If our client is looking to host a really spectacular finale dinner, we’ll probably look for something outside of your typical hotel meeting room. We want to create experiences that build group camaraderie – where top management gets to know their best customers and employees.

Overall, I’m asking myself: does the destination provide the greatest travel experience in order to achieve the client’s goals?

How do your relationships with vendors (hotels, entertainment companies, etc.) affect what you do?
BH: Our vendor relationships affect us tremendously. We count on them as partners to help us build and deliver phenomenal travel experiences. Our relationships include a mutual business philosophy of how we approach and deliver the development and implementation of travel experiences. We make sure to only work with vendors who hold the same standards as we do – and in turn, we hold high expectations of each other. Neither we nor the vendor wants to let the other down.

In many cases, we have longstanding relationships with our vendors that are built on mutual success and trust. We’ve built these solid relationships that make problem solving much easier and more innovative. It’s great to be able to work with people like that.

What is THE most important aspect of the planning process?
BH: Hands down the most important aspect of the process is continually answering the question, “Is this the best and right thing for the client?” We want to make sure we have a client-focused approach to everything we do.

What’s your favorite part of planning a program?
BH: Developing new and exciting itineraries that include elements that will “WOW” participants and exceed the expectations of our clients. It’s a great feeling to put together a program that really delivers what we promise while building long lasting client relationships.

Tell us about an experience you planned that you wish you could’ve been a part of.
BH: I would have liked to have been on a program in San Diego to see the Navy Seals do a parachute landing on the USS Midway for the final night event.

Why should a client who has done this type of program internally use a company like Motivation Excellence to plan their next travel program?
BH: When a client allows us to serve them, they’re gaining combined decades of diverse experience to assist them. We also provide tremendous added value in the areas of:

  • Creativity: we’ve planned hundreds of programs and worked with many clients – we have a lot of awesome ideas!
  • Supplier negotiations: like I mentioned earlier, we’ve built longstanding relationships with our suppliers and have the experience of negotiating with them
  • A team that knows what works and what doesn’t
  • A team that considers and pays attention to all the details that can make or break a program
  • Peace of mind knowing that they have a seasoned team of experts working on their behalf and striving to exceed expectations of program participants and management
  • Having a partner that knows how to solve complex problems that arise and develop innovative solutions

Brad and his team’s expertise obviously trumps the experience I received with the travel agent. Which experience do you prefer: off-the-shelf programs, or a team of industry experts who are ready to reduce your risk and give your participants an experience of a lifetime?

If you’re looking for help planning your incentive award, corporate event, event management or a travel experience, Motivation Excellence® travel programs deliver the best experiences around the globe. Contact us today to get started.

Brad Hecht has over 25 years of in-depth experience in the incentive travel industry, encompassing operations, marketing, sales, finance and management. Before joining MEI® in 1999, Brad was Vice President at Maritz, Inc. Currently, he has global responsibility for all facets of MEI’s Meeting, Event Management & Incentive travel business.

Brad’s extensive background features: program planning, costing, supplier relationships/negotiations, on-site operations and servicing incentive travel programs and meeting productions. His direct experience involves: new car announcements, Super Bowl, Olympics, major worldwide sporting events, national sales meetings, international forums & product launches. Brad also serves on many hotel and supplier advisory boards, industry forums and roundtables.

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