COVID-19 has caused panic and uncertainty throughout the world. The pandemic has resulted in unprecedented disruption, which now requires an innovative look at the world of incentive travel.
We all recognize the fact that globally we are remarkably resilient to crisis and very quickly people learn to adapt to new values and the reality of a post-crisis life. As a result of social distancing, people will be keen for authentic face-to-face interaction and it is predicted they will be much more health-conscious than ever before. We believe that sooner rather than later (similarly to other industry professionals), we are going to see a return in demand for rewards and incentive travel.
Here I would like to share with you some key insights on a survey conducted by the Incentive Research Foundation back in April:
Top concerns about participating in work, or reward-related travel were the threat of an epidemic/pandemic at 33%, closely followed by severe weather at 29%.
People are beginning to anticipate and crave travel, with a focus on new experiences at safe destinations that involve shorter flights, or within driving distance.
International travel, especially in large groups, may not return to previous norms until a vaccine and/or an effective treatment for COVID-19 is developed and made widely available.
Companies who postponed incentive travel programs expressed a strong need to continue recognising and rewarding outstanding sales people and employees. When incentive travel programs were cancelled, they were often replaced by points, merchandise, gift cards or even cash. (We are going to talk more about this in our coming blogs, so stay tuned!)
Coping with a New Normal
COVID-19 has taught us to think on our feet in ways we have not previously done. We have to understand the scale in which things have changed and adapt our ideas to the new, evolving post-COVID world.
How should Incentive Travel planners adapt to a Post-COVID-19 world? The following insights are from industry professionals.
Leaning into Change
Unpredictable times demand a new way of thinking. We cannot control the outside world and what occurs, but we can control how we plan, execute and communicate with key stakeholders.
Many people are likely to be somewhat hesitant about travelling initially, it is important to be respectful of this at all times. Taking time to explain all of the precautions and safeguarding in detail upfront with them will also be vital to restoring confidence.
How can we overcome the fear of social contact?
There are various measures we could potentially put into place to minimize exposure and also maximize genuine time spent together
Consider a buy-out of the hotel/resort
If you have a group of 100 people, book a ballroom for 400. You can make the space feel cosy with intelligent use of lighting and props. The extra space also sends a strong message to guests that their safety and protection is a priority .
Charter flights (budget permitting), or select airlines that are leaving an empty middle seat in economy class.
Target destinations closer to home to reduce travel time
For ground transportation - spread delegates out on buses, even if it means extra vehicles
We will need to ensure that all health guidelines are met and exceeded, so people will feel reassured they are safe. There is a lot of work to be done and a lot more details require attention (not just a few masks and a pamphlet on social distancing!) We need to be educated and control everything we possibly can, from seating in a restaurant to the cleaning and sanitising of a hotel and much more… This shall prevail until the eradication of Covid-19, although the impact will undoubtedly reshape our way of life.
There should be “absolute transparency” in the communication with key stakeholders and attendees and it all begins with trust. It is of the utmost importance that participants have no concerns about health and safety and preparations for this should be at the front and centre of all planning. After all, they are the ones to be rewarded and should be respected.
We should plan, as a matter of normal business from now on to address all concerns about health and safety in minute detail and share safety tips with attendees, via digital communications and social media platforms.
Be open to your working partners such as travel agents, events management companies, or production houses. Voice your expectations, concerns, uncertainties, limitations and the ‘New Normal’ company policy upfront. Effective communication should be a two-way system, so set up regular meetings and communication updates for progress tracking and to address any ad hoc issues promptly.
Depending upon your group size and specific project requirements, consider partnering with smaller providers, who are better adapting as this could provide an advantage. All in all, ensure that the organising committee have put measures in place to make your next incentive trip not only safe and rewarding, but also appropriate.
Flexibility and Agility
“Flexibility” is another keyword and it is going to be vital for all of us. As an event organiser, we need to carefully identify destination partners who are flexible and operate with a high level of agility. Booking contracts are likely be more flexible post COVID-19. To protect the interest of the group, work with hotels, airlines and other local suppliers who are flexible and agile with the ever changing environment.
Managing a stakeholder’s expectations is more important than ever. We can plan an excellent program itinerary and prepare a perfect experience, but we must remember, we are now living in a world of unknown.
We are all aware of the importance of having Plan B for bad weather, traffic jams, strikes and other factors beyond control however, we now have to have a Plan C, D and potentially more. We must remain flexible in our planning and allow for optimal flexibility in regards to how we operate.
Project owners will play a crucial role in the communication with the senior management team and other decision makers. Undoubtedly, there will be last minute changes and adaptions and these decisions will require very quick turnaround.
It is a tough road ahead, but travel will be back! We need to be ready!