Next to cash, travel is the most popular way of motivating staff. Sara Pennington reports.
Whether it is trekking through the Amazon, cruising the Caribbean or languishing in a five-star country hotel, travel is regarded as a powerful motivator. The lure of an exotic or action-packed trip can give staff a unique incentive to improve performance and increase sales. Alternatively, luxurious surroundings may assure the success of a strategic planning meeting or boost morale at an annual conference.
Travel for motivational purposes is certainly a growing business. Estimates put expenditure on overseas incentive trips from the UK at £250 million for 1988 and annual increases at as high as 20%. After cash rewards, overseas travel is currently the most popular device used by companies to boost staff performance, according to a recent survey by the incentive travel expert Page and Moy Marketing.
The range and sophistication of destinations has also never been greater. A safari in Kenya, a trip to the Japanese Grand Prix, a tour of the American Wild West and a two-centre holiday in Hong Kong and Bali are some of the latest itineraries prepared by incentive travel specialist International Vacationers. "The top clients are slowly but surely becoming more and more adventurous and going long-haul," says managing director Laura Morgan.
Each programme is tailor-made to the client's needs. A "surprise" hold-up by marauding cowboys in Arizona, a flightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon and time to take to the gaming tables of Las Vegas characterised a recent trip to the United States. A week spent in Japan gave participants the opportunity to tour Tokyo and Mount Fuji as well as to attend the Grand Prix at Suzuka, while three days unwinding in Bali rounded off a sightseeing and shopping trip to Hong Kong.
The cost of venturing further afield, however, need not necessarily bust budgets. "What is spent on the air fare can be saved on the ground costs," says John Fisher, managing director of Page and Moy. His poll of the destinations selected by 150 groups had the French Riviera only just topping the eastern seaboard of the US. Paris, Spain, Italy and Singapore followed in order of popularity. "The trend is definitely towards the States, particularly Florida, which is right at the front again."
The shift to transatlantic travel is certainly associated with the weak dollar, says Fisher. Organisers of a £1,000-a-head incentive trip now have Miami as well as Monte Carlo easily within their reach. Parts of the Far East, though, are losing their exotic appeal, according to Fisher. "Thailand and Hong Kong are going downwards because of bad publicity and cheap packages. People can't boast about it over the garden fence anymore," he explains.
Incentive organisers have also pulled back 200 to 300 miles from the Middle East, postponing trips to Cyprus, Crete and Turkey and cancelling cruises down the Nile. "It's sad," remarks Fisher, "but we can't take our top assets to a place where they might get blown up." He predicts a long recovery period for these destinations. John Bright, an incentive marketing specialist who used to work for Hogg Robinson, is more optimistic and has high hopes for a new conference centre situated in the shadow of the Egyptian pyramids. "These destinations will obviously rebound back when hostilities go away," he says.
Meanwhile, as traditional tourist traffic to Spain and Portugal dwindles, conference centres there are booming. "They work out at the same price as a London conference even allowing for airfares," says Bright. "There are some very good deals." Switzerland, too, remains a "perennial favourite", he says. Good flight access from both London and regional airports, excellent hotels and efficient service guarantee its year-round appeal. Lausanne and Montreux are frequented during the summer months, while skiing, particularly for companies with a young profile, is popular in winter.