Activities are a vital part of incentive travel. A programme that has a competitive edge, breaks down inhibitions or builds team spirit is often favoured by clients keen to make their achievers "work" rather than indulge in sun and fun. A one-day rail pass, a polaroid camera and 10 Swiss francs along with the challenge to cover as much distance as possible were recently given to a group of high achievers on an incentive trip to Switzerland. "The idea was to test ingenuity. Photographs were needed to prove that they had reached their destinations," says Simon Watts, marketing manager of The Marketing Organisation, which organises around 200 programmes each year for 18,000 participants.
The adventurous can opt to do almost anything from flying Tiger Moths and driving tanks to hot air ballooning and joining in treasure hunts in vintage cars or murder mystery weekends. But in reality are such activities more popular from the comfort of an armchair than out in the field? According to Fisher: "People love talking about it, but when it comes down to it they shy away from the mad, bad and the dangerous."
There is the odd treasure hunt and the occasional executive keen to race desert jeeps and sleep under canvas with nomads in Jordan, Fisher agrees. "But it is an ambiguous marketplace. I don't think people want SAS-style, outward bound weekends. They want five-star hotels in posh places rather than unusual events." Yet a weekend takeover of the French astronaut training centre at Cannes is on one company's agenda. "That is good. It has a rationale and is structured," he says. At Space Camp Baudry participants can experience what it must be like to conquer space while staying in comfort at a luxury 99-bed hotel which has recently opened nearby.
The camaraderie which can build up during a luxury cruise, thereby developing team spirit without too much exertion, may be the answer for the less energetic. But putting a group on a large vessel can be problematic for both participants and other passengers. Alternatively, the sole charter of a smaller vessel may be idyllic for a few days ... but could at the end of a week have a negative effect on corporate goals.
Rather than opt for cramped accommodation on a 20-cabin private yacht or the costly 100-cabin, four-masted schooner Windstar, International Vacationers selected the 100-metre-long Sea Cloud for a 45-person cruise from Antigua. In addition to windsurfing, waterskiing, snorkelling and diving, clay pigeon shooting was available on board. A Mediterranean cruise aboard Cunard's luxury Sea Goddess also worked for Volvo. It was chartered exclusively for its top 50 dealers and their partners.
If exotic locations are beyond the wallets of the corporate client, Maureen Richards of Worldwide Charter Services can offer sailing or power boating on the Solent as an ideal incentive for staff or for corporate entertainment. A day aboard the Helen Mary V, a 48-foot Oceanmaster yacht, based at Hamble Point, can cost £200 a day in low season, rising to £660 for Cowes week in August. On top of that, the cost of food can work out at some £35 to £40 per head. Landlubbers are welcomed as sailing tuition is thrown in for those with the energy and inclination.
But for those who want some real speed without the effort or hassle of sailing, day cruises in Fairline Turbo 36 powerboats can be arranged costing £100 per head (food and drink included). "It's very 'Howards' Way', particularly on the power boat side," says Richards. In fact the charter boat was used in the selfsame television series. Most of her clients come from London and the home counties, where boat ownership is much lower than along the coast, and consequently a day out at sea can be a real treat.
But the run-up to the trip of a lifetime rather than the actual trip can be more important in motivational terms. For its "Embark on Excellence" programme Volvo hired Page and Moy for an eight-month campaign divided into three "waves" aimed at maintaining the market share of its 300 series model. Glossy brochures, video material and desktop computer messages promoted interim rewards of a Royal Doulton crystal ship's decanter, a hosted event at Henley Royal Regatta, as well as the ultimate prize of the week-long cruise.
Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company boosted sales turnover by sending out mini Matryoshka dolls and Berlitz guides to get dealers in the mood for a four-night trip to Moscow and Leningrad. These "teasers", which also come in the form of Chinese fortune cookies in the run-up to a reward trip to Hong Kong, messages in glass bottles for a holiday in Majorca or pieces of a jigsaw as clues to a surprise destination, are designed to maintain the momentum of a promotion.