The way in which a particular programme is launched can also highly motivate a salesforce into giving its best. A Chinese theme party held at London's Sheraton Skyline hotel for 90 people, at a cost of £430 a head, heralded the start of a scheme to reward top achievers with a 10-day trip to Hong Kong. Authentic Chinese costumes, complete with tanka hats for women and mandarin hats for men, were supplied to guests. The hotel patio was transformed into a street market scene and the indoor swimming pool was filled with food-serving Chinese junks. The evening's entertainment, which included traditional lion dances, contributed to the overall mood. "It gave them a feel of what they might be able to have," says event organiser Watts.
But what if the final reward is a let-down? Disappointment surely risks more long-lasting damage than not having an incentive trip at all. As a safeguard, creative elements are also built into the holiday programme. Bath robes with the delegates' initials, chocolate bars with the company logo, escorted excursions and personalised gifts were included in the package to Hong Kong. However, at a cost of £4,355 per person in this case, these extra touches do not come cheap.
But the success of such schemes merits the expenditure, according to companies which have spent £100,000 or so on specially tailored incentive programmes in the car, insurance and computer industries. They claim increases in turnover well in excess of 10%. "Clients don't appear to be spending less. The growth of the incentive travel market has not dipped below 15% year on year," says Fisher. "It is very competitive," he adds. "When we pitch, like ad agencies, we pitch against three or four competitors. The business is very price sensitive."
The industry, though, is still in its infancy, he explains. Less than a quarter of the 300 companies in Page and Moy's survey asked the specialists to design their incentive packages. The majority made their own travel arrangements.
So why bother with experts? "Each programme is tailor-made, starting from the client's objectives," explains Ian Sparks, sales director of Compass - the conference and incentive division of Thomas Cook. "Programmes are continually getting more sophisticated and client specific." Mixing a conference with an incentive is one useful technique. "The top achievers get special treatment with helicopters, limousines and suites. It has got to be very visible in order to motivate everyone in the company," Sparks says.