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Incentive Travel: Incorporating
the Voice of the Participant
By Jim Ruszala, Director of Marketing, Maritz Travel
M
ore and more these days, we’re
fnding ourselves heading
further into a marketplace that is
returning to, and putting more value back
onto, relationships. Establishing, building
and retaining relationships with today’s
employees, channel partners and customers
requires more time, effort, focus and long-
term commitment. As this shift continues to
grow, many organizations fnd themselves at
a crossroads with an “engagement compass”
on relationships that’s not pointing north; it’s
pointing west, east and in some cases south.
With so much attention focused on
cutting costs and gaining effciencies,
organizations are realizing diminishing returns
from these approaches and are beginning
to make a U-turn by mapping their strategies
back to their No. 1 asset, their people. It’s
people who take care of customers and
business performance. And it’s a leadership
team’s responsibility to take care of this
valuable asset by recognizing, rewarding and
incenting their people.
Another Chair at the Table
This is where we can start to recalibrate our
engagement compass. If people are the key
focus, then we need to turn our traditional
thinking on its head. A lot of organizations
are still making decisions on programs using
gut instinct and past experience – and I think
we can all agree that there’s a degree of pre-
and post-program evaluation that’s necessary
to hit certain benchmarks, understand what
worked and what didn’t work, and make it
better the next time.
Over the last few years we’ve added
chairs around the design and decision table.
We have procurement, fnance, marketing,
sales, and planners – but there’s still one
chair missing, and that’s the participants. We
need to understand from the participants’
perspective what kinds of activities and
features are in demand; an example would be
how to avoid situations where you identify 20
planned activities and cross your fngers and
hope that you meet everybody’s needs, wants
and preferences. Getting that input – bringing
the voice of the participant into play – gives
us better insights because we can cut those
20 activities down to, say, 10 before we start
designing a program and more heavily invest
in those things that are more meaningful and
motivational at the individual level.
In other words, we’ve spent years asking
participants what they thought, but we rarely, if
ever, asked them what they think – before the fact;
before the program was planned and designed.
Choosing to Engage
A successful incentive travel program is a
delicate balancing act. When you’re talking
about trying to bring a team together and
motivate groups or departments, you have
to really look at what your goals are from a
business standpoint, as well as the needs,
wants and preferences of attendees. When
you look at the participant value chain
of the experience, there’s a thing called
‘engagement choice’. At any point of the
program, whether before, during, or after,
participants can choose to stay engaged or
disconnect themselves from the process.
So how do you make sure there are no
weak links in the overall chain? Again, it’s
all about the voice of the participant. You
have to consider the participant in terms
of what functions and activities they want
to participate in or take advantage of. For
instance, is there a specifc group they’d like
to go with to create some extended team
camaraderie and networking opportunities
versus other alternatives during scheduled
leisure time? Or, are there participants who
just prefer to do their own thing? Program
participants who earn incentive travel rewards
can either be engaged or disengaged. And
if you force them into something they really
don’t care for, they’re going to resist on some
level, and the program next year is going to
suffer as a consequence.
The bottom line is that incentive travel
adopters, buyers, stakeholders and suppliers
need to be able to beneft from that one-
on-one conversation with incentive travel
participants, and that can be facilitated
in a variety of ways – whether it’s through
meetings, social networking, emails, group
settings, surveys, you name it. However
you do it, it’s really important for effectively
establishing, building and retaining
relationships with your people.
As Director of Marketing for Maritz
Travel, Jim Ruszala leads the company’s
development of new and innovative strategies
to help organizations achieve better business
value through their incentive travel efforts.
He is a former President of the Incentive
Travel Council for the Incentive Marketing
Association.

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