What Will Incentives Look Like in a COVID-19 World?

BCD Meetings and Events’ Christine Erickson looks for creative solutions to reward top earners who won’t be able to take an incentive trip.

What Will Incentives Look Like in a COVID-19 World?

Christine Erickson, senior vice president of NORAM Event Solutions at BCD Meetings & Events, has clients who are insistent on holding their incentive trip this year. But that’s far from the norm and may be the exception for some time, Erickson feels.

In today’s reality of social distancing and waiting for the green light to return to travel, event planners like Erickson are being tested like never before. She knows firsthand the power of the incentive trip versus a cash reward for top performers. Studies show the money goes to bills or something winners don’t recall. But trips have the value of standing the test of time. “Travel awards create memories that last a lifetime,” Erickson says.

While there is time for companies to decide how to push employees in future fiscal years, the immediate concern is how to reward winners who recently met or exceeded goals. There is at least one bright side amid the uncertainty, notes Erickson. “The good news is customers are looking at ways to engage and actually deliver a meaningful, memorable experience in this unique environment,” she says.

But what does an awards function or recognition reward look like in a COVID-19 world? Erickson shares some ideas BCD is working on that have received positive feedback so far:

  •  A 20-30 virtual concert like what bands have performed on Facebook during the lockdown. 
  • Meal delivery the night of a virtual event.
  • Presenting a gifting catalogue to pick a prize.

“It's about how do you build up and get [winners] excited,” Erickson says. “This is not a long-term solution because we all know the power of face-to-face and that’s really hard to replace. But I think I think we're going to be able to design something that will have an impact.”

Having worked through 9/11 and the Great Recession, Erickson’s best guess is travel will take time to return. Regional and domestic destinations will be the first stop for companies looking to return to incentives as normal. She predicts Hawaii will be a popular destination, especially in the early going for the “new normal.”

She encourages, if possible, companies committing as early as six months’ out to an incentive trip when ready. The carrot of a trip, particularly after being cooped up at home, should be a powerful motivator. 

Planners like Erickson may just have to work on a smaller budget—something they are used to.

“I would imagine people, more than ever, are going to be pushed to do more with less for a while,” she says.