There’s no doubt about it. Customizing an incentive trip is challenging. Maybe you have a limited budget. Or maybe your group is gigantic. Well there is good news for you. We recently spoke with Annette Chinn, founder and CEO, streamlinevents. Over the course of her 25-year career, Chinn has managed incentive trips of all types and sizes. Her tips and examples below make it easier to customize every trip—regardless of guest preferences, destination, budget or group size.
Is it possible to customize incentive trips without having a lavish budget?
When honoring top performers, everything needs white-glove treatment. You strive to delight attendees at every turn. I encourage planners to personalize everything always, from the registration site to the final farewell. But this doesn’t mean always choosing the most expensive option. For example, on a trip to Monte Carlo, planners created a pop-up flower market for guests. Winners chose from a selection of French hand-blown glass vases. Then they created bouquets with flowers of their choice. These gifts were delivered to guests’ rooms for fresh flowers during their stay. At the end of the trip, guests received shipping materials to send their vases safely home. The hand-blown glass vases were wonderful keepsakes for a trip to Monte Carlo. But you can create less expensive but equally meaningful gifts. Work with a local pottery studio, for instance, to provide a selection of vases distinct to the region. The key point is that it doesn’t cost extra to treat people like royalty and present compelling options to suit each guest’s personal style.
How do you create customized experiences when working in a new or unfamiliar destination?
It doesn’t matter if you’re new to a destination or a frequent traveler there. It’s always good planning to develop a strong network of partners who know local regulations and understand all the nuances. This strategy paid off in spades on a trip to Havana, Cuba. Planners wanted to host the awards gala at Gran Teatro de La Habana Opera House, an icon of Old Havana, famous for its magnificent neo-baroque architecture. Gran Teatro’s event space captured the spirit of the trip, which celebrated Cuban culture. However, planners were told the space was unavailable despite offers of flexible dates and budget. Taking the position of, “I’m the client (or prospect) with money to influence decisions” doesn’t work there. Even a full buyout offer couldn’t secure the space. The fact is, relationships are all-important in Cuba. Achieving a desired outcome is often more about collaborating with destination partners who have an insider’s perspective on how business is done there. To this end, a destination management company (Vaya Sojourns) proved invaluable. They helped navigate the complexities of doing business in Cuba. Through thoughtful negotiations, the team secured the space. Gran Teatro set the stage for an exclusive, VIP experience that would live on in the memory of each guest.
You've said planners should be cultural ambassadors. Can you elaborate?
As planners, our job is to be sensitive to the culture of the destinations where we work. This eases our path. It’s not just about money; it’s about how you do business. As the example of Gran Teatro shows, people are more receptive to working with you if they know you hold their way of life in high esteem. They’re happy to share their pride in country and open to finding that balance that allows the local culture to shine. This is how you deliver extraordinary, tailor-made experiences, rewarding to every partner and guest.
Is it possible to customize extremely large incentive groups?
Yes. Simply break large groups into more manageable sizes. Then curate unique, local experiences and bespoke agendas guests could never create on their own. For a 4,000-person incentive trip to San Francisco, planners divided guests into smaller groups for full-day wine country excursions. Guest enjoyed custom tasting tours at top wineries and farm-to-table lunches with wine pairings. Back in San Francisco, a street party at Ghirardelli Square immersed winners in the local culture. Streets were closed and guests had a great time visiting the Maritime Museum and nearby restaurants. For the awards dinner, smaller groups of attendees dined at iconic San Francisco locations, from premier museums to private clubs. Afterward, the entire group came together for a private concert at San Francisco Symphony Hall.
What are your recommendations on containing costs to free up budget for custom experiences?
Here are just a few recommendations for managing spend without ever sacrificing quality.
- Form strategic partnerships with global hotel brands to negotiate favorable volume-based rates and high-value concessions.
- Develop green initiatives. For instance, use a mobile event app instead of printed materials. You’ll save time and money, while promoting environmentally conscious practices.
- Embrace creative cuisine. Many chefs are happy to break away from standard fare to create innovative, locally inspired dishes.
- Book venues with natural character. They create a strong sense of place without needing elaborate embellishments.
Do you have any closing thoughts to share?
No matter if your incentive trip is huge, in unfamiliar territory or limited in funds. Leverage the power of customization. You’ll make guests feel pampered, rewarded and eager to earn their way back the following year.