Following a productive business year the reward of an incentive trip promises end-to-end pleasure far from the demands of business life. Behind any successful incentive trip, however, is an experienced planner who knows the potential pitfalls incentive trips can throw up and how to avoid them. With more than four decades of experience in business and incentive travel Kongres magazine got to speak to Bernard Daly of Irish company BD Incentives, a man who truly knows how to maintain the “harmony” of his incentive groups.
“I started in the travel industry in October 1973 with Thomas Cook in Dublin in the Post order Department and after a few years I was promoted to Business Travel Manager,” said Bernard. “I called on the existing corporate companies and suggested that they should do a dealer trip – invite their top customers away to an exotic destination as a ‘thank you’ for the business of the previous year. It would be a self-financing trip as their customers would have to reach a target. The idea went off like a bomb and this escalated over the next 20 years – sometimes I would have ten or twelve groups a year!”
“In 1992 Thomas Cook was sold to American Express, so my GM and I left Thomas Cook and opened up our own travel company. We had a great ten years together, but in December 2001 my partner retired and in January 2002 I opened BD Incentives, so I am now 43 years in the travel industry.”
Over his 43 years of incentive trips Bernard has learned much about the industry through both great high points, but also, sadly, through some lows too.
“In the course of 43 years there have certainly been some highlights, the main once being Las Vegas, when I had a group at the Mirage Hotel in 1993 and got tickets for the Lennox Lewis versus Tommy Tucker boxing match,” said Bernard. “It was a who’s who of who was there – Tina Turner, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson…I even had Whitney Houston for my gala night, which was a nice surprise for the group.”
“Over the same time there were also some lows, none more so than in Honolulu in 2001 when one of the dealers had a heart attack on the gala night and passed away,” added Bernard. “The incentive went from a very high to a very low and I learned a lot from an extremely sad situation. I got great help from the GM of the hotel and we became great friends.”
Inevitably over the course of such a long and colourful career Bernard has seen much change and has to respond to the relentless pace of technological progress, yet there has been a core of incentive planning tenets that he considers invaluable no matter what the era or tech equipment you might have at your disposal.
“When I started out all we had was a phone and a telex machine,” said Bernard. “All air, sea and rail tickets had to be hand written, so we were all very happy when the computers arrived and we could issue tickets so quickly. The fax machine was the next to arrive and then came the internet, which for me was the downfall of many travel agencies. As it got more sophisticated many companies can now book their dealer trips online and have everything else prepped on arrival.”
“There are a number of key things that I do for every trip to make sure there are no hiccups,” said Bernard. “Take photocopies of all passport details and visas if they are required and have these details to hand at all times. Also find out if a client has a foreign passport and might need a visa i.e. don’t assume they will have the passport of the country they are in. Try to organise boarding passes in advance for flights so there is no waiting at the airport. Check if it is possible to have pre-check in at the hotel, so that when clients arrive the keys are handed to them straight away. Always know the proper names for e-tickets and hotels, as the names of spouses and partners can differ. If a group is arriving before 1pm I will always book the hotel rooms the night before (the last thing you need is a groups arriving at the hotel after a 12-hour flight and no room available until after the check-in time of 2pm, that’s disastrous!) When arriving after 1pm I always check with the hotel on arrival at the airport that the rooms are ready and if not I will take the group on a short sightseeing tour planned in advance. I always advise the clients that the hotels are not responsible for anything left in the safe in the room, as this is just a convenience, and recommend the security boxes at reception. And lastly…I always check the ladies bathrooms at restaurants for hygiene!”
“When I do an inspection visit of a country my priorities are to know what the emergency numbers of the country are and where the hospitals are,” Bernard continued. “I have been very lucky to have excellent local contacts (DMCs) in the various countries around the world. It is very important that they can speak perfect English and have excellent knowledge of the group requirements.”
Over and above all of the professional eye for detail that such a long career has nurtured, Bernard also brings a very special quality to all of his trips: Music. It is something that your correspondent has the pleasure of enjoying first hand on a recent trip to The Philippines for ATF 2016.
“My family is very musical as my Mum was a great piano player and my two sisters teach music professionally,” said Bernard. “I sang with the Palestrina choir at the pro-cathedral in Dublin for 15 years and I sang when the Papal Annuncio from Rome attended the Eucharistic Congress in June 1968 at Croke Park and on one of my inspection visits to Vegas I went to see Shania Twain and was the lucky one she invited on stage to sing with her! It was a great experience.”
“As you know Irish people love to sing – just go to any pub in Ireland and after a few drinks they would have a great singsong,” added Bernard. “In most of my incentives I will always find a pub or venue with music where I can organise a musical night. My gala/farewell dinner is always with music and after dinner I normally have a 15-minute cultural show with participation, so I will have most of the group on the floor followed immediately by the band for dancing. I will never forget when we visited Panama with an incentive – I used a Panama Bus for the transfer to a restaurant and had a live band on board with lots of beverages. The group went wild! I had to go around the block twice where the restaurant was, because they enjoyed it so much!
As for being able to tap into a tune or two to kick things off, Bernard has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music, giving a well-stocked jukebox a good run for its money.
“My parents brought me to see many live shows in the Theatre Royal in Dublin and I saw so many famous singers – Bill Haley & the Comets, Johnny Ray, Billy Fury, Pat Boone and much more,” said Bernard. “I was also really into rock & roll and went to see the Beach Boys, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Del Shannon, Cilla Black, Cliff Richard and Gene Pitney during the sixties! I just got to know most of their songs. All the lyrics were very simple during the sixties, not like today! I still have their LPs and singles at home and I have a small jukebox in my house where I can play the music. I do have many songs in my head but I never put a number on the songs I know! Music played a major part of my life – I feel it is the only international language that all nations understand.”
“Many times I’ve used music to “raise” up the atmosphere,” Bernard continued. “When I had a group in Canada we were coming back to Toronto from Niagara Falls and I had a feeling that music on the bus would lift the atmosphere. I always have CDs with me, so I played ABBA and GREASE and they were singing and dancing on the bus all the way to Toronto! All arrived at the hotel in great spirits. And at ATF in Manila this year during the pre-show tour we visit a museum in Intramuros. There was a stroller group in the courtyard, so I asked them if they knew a few songs of mine. We had a great singsong in the courtyard – even our guide sang and the locals came to join in! All went back to the bus in great form.”
Keeping an incentive group in top form is a key goal of any incentive, but rather than try to propose a formula for how to do this, it’s best left with a motto that Bernard Daly himself likes to share: “It makes no difference if you win or lose, it’s what you do with your dancing shoes”.