Want to become a good incentive organiser? Learn how to ask the right question. Listen carefully to what your client has to say. Learn to read between the lines. Be flexible and never bullshit a client.
Q: What issues do the emerging destinations face in relation to incentive travel?
A fundamental of incentive travel is that it is a trip that offers the participants experiences that are either once in a lifetime or things that they cannot easily buy themselves. This calls for an enormous amount of creativity and latitude on how these trips are planned. The world is full of options that could easily fit the bill and emerging destinations have a great opportunity here.
Having said this, more than often one comes across clients where conservative standards of quality, conventionality, accessibility and homogeneity run completely contrary to delivering the basic objectives of incentive travel. We find that what a DMC or destination wants to do is opposite to what the client really wants in their hearts.
This is the challenge emerging and non-conventional destinations face all the time in the incentive travel market – the conflict between conformity and distinctiveness. These two attributes can be very much at opposite ends of the spectrum and the challenges destinations face is to achieve a balance that works.
Q: What would be your key advice to emerging incentive destinations?
There are many destinations that fascinate the incentive travel planner: countries that offer great experiences in culture, gastronomy or adventure. More than often, emerging and non-traditional destinations are the ones that are best able to deliver something different. These are best at being unique and unusual. So a basic problem that many emerging destinations have is positioning themselves in an eco-system that desires something different but wants it in the same ways they are used to. This is not something that is easily fixed by physical infrastructure and requires more effort on creating an image and positioning statement that can be presented by all the stakeholders of that destination. Visuals, speaking points, marketing collateral and more need to be created that can be given as tools to DMCs, hotels, tourist boards and others who sell the destination across the world. Everyone needs to speak the same language, for that creates consistency in brand building.
It is also easy for a destination to fall in love with its own story and lose sight of what the customer really wants. Just because you think you have great scenery, food or history does not mean others see it the same way. It is a very competitive market out there and many destination tourism marketing messages sound similar. It is important to understand that different source markets require different tweaks and levels of messaging. What sells to the Americans may not be relevant to the Germans or the Chinese. Destinations that are able to adapt marketing initiatives to the travel attributes of a culture are the ones that are most successful in attracting new business.
In addition, one very effective tool is to expose the destination to incentive planners using fam trips and events. The SITE Incentive Summit in Slovenia this past January was a perfect example of how to do that. The 25 SITE board members who came were offered an experience that created 25 goodwill ambassadors for the country. There are many formats and sources available to a country that will allow them to bring in the right people who will go back and talk about what they saw and also create the right buzz in social media and the press. Nothing works better than first-hand testimonials.
Stakeholder training is also essential to help build the skills of people who actually have to deliver incentive travel. This training needs to come in from global leaders who understand how to see unique destinations and who plan incentive programmes. Emerging destinations need to adopt best practices from around the world to supplement aspects of the destination that are already there. Professionalism and a sense of confidence will go a long way in convincing the incentive buyer of making the desired decision.
Q: In your opinion, what makes a good incentive organiser?
A good incentive organiser is one who listens carefully to what the client has to say. Learn to read between the lines. Understand the personality of the planner, for that directly affects the way they see the destination. Also learn how to ask the right questions, ones that lead to giving you a better insight on what the planner hopes to achieve, what are client likes or dislikes, what their past experiences have been. Do not be in a hurry to close a sale. Take the time to build confidence and trust and once that happens the rest falls into place a lot easier.
Selling a new destination takes time, takes innovation, takes perseverance and also takes money. Don’t be in a rush to reinvent the world in a year. But with some hard work, you will see positive results.
Q: Which are some of the most memorable projects you’ve done in your career?
Working in an emerging destination like India and the region, I have had some amazing opportunities to do some unique things. One that really stands out is a project where we took 28 Europeans from an automotive company to a remote spot at 14,500 feet in the Himalayan mountain range to serve them champagne overlooking Mt Everest. It took 8 months to plan this 3 hour activity, let alone the budget that was needed to make it work. What made it special that we had a client who wanted to push all boundaries and offer his guests an experience that was never done before by anyone and that was truly once in a lifetime. Over the past few years, we have also done some amazing operations for the Latin world, where working with those non-traditional markets was such a joy, as they saw India in a very different way from Europeans in what was a very satisfying experience for us as a DMC.
Q: Being an experienced incentive organiser, please state 5 facts and observations to help understand the incentive business:
1. Ask the right question from the client from the very start.
2. In communication, never make assumptions that the client will automatically understand all your points. Present in simple way that is easy and clear to understand. Explain items in more detail that are unique to your destination. Many times decisions are made before inspection trips, so you need to be thorough.
3. Try to be flexible. Never approach a client with a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. As long as you do not compromise on principles of health & safety and morality, being flexible is an attribute that is always appreciated.
4. On inception trips, go all out to show your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Be different. And more importantly, show the destination in a relaxing and fun way. Be informal and try to build a friendship. Suppliers are not chosen on their physical attributes alone but rather in the comfort levels and confidence that are built through interactions.
5. Always be honest and truthful. Never, ever bullshit a client. If you do not have an answer to a question, tell them so and tell them you will get one. If you have made a mistake, say so and present a solution to fix it. Every lie told makes a deeper hole that it’s hard to get out of. Even if you lose a little money in the fix, it is more important to build a strong, long-term relationship. Business grows on referrals. If the client trusts you, they will push business your way when they can.