Trend Spotting

By Robert McGarvey

“The trend we’re seeing with incentive groups is toward international travel,” says Michelle Novoa, vice president of sales at ADI Meetings and Incentives Inc., a Tempe, AZ event management company. Two factors fuel this, says Novoa. “Very favorable currency exchange rates in most of Europe and Canada are one reason,” she says. But another factor is that “with the Internet, there’s more awareness of global possibilities. A few years ago, people talked as though ‘virtual travel’ would replace the desire to go abroad since people could ‘see’ things online. As it turns out the exact opposite is happening. The Internet seems to be fueling more interest in foreign travel. People see places online and then they really want to go.”

A plus for corporate clients: “foreign travel has higher perceived value,” says Novoa, “and companies can set the qualifying bar higher even when costs are comparable to a domestic trip.” Recently, for instance, ADI priced out an incentive program in Hawaii versus one in Monte Carlo, and “Monaco came out a little cheaper,” says Novoa. “Yet the client could position the trip as special – it had higher perceived value with the sales force – and so the productivity bar for qualifying was raised a bit.”

Another trend: “companies that had taken incentive travel planning inhouse are now looking for outside organizers,” says Novoa. A couple of factors seem to be behind this. In many cases, inhouse event managers are fully burdened just handling their company’s expanding schedule of meetings. Then, too, “clients are recognizing that there can be better value in dealing with an outside agency that specializes in incentive travel,” says Novoa. “When you do this as your business, you know where the best values are and that’s what clients want – exceptional value.”

A last trend reported by Novoa: “We are suggesting to clients that, at least in some cases, they make their incentive programs closed-ended where, say, only the first 50 to 100 qualifiers get to go.” Why? If the trip is to a knockout location such as Monaco, and the travelers return with glowing reports – “Wow, you should have been there!” – the desire to qualify at the next go-round really intensifies. “Companies see real productivity increases,” she says.