How to make your next incentive unforgettable

This week our guest blogger Andy McNeill, president and CEO of American Meetings, Inc, gives us a list of ways to ensure that your next incentive will knock their socks off.

Another year means another incentive program. The challenge is how to make it even better that what happened the previous year. How do you create that unforgettable sales incentive trip or employee appreciation award programs that they will never forget? These folks have worked hard for your organization, and you need to not just treat them extra special, but also blow them away with the experience. Here are some ways you can create the incentive trip of a lifetime.

* Pick a destination that attendees would never choose on their own. While an island in the Caribbean is great, how about a trip to an active volcano, or the opportunity to see Antarctica? You want to not only impress potential winners; you also want to incentivize them to work hard to win next year’s trip. Make that extra effort to find that extra special destination.

* Research activities that awe and inspire. Avoid the same old activities that currently attract the leisure traveler. Find the next great thrill before it goes mainstream. Ever been swimming with the whale sharks, or waterfall rappelling in the rainforest? These are just a few of the things we have done with incentive winners on recent trips. Ask the locals. Tell them you are looking for experiences that are off the beaten path and extra special. You may be amazed by the suggestions you'll hear. Ask yourself: Is this a heart pumping excursion or just another processed group tour?

* Gifts and giveaways. It doesn’t have to be something big or expensive, but if it’s not something you would want and cherish, chances are your guests won’t either. Begin by creating interesting invitations (how about coconuts for an island adventure, or messages in a bottle for a cruise?). Also, nightly room drops and post-event photo keepsakes ensure your program extends beyond the dates on-site. Try a tasty local sweet on the pillow, or if the budget allows, monogrammed pajamas made out of silk—a treat when your winners arrive and then every night thereafter sets the trip apart. Here’s another idea: Hire a singer to deliver a gift one night with custom song (or poem) written just for your group. It will be memorable, and everyone will get a laugh!

* A private pick-up never hurts. After a long flight, nothing is better than being whisked away in a private sedan. This extra touch, if you can afford it, makes all the difference when your attendees arrive and when your attendees depart. Make it extra special by having the local drink ready for them in the backseat. If there isn't a popular local drink, then how about the national beer, wine, or sparkling beverage? Make sure you have water/juices for your non-drinkers and let everyone sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Top it off with a hot or chilled face towel. This extra touch will go a long way to making the experience extra special.

* Offer plenty of meal options, but don’t make them think about it. Find the hottest restaurants at your destination and book private tables in advance. Get to know that restaurant's owners or executive chefs. Work with them on a menu created just for your group. If possible, see if the chef has a book published and hand them out as an amenity gift (signed copies are even better). For meal functions, be sure to mix it up different nights. A trip full of organized group dinners with other winners is fun, but sometimes a couple may want to enjoy an evening on their own. Reward trips should provide freedom and flexibility especially at meal time.

Remember: If you wouldn’t want to do it, chances are your attendees won’t either. Be creative, fun, and inspiring. You want the incentive winners talking about your trip in the months after, and talking about what incredible adventure you will be taking on them next year!

P.S. From Sue: You can't go wrong with New Zealand! I just went on a fam there, and was completely blown away by just about everything. Here's the writeup, but it doesn't do it justice. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you want more from me on any of it. It was truly an amazing place, and an incentive that will stay with your winners forever, just as it will stay with me.

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