Group Incentive Travel makes a comeback

Among the more spectacular disruptions to business created by initial Covid-19 containment measures, was the dead halt of travel. With the stroke of a Presidential pen, planes were grounded, local transportation halted and boarders locked down. Indefinitely

The entire industry was left aghast and ramifications for Group Incentive Travel providers will resonate for a long time to come.   

At Achievement Awards Group, what should have been an exciting year of trips like a cruise ship charter on the Mediterranean and the Grand Prix in Russia, turned into months of sorting through the wreckage of original plans. This involved reassuring clients, negotiating refunds and making tentative reservations for rebookings. It was a tense period.

Time for reflection

As the industry painfully languished on pause, there was time to reflect on lessons learned from this extraordinary experience. We asked our Group Incentive Travel Manager, Sharon Field, about a few of the stand-out issues for her.

  • Risk management plans. It’s one of the less glamorous, but critically important aspects of Group incentive Travel planning. “It’s the backup you don’t ever want to use, but have to have nailed down,” Sharon said. Risks vary by circumstances and destination, but insurance cover is a standard requirement and it’s important to fully understand your rights and responsibilities. “Claiming is not necessarily a straightforward process”, Sharon cautioned. “We had to deal with insurance companies on many different issues where all of a sudden the fine print became very important indeed!”
  • Strong supplier relationships. There were no winners in the unwinding of existing travel plans and bookings. “Everyone in the travel supply chain had their own livelihoods to protect”, said Sharon. It’s times like these that put professional relationships to the test. Those difficult conversations were made a little easier”, she said,” because of the long-term relationships we have with many of our suppliers. And the mutual respect built over years.”
  • Enduring appeal of Group Incentive Travel. Considering the sudden and indefinite industry lockdown, there was a good chance that clients would simply cancel plans and cut their losses. Sharon and her team experienced the opposite, “Most of our clients opted to postpone, rather than cancel trips.”  It’s a positive sign for future recovery.

Recovery starts local

The future, so far, is looking good for Group Incentive Travel. “For us”, Sharon says, “2021 definitely has a more positive feel and we are already starting to see some green shoots appearing.”

It’s no surprise, that the green shoots are right here in South Africa. Clients who would normally book international travel incentives are asking for recommendations on great local destinations. Fortunately, those are in abundant supply. 

Sharon reports, ” In the month of March we had 4 incentive groups traveling to various game lodges within South Africa, another group travelled to the magnificent lodge in the Kruger National Park in April.”

This is all great news for the local economy. But what about international travel? Exactly when that resumes is anybody’s guess. Claire Jackson, our Travel Operations Manager is “hopeful more countries will open up as more of the global population is vaccinated.”  Mass vaccinations – or a cure – whichever comes first.

Sharon predicts that after so many months of restricted movement, when boarders fully open demand for international travel will surge. “People are expressing a strong desire to travel again. They miss the excitement of exploring new places and sharing new and meaningful experiences with friends, colleagues and loved ones.”

For now, we wait and see.  

An industry perspective

The Incentive Industry 2020 Travel Index, published by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), offers insights and predictions from industry experts globally. These are some of the research highlights:

Renewed prestige of incentive travel. It seems a year without travel has sharpened appreciation and put a new polish on the intrinsic merits of travel as a reward. IRF respondents said that “the desire to travel is far and away the greatest net positive factor expected to influence economic recovery.”

Buyers reorient programs to manage risk. The new watchword for travellers is ‘safety’ and buyers are responding. Sanitation and health security have joined emergency preparedness as top risk management strategies. Urban locations have taken a back seat to  all-inclusive resorts and cruise ships which are perceived as lower risk.

Stakeholder commitment to incentive travel remains strong. An impressive 83% of buyers report senior management and other stakeholders remain committed to incentive travel. However, many also believe that practices will need to fundamentally change to reduce risks. 

The road to recovery. At the time of reporting in 2020, buyers estimated travel activity at 23% of 2019 levels with the hope that activity in the second half of 2021 would drive recovery to 59% of 2019 levels. The majority of respondents (66%) expect a one to two-year recovery period for incentive travel once the virus is formally contained.

Future planning. Estimates of the timeline for full recovery post-Covid vary by region. Western Europe expects a slower recovery (only 54% expect a one-to-two-year recovery), with North America (74%) and South America (71%) more optimistic.

 

Travel in a post-Covid world

The question on everyone’s mind right now is how this experience will change the future of the incentive travel industry. Respondents to the 2020 Travel Index survey were asked, ‘In a post-Covid world, will incentive travel resume where it left off?’

Individual views differed, aggregate views were similar across regions.

  • About 23% of respondents expect travel, once it’s recovered post-COVID, will be fundamentally different
  • About 65% expect it will be moderately changed
  • The rest believe it will be very similar to pre-Covid times

What’s next?

There are too many unknowns to predict the future with any certainty, but we remain passionately positive about the value of incentive travel.

The industry is warming up for a global rebound and clients are ready to go. So, whatever the future of incentive travel looks like – we’ll see you there!

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