Managing an incentive trip

[What? The venue didn't tell you that the square they are on is where the local drunks take their siesta?]


Let’s not forget, fellow Eventurers
, winning an incentive trip, whether in the UK or overseas is a big thing for the winner. There might be a few bragging rights earned amongst colleagues; friends and family will be impressed but ultimately of course, the trip is a reward for all of the winner’s hard work and dedication.   There should be plenty to look forward to and if the planning has paid off, the real power of the incentive is when the winners return and share their stories with their work mates – what better motivation for everyone to work towards the next one?

Key to ensuring this sort of response is the recce.

A recce is basically a site visit – but on a whole different level. The amount of planning that goes into the recce can seem disproportionate to the duration of the visit, but this is where you find out whether your desk research has given you an accurate picture of what you are dealing with.

And let’s not forget, in order to even get to the stage of the recce, you’ve already carried out a whole lot of research into options for locations, venues, activities, transport etc. Your client has selected this option as their preferred choice and so between you, there is already quite an investment of planning, time and emotion into the recce option.

The information you’ll need to gather on the recce will vary slightly depending on whether the final incentive trip will be hosted or not. Either way, the four core elements should be as follows:

1.  Identify the Suppliers
The chances are, your group will be staying at least one night so start with the basics – identify some target hotels to visit. There’s a lot to consider: the location, price, quality of rooms, vibe and fit with the group, can coaches drop off nearby and crucially – the kind of service you’ve received so far. We would usually have one or two targets in mind but have another three visits scheduled as back ups.

All of the above applies equally to all of your other suppliers such as activity providers, restaurants or transfer companies. Have a preferred selection already in mind along with some back-ups. Plans can change at short notice for reasons not of your own making.

2.  Plan Your Meetings
It’s not enough to just stroll around looking at places and spaces – prior to arriving on your recce, you’ll need to have scheduled meetings. Not an easy task when you’re only there for a short while and you’ve got to work around their diaries too. Not only do you have to find the suppliers, you have to find where they are on the ground, relative to each other, so that you know how to get to and from them, the quickest way possible. You’re a stranger in a strange town, often with a language barrier. Google maps will get you so far but it might take longer than you think for your mind map to kick in!

Also, you need to check out the immediate environment. Being there, on the ground can tell you a lot that perhaps, you wouldn’t learn from the venue. They’re unlikely to share that scaffolding clads the building and dust is everywhere, or that the square outside is where the local drunks gather for an afternoon nap.

3.  Absorb the Bars & Restaurants
Tough job eh?
The chances are, bars and restaurants will be as important to the success of your incentive as the hotel and activities. You may not be able to sample all of the food options at every restaurant you visit but you can get an idea of menu, prices, spaces within the restaurant, atmosphere and how you think your group would be treated. Look for any potential enhancements such as welcome drinks, exclusive seating areas and critically, whether they accept card payments. Strange as it sounds, not all places do, especially in Europe. This could be critical if the group won’t be hosted by someone from the agency.

4.  Become the Font of all Knowledge
If you will be hosting the group (and the host should always have done the recce!) they will quickly come to rely on you for everything, that includes local knowledge. Keep an eye out for local ATMs, pharmacies, taxi ranks, local points of interest such as squares to visit, even doctors and dentists could be useful! Talk to everyone you have a meeting with to gain as much on-the-ground knowledge as possible. You’re on the lookout for hidden gems that can enhance the group experience and potholes that might cause it to lose a wheel. For example, your recce might be taking place at a different time of day/week/month/year to when the group will be visiting. You’ll need to overlay knowledge of this difference on top of the knowledge of your experience. For example – if the town is going to be a whole lot busier at the time of the trip, would you plan things differently?

At the start of the recce you’ll be like a sponge soaking up information and by the end, you should be able to start formulating a draft plan. It can be quite exhausting working on the recce but the information gathered is hugely rewarding. Hopefully, you’ll be overwhelmed by positive options, although the reality is that you may be separating some chaff from your wheat! Some of your draft plan may resemble your original desk-based plan, but by now you will have so much more information to fill in the gaps.

Our biggest two tips are to leave some downtime between meetings and visits – not only will timings fluctuate but you’ll be able to write up notes immediately after your meetings. You’ll be amazed how quickly they’ll begin to blur.

Secondly, take pictures of as much as the town/area as you can – not just the venues you visit. Not only will you have visual references of the places you end up using, you’ll have general imagery for marketing and comms.

That’s all for part one – part two will look at post-recce planning and creating the comms and marketing programme to really drive enthusiasm for your incentive!

Until next time, Eventurers!