Lonely girl with suitcase at country road dreaming about travel.John Fisher explains how to choose a suitable incentive travel destination.

In Max Cuff’s now legendary definition of incentive travel, the product hinges on an exceptional travel-related experience. The trouble is one man’s Monte Carlo can be another man’s Macclesfield.

We all know what the most popular world destinations are, thanks to regular surveys of agency and buyer usage. But, where you go often depends on easy air access.

The hotel may also wag the dog when it comes to destination choice. If the client has had an exceptional service experience at one hotel chain, such as Four Seasons, then a strong influence on destination choice may well be whether there is a Four Seasons, regardless of whether or not you can actually get there.

And then there’s the “I’ve been there and I liked it” criterion, which is hard to resist. However, such an approach can lead to choosing the wrong place for the wrong type of group, which is very hard to overcome once the group of 300 is sardined in the bar. What is right for your personal holiday or familiarisation trip off-season in a half-full hotel can be a nightmare in September, when there is a convention in town and there’s only standing room.

When choosing a destination, it is important to take note of the following:

SIZE OF GROUP Now that the air travel market seems to have split into low-cost carriers (no guarantees) and traditional, scheduled carriers taking business-expense travellers, simply finding seats available for large groups at the right price is difficult. Airlines work on maximising their load; so, if you choose a popular city for business travel, you are unlikely to be able to negotiate a low rate for a large incentive group because the airline has plenty of regular business travellers to take up the revenue slack on that route. And, low-cost carriers cannot be relied upon for ‘important large groups’.

HIGHLANDS AND ISLANDS If you cannot fly direct, the exceptional experience is likely to be in jeopardy. However impressive the eventual destination is, if getting there and getting back involves two full days of travel, the participant experience is going to be poor. Although many successful destinations are islands, they are characterised by having limited flights access for large or multinational groups, which can severely impact on the length of the ground programme you can offer, or alternative options in the case of bad weather.

SUN, SEA, AND SAND When you research participants regarding where they would really like to go, invariably they say Hawaii, Sydney, or Acapulco. Sun, sea, and sand is, therefore, a good option. But, you don’t always have to follow the research. These destinations are often deemed to be too far for most groups, so you need to compromise. It goes without saying that the time of year for ‘sun, sea, and sand’ is crucial.

PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING Because incentive travel is promoted to the potential participants before the event, the image ‘halo’ of the destination is very important. Paris is always Paris. But, where exactly is Kota Kinabalu or Brasov, and are they any good? Some destinations have marketed their way into our hearts, but be aware that your participants may be much less travelled than you. You need to consider first impressions, if people have to qualify to attend.

John Fisher is a director at FMI Group. He has over 30 years’ business experience, both as a client and consultant. He has written a number of business books, speaks French and German, and spends most of his leisure time in Italy.