Selling incentive travel business is different from other sorts of travel, however, for corporate or leisure agents who are prepared to learn the ropes, this can be a profitable niche, with potentially high returns.
“Historically it’s been the very best spend per person of any type of group travel,” said Bruce Tepper, vice president of Joselyn, Tepper & Associates, a travel industry consulting and training firm.
“This is another business that has never been driven by commission. Agents, not the suppliers, set the margins. It’s lucrative.”
Incentives may also attract agents seeking a new challenge. “It’s something totally new and different and enables you to learn new stuff and new means of doing things,” Tepper said.
The first task after choosing to pursue incentive company is being willing to dedicate staff towards the effort, whether it’s existing staff which will be trained or new hires dedicated to incentives.
Once that decision is created, agents should get training.
Now could be a good time to do that. SITE, the Society of Incentive Travel Executives, plans to launch a whole new Certified Incentive Specialist program in the end of the year. The two-day program will be created for incentive travel newcomers and will not require membership in SITE nor any minimum experience.
Incentive travel sellers need to understand companies in addition to their motivational goals, whether that’s inspiring staff to market more or moving customers to buy more products and services.
Once agents know the way incentives work, they should start seeking incentive business from existing clients. A primarily leisure agency might mine its customer base for executives or company owners. Agents who happen to be country club members are able to also use that as a good source of potential customers.
Incentive travel is really a natural for incentive travel & meetings association. “Use your own personal customer base to distinguish possible leads then check out their employee rewards program,” said Tim Smith, president of GlobalPoint Travel Solutions, a $70 million agency in San Diego, which does about 3% of their business in meetings and conventions.
“It’s much better to sell a program for an individual or company with whom you possess an existing relationship as opposed to chasing a vaporous potential consumer. Love the main one you’re with and you’ll expand your influence,” Smith said.
Identifying prospective clients
Those that want to go after new customers won’t struggle to find prospects.
“An industry in everyone’s backyard which uses incentives in many cases is car dealers,” said Tepper. “Even a little dealer has 20 or 30 salespeople.
“Look for distributors of anything, like Coca Cola and Pepsi bottlers. You don’t really need to be in Ny, Chicago or L . A . to begin,” Tepper said.
Dealing with incentive groups requires both a brand new mindset and new list of contacts.
“You’ll be handling a completely different network of suppliers,” Tepper added. “Even together with the airlines and hotel companies you’ll be handling differing people.
“And, you’ve reached enter into this thinking forget commission. We do anything from net. What pricing we use determines everything we sell for.”
Agents seeking incentive business must also choose their agency’s level of involvement. They may designate a devoted team to designing, managing and implementing incentive programs or seek the help of meeting and incentive planners.
Operating the incentive business directly is, of course, more lucrative. In addition, it means agents are unable to only take on the incentive business of clients with existing programs but could find companies that have not had a motivation program.
An alternate way to get involved in this business would be to team with a gathering planner or meeting and incentive house. “It might be the perfect thing to do. There are millions of one- or two-person meeting planning businesses that may want to pair up with a broker.” said Tepper.
An alternative choice is usually to partner with a company like Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based Acclaim Meetings, which works jointly with agents on negotiations, bookings, commission collection and technology. (Editor’s note: Owned by American Marketing Group, Acclaim Meetings is a sister company to Travel Market Report.)
Learning the business is crucial
Either way, the key to success is understanding incentive programs and exactly how they operate, based on Anne Marie Moebes, executive vice president of Acclaim Meetings.
“An agent first must understand why the business offers the incentive; what their set goals are and why the staff member is motivated to win the incentive,” she said.
“If you recognize what’s in it for all parties, the agent can make an educated decision on what to offer as being the travel product,” she said.
“It must fulfill the budget and requirements from the sponsoring company but at the same time entice the winner/employee in addition to their spouse or guest if they are area of the program. Often the spouse could be the driving influence.”
As with all areas of travel, developing relationships is crucial not simply for clients however for vendors. “You need to work very closely with vendors. Use preferred vendors therefore you know they may go all the way,” said Wendy Burk, CEO of La Jolla, Calif.-based Cadence Travel.
“Use those you have a longtime relationship with, because eventually it’s exactly about relationships,” Burk added. “The danger of handling corporate, leisure and meetings may be the domino effect. Should you screw up one you’ll screw up all 3.”
Advice for smaller agencies
Although larger agencies with dedicated incentive travel staff might be very likely to handle incentive programs without outside help, even smaller agencies will go it independently.
Carol Horner came up with the Virginia Beach, Va.-based Horner Incentive Group inside the mid-1900s after a long period for an agent and agency owner. She and her husband still own a travel agency but were advised early on to generate a different name and identity to the incentive business.
“That’s what we did and thank goodness, because we changed our agency’s name three times. With my incentive business the name stayed exactly the same right away,” she said.
All-inclusives for incentives
Being a smaller agency with annual sales of $8 million, Horner finds it simpler to utilise all-inclusives in their programs. She utilized to create cruise incentives but now 49dexqpky programs featuring Mexican and Caribbean all-inclusives.
“You convey more flexibility with land-based programs. That you can do more team-building activities,” she said “A cruise is too restricting for many people with regards to the dining. The VIP feels obligated to get along with the workers every single night. And it’s far more lucrative to complete an all-inclusive than the usual cruise.”
Ensure it is unforgettable
The task of the incentive planner is to create unforgettable experiences for participants.
“The single most important thing is the wow factor – the wow factor in relation to the venue, the entertainment, the graphic design as well as the theme to thank their customers or top employees,” said Cadence Travel’s Burk.
“It could be ordinary London or Paris, but it will likely be something they can’t buy off the shelf. Every aspect is going to be unique.”