How to Develop an Incentive Travel Program

How to Develop an Incentive Travel Program

What is incentive travel?

Incentive travel is a trip that companies plan and pay for to reward employees who meet certain performance goals. This type of incentive is usually used to motivate sales teams. The aim of an incentive travel program is to boost performance and employee engagement. 

Incentive travel can consist of group travel that top performers take together or individual vacations for the trip earners and their families. While some time on an incentive trip is supposed to be dedicated to professional development, the majority is reserved for leisure. 

What are the benefits of an incentive travel program?

Companies invest in incentive travel programs because of their great return on investment.

Incentive travel boosts employee productivity and engagement

According to a study by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), incentive travel is linked to a 112% increase in sales and an 18% increase in sales productivity. It inspires healthy competition in employees who are vying for this exclusive reward. 

Increases employee retention 

A different IRF study found that travel is one of the most powerful workplace incentives employers can offer to boost job satisfaction. When employees are happy with their work, they’re less likely to leave.

In their publication on the components of a successful incentive program, the foundation also found a correlation between incentive travel winners and tenure. Employees who earn incentive trips are the best at their jobs. They also stay with their employers longer than employees who don’t qualify for these vacations.

Incentive travel programs can be customized

There is no one-size-fits-all incentive travel program or trip. Employers can customize trips for different types of interests, like food, wellness, or outdoor adventure, and even offer trip tiers to reward achievement at different levels. 

Travel is a universally appealing incentive

Everyone knows that millennials love to travel. In fact, 72% of millennials prefer experiences over things. But millennials aren’t the only ones who incentive travel appeals to.

Three in four Americans get more pleasure out of experiences than material goods. Psychological studies have found that experiences provide long-term happiness, while items only provide short-term happiness.

Travel is a more powerful motivator than cash

When top-performing employees receive a cash bonus, they use it like they would their regular compensation and put it into their savings or towards ordinary expenses. This extra money isn’t treated as something that should be spent on something memorable but on something practical. 

Simply put, cash doesn’t produce the same emotional response as “winning” an all-expenses-paid vacation.

Incentive trips create lasting memories

The memories made on incentive trips make them powerful motivators. It’s easy for employees to forget how they used a cash bonus (fixed a leaky roof? Made another payment into student loans?) but the memories made on an all-expenses-paid trip to Tuscany stay with them forever. 

And when employees reminisce on that trip, they’ll crave more experiences like that and will be motivated to work hard to earn the following year’s incentive trip.

Travel is an experience that is social and shareable

Group incentive travel creates deeper bonds between colleagues, which creates company loyalty. Solo incentive trips for an employee and their family also inspires company loyalty. An employee’s kids will think their company is awesome for sending them to Hawaii! 

Plus, incentive travel earners will most likely tell their colleagues about their trip on social media and in the office, which will motivate colleagues to work hard to go on the next trip. Incentive travel is a social experience that travelers will want to talk about.

An incentive travel program enhances company culture and reputation

Company-sponsored travel promotes a workplace culture that values hard work and recognizes employees for it, which has numerous benefits.

Employee recognition boosts job satisfaction a whopping 14-fold. Recognition also makes employees five times more likely to put in their best effort, seven times more likely to stay with their company, and six times more likely to recommend its services or products to friends. 

An appealing company culture aids recruitment

When employees talk about or post about their incentive travel on social media, they’re helping recruit for their company. Their friends and networks see their company as a great place to work because it cares for its team members and rewards them for their hard work.

Plus, research shows that employees who are recognized for their work are 15 times more likely to recommend their employer to job seekers. Incentive travel earners turn into ambassadors for their companies.

How can I develop an incentive travel program?

Follow these steps to get your company’s incentive travel program off the ground.

1. Set clear, achievable goals 

What do you want your travel program to achieve? More sales? Unrolling a new product in record time? Attracting investors?

Set clear goals for your incentive program, then convert these company-wide objectives into measurable goals employees have to meet to qualify for the incentive travel, such as:

  • Increasing sales 5x
  • Generating 20x more leads
  • Decreasing product development time by 2 months

2. Set the theme

Create a theme for the travel program. Will you be organizing a group incentive trip for urban explorers? Will you be sponsoring individuals on relaxing family vacations to tropical destinations? Get creative and offer exclusive experiences to boost employee interest.

3. Communicate the campaign

Create buzz by doing a dramatic unveiling of the program or its next reward destination. According to an IRF study, trip location reveals are one of the top motivating factors for incentive travel. We recommend using your annual meeting as the stage for this announcement.

4. Provide visibility into how employees are tracking against goals 

Make it easy for employees to know where they stand in relation to each other and the program’s goals with leaderboards. Visibility keeps employees motivated. When they see their progress, they know they’re working towards something tangible.

5. Create tiered incentives

While incentive travel goals should be set high to motivate performance, a winner-takes-all mentality created by only an elite few earning a trip can have the opposite effect: disincentivizing employees if they feel the goal is unattainable.

Create different tiers of incentive travel to keep everyone motivated. For example, you might offer an African safari as a top-tier trip, a Caribbean cruise as a second-tier reward, and a domestic destination as a third-tier option. 

6. Organize a well-balanced trip

Incentive travel should be more than just a free vacation. Plan professional development activities for about a quarter of the trip, and leave the rest of the time for leisure so the trip doesn’t feel like work to the winners.

7. Plan a post-trip debrief

When your winners are back from their hard-earned trips, ask them to share photos and videos so your company can share their experiences as motivation for the next season of travel.

Ask earners for feedback on the trip and the overall program. Also, ask those who didn’t earn the trip what got in their way from meeting the goal.

What are the costs associated with an incentive travel program?

The costs associated with incentive travel are an investment into your workforce. You can plan your program in-house or outsource the work to a travel agency that specializes in incentive travel.

Planning incentive travel in-house

If keeping planning internal, consider the costs of air travel, business hotels, meals, activities and excursions, ground transport, event space rentals, legal, insurance, taxes, tips, gifts and prizes, the creation of content for internal communications, and a travel manager’s salary.

Hiring an incentive travel agent

Incentive travel agencies can make planning these trips much easier. They typically charge 15-20% of all program costs for their services. Make sure their quote includes cancellation fees, insurance, taxes, and tips to avoid surprises.

>Average incentive travel cost per person

The median spend per traveler on incentive travel programs is $4,000, according to the IRF

However, the average depends on whether you’re using an incentive travel agency or planning travel in-house. Companies typically spend about $8,000 per traveler when they plan their own travel, while those that use an incentive travel agency save $3,000 per person on average.

What are some incentive travel examples?

Check out these example incentive travel programs for inspiration.

Costa Rican wellness retreat

This relaxing trip will let hard-working employees relax in the beaches and rainforests of lush Costa Rica. The itinerary includes a visit to the beaches of Guanacaste, a tour of the Monteverde cloud forest, and bathing in the hot springs of Arenal Volcano. Trip earners will participate in a team-building ropes course through the jungle and enjoy a meditation session that will help them handle stress better when they’re back in the office.

Lower tier reward option: Relaxing getaway to the Florida Keys

Tour of Tuscany

This trip is perfect for lovers of Italian food, history, and culture. Top performers will stay in a private villa in the rolling hills of Tuscany. They’ll participate in team-building wine-making activities and relax with exclusive tours of local vineyards, a pasta-making class, and tours of Florence’s premier museums led by a famed art historian.

Lower tier reward option: A food, whiskey, and music-filled trip to Nashville

The bottom line: Incentive travel programs are worth the investment

In a time in which companies have to compete for talent and profits, incentive travel programs are an investment into both of those fronts. Travel awarded to top-performing employees motivates performance and creates company loyalty. helps you plan and manage travel. Try it for free today.

About the Author: Ana Cvetkovic
Ana Cvetkovic is a freelance writer for She is also the CEO of BLOOM Digital Marketing, a creative marketing agency that specializes in creating demand generation content for SaaS companies in the hospitality and travel industries.