Great Rewards

If you want to get more out of your staff, devising an incentive plan works wonders.


In many lines of work, praise and rewards are pretty thin on the ground.

A boss who requires better work from you is often more likely to criticise your last effort than to offer you an incentive to do better next time. But how much better would you respond if your boss offered an incentive, rather than a caustic comment? A carrot, not a stick.

That’s where the world of incentive travel comes in, with enlightened companies realising that cajoling is far more effective than carping. Done well, it comes at no cost to the company, is easily organised through an incentive travel specialist, and sees your figures soar. As well as boosting sales and profitability, a successful incentive scheme can raise morale, make people feel appreciated, reduce staff turnover and make your company a preferred employer as word of the enticing scheme spreads.

Johan Venter of incentive specialists Urban Ginga creates a leaderboard for his clients so employees can track how they are ranking against their colleagues.

“If 10 people get to take a partner with them on a trip and you’re number 11 and you need to make five more sales you know exactly what you need to do to knock someone off the top,” he says.

The campaign can also set monthly targets so people can win smaller awards along the way as they work towards winning the trip.

Venter’s clients have become very focused on a return on investment, and that’s an angle Urban Ginga emphasises.

“Your sales incentives shouldn’t cost you extra money. Work your budgets and targets so the cost is covered, and that’s what a lot of people are not doing. If it eats into your costs then it defeats the purpose.”

If you want your sales force to generate R1 million, set a target of R1,2 million to cover the cost of the promised trip and still leave you holding R1 million.

How the prize is structured depends on the culture of the company and the type of employees. While a few firms take all the winners as a group without their partners, 70% of Venter’s clients let the winners take their partners for free. A few even give winners the option of paying for their kids too.

“Why should you want to go away for a week without your partner and children?” asks Venter. “That’s the carrot, because people spend all their money on their bond, their kids and a car, and overseas holidays are not high on the list of priorities. If their partner gets to go, it encourages employees to do better and partners to support them, so you have two people pushing towards the target.”

Another option is to give individual winners a travel voucher to spend how they like.

“That gives them flexibility in where they go and who they go with. Usually the company decides where they’re going, but if that doesn’t tickle your fancy you won’t work for it,” Venter says.

At the end of every campaign, Urban Ginga conducts a survey among employees to find out what kind of trip would best motivate them.

“We can say 90% of your people want to go on a cruise in the Med next year, so why don’t we look at that? Our value add is that we help them spend money on the right type of trip to incentivise their staff with the right kind of carrot.”

Another benefit of using a professional incentive company is that they can accompany the winners to make sure everything runs smoothly. That may inflate the bill, but with larger groups the organiser often gets a free room or free airfare anyway.

“Most clients insist that we go along because the whole point is for them to enjoy the experience and connect with other people, so they don’t want to run around making sure everything works,” says Venter. “I’d rarely let a group of 20 people leave the country on their own – you’d be amazed at what can go wrong. People leave their brains behind on these trips because they’re so used to everything being done for them. And if they’ve ever had a medical emergency they will insist you go with them because the logistics of getting someone hospitalised and dealing with insurance is a big palaver. Usually everything is fine, but we’re there if things go wrong.”

Companies all around the world recognise the power of incentive schemes, says Tes Proos, CEO of inbound travel company Crystal Events. Proos is also past-President of SITE Southern Africa, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence.

“I think most copanies see the value in it, although some corporations don’t. That’s where the opportunities lie for us to educate them, because even though it sounds like a grand holiday it’s a highly motivational tool,” she says.

There are always some workers who will excel and some who never will, no matter how you try to motivate them. Incentive trips work best in firing up the large portion in the middle who are doing well, but could go the extra mile.

“It’s very easy to measure the return on investment. If the target is $5 million then covering the programme might need $5,2 million. If they exceed that, the programme has been paid for, and people who are blown away by the trip will work to go again next year.”

To put a figure on it, a good travel incentive can boost productivity by 18% and produce a 112% return on investment, says Gavel International, a US-based Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibition organiser.

One specialist working exclusively with South African companies is Mauritius Incentive Connection (MIC), which has created a consortium of partners including 10 high-class hotels, a transport company on the island, and a production company to handle events. This year a cruise operator and a restaurant are joining the consortium, says its Sales Manager in Johannesburg, Nadia Steenkamp.

“Travel agents make use of us because we offer the whole package, so they don’t need to find someone to run excursions and the transport; we make their lives easier,” she says. “All of our properties can cater for a minimum of 15 people and one can handle up to 800, so we have a variety of choice, especially if there are budgetary constraints. And the hotels know us so we get preferential treatment.”

Steenkamp plans to start building direct relationships with corporations that offer incentive schemes for their employees. She believes they’ll like the service because Mauritius is close enough to be easy, but exotic enough to be aspirational.

Your staff will no doubt have a good idea of what incentive will motivate them to give their all to the success of your company. And whatever that incentive may be, there are ways to make it happen.

  • Add the cost of the trip to your overall sales target, otherwise the incentive is eating into your profits.
  • Raise the competitive edge by creating a chart to show the targets, the running total and the top performers, for a visual reminder of what people are striving for.
  • Allow the winners to take their partners, so their spouses are also encouraging employees to hit the targets.
  • Make sure the destination appeals to your team. If they’re family types, consider giving vouchers so they can organise their own trips, rather than trying to persuade them that a week in the company of their colleagues is appealing.
  • Budget for an incentive trip organiser to join the party. If something goes wrong, it’s crucial to have someone on hand whose job is to sort out problems.

With a whole world out there to choose from, structuring a trip that will best appeal to a diverse workforce takes some creativity.

Local cruises to nowhere have fallen from grace except for companies on a limited budget, says Johan Venter of Urban Ginga, but cruising is still popular if you do it in style.

“Cruising is hugely aspirational because you unpack once and get to see five to seven destinations in one trip, and the earlier you book the better fares you can secure. We’ve had a few clients doing cruises to Alaska which people absolutely love. That involves three flights and two visas and it’s expensive; it’s not something people generally do for themselves so that works really well.”

Cruises also let you buy an all-inclusive drinks package, so the company doesn’t get hit with an unexpected booze bill if the nightly parties get out of hand.

Crystal Events has partnered with tour operators in Harare and other cities to offer trips to Victoria Falls, Botswana and Namibia.

“East Africa is booming, and improving air links are making West Africa much more accessible, so there are lots of opportunities around Africa,” says Crystal Event’s Tes Proos. “For groups with the budget there are lovely island resorts around Mozambique and Tanzania. Zanzibar and Mauritius also work well for a four- or five-night stay, and can work out cheaper than Cape Town.”

Mauritius has always been popular with South Africans, yet it’s still considered aspirational, says Nadia Steenkamp of Mauritius Incentive Connection.

“Mauritius is good value for money and it’s easily accessible compared to other places that are double the flight time away and require a visa. It’s a destination that’s continually developing and we love being creative, so if a company has been there two years in a row we ask ourselves what can we do to make it new and exciting for them.”

Far closer to home is Karkloof Safari Villas, which is a good example of what’s available if you want to give your staff a wildlife experience. Companies can book all 16 of its large villas so winners can take their partners or families and enjoy sole occupancy of the lodge. An all-inclusive package covers the meals, drinks and game drives, and there’s a swimming pool and a separate spa. Since it’s only 20 minutes from Pietermaritzburg it’s easy for companies that want something luxurious and exciting without travelling far.


Some incentive trips include a portion of time spent in meetings or strategy sessions, but that’s not a great idea.

In the past, it used to be a handy way of twiddling your tax bill, by claiming that a prize was actually a work event. But South African companies can no longer write it off as a tax expense, so the pretense of portraying a jol as a business trip is pointless.

Johan Venter of Urban Ginga suggests scrapping any attempt at slotting meetings into the agenda, especially if the spouses come along.

“The point is to have fun and be rewarded for your hard work. The impact of a five-day trip to Paris is lost if, for three of those days, you’re stuck in meetings. That’s not really something to aspire to,” he says.

Instead you can plan leisure-focused group activities. On a cruise, the client may run its own excursions rather than join the shore tours with other passengers, for example.

“A trend we are seeing and one that we advocate is a strong emphasis on a balance between free time and group time. You want them to participate in activities together because it builds relationships and lets them talk business, but you need a balance. In the past a lot of people crammed a trip so full you wouldn’t stop for five days and people came home more tired than they were before they left,” Venter says.

Nadia Steenkamp of MIC agrees that incentive trips are about having fun.

“Some companies tie in a half-day or full-day meeting but generally it’s all leisure. If team building needs to be incorporated we’ll do an Amazing Race and send people off hunting for clues around the island. We built that in two years ago and it’s very popular,” she says.

Tes Proos, who handles inbound groups coming to Southern Africa for Crystal Events, has seen an increasing tendency for trips to involve an element of corporate social responsibility.

“That’s becoming quite an important feature for some companies. It may be planting trees or spiffing up an orphanage as their way of supporting a local community and giving back a little,” she says.