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Incentive Travel Toolkit, Section 4: Program Operations Best Practices
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The Operations Team handles process, day-to-day duties, tasks, and deliverables to ensure successful outcomes. Savvy planners, operations leaders, and event hosts won’t want to overlook key considerations for their incentive travel programs. In this section, we focus on the best practices of the travel program operations, not on the incentive and qualification process of group incentive strategy.
Group Incentive Travel Programs must meet the needs and objectives of the stakeholders, which vary based on many factors. Operations and logistics must all intersect with event design and must be consistent with the strategy, the brand, and the audience’s expectations and needs. It is important to ensure the event design reflects the overarching event and program objectives. This includes not only what a program offers, but also how it operates - how the flow and the elements support the strategic event design. Communication is key, and everyone involved from design to implementation must be on the same page every step of the way.
It is important to remember that LIVE events are just that – LIVE! Plan for success at every step and anticipate potential pitfalls and risks. Ask the “what ifs”, and come up with work-arounds (plans, B, C and D if needed!) Visualize the on-site experience for everyone involved.
Professional event management organizations bring experience and seasoned staff to the table. They can design and deliver programs based on their volume of experience and help alleviate the pressure on program owners. They can help deliver an incentive level experience that makes your program earners truly feel like winners.
Practical considerations arise from program design that directly influence and affect program operations. Continuity is critical! A few priority areas include the following:
Know Your Audience
Company culture and attendee demographics, psychographics, religious beliefs, level of travel experience, and so much more should inform event design. Consider how your choices of staff, style of communications, vendors, venues, and activities all reflect and respect company and personal culture. If you see a gap or disparity, review the objectives with the program design team and ask for clarification or for more information. Be sure to also consider dates, times, and durations of any element to ensure that you are operating in line with cultural expectations. Pay particular attention to areas of the program that involve the customer or end-user.
Know and Respect the Budget
This is where the rubber really meets the road. It’s important for the operations team to have a say in how the budget is developed and managed, as well as how it influences design. We all know that when we develop a detailed program budget, right down to badges and promotional items, we are essentially writing an event PLAN. We think of what’s needed, how it will be used, and for what purpose. If you see that the budget does not reflect realistic operational practices, the time to fix it is NOT once the budget and design are set. The Operations Team should be involved in every step so that expenses do not get out of hand. This is also important if sponsors are involved in supporting the program in any way and if income is generated from sponsorships. Bottom line: it’s critical to know with as much confidence as possible that the program will operate within the budget and that it will have every opportunity to meet or exceed expectations for ROI, ROO, and/or ROE.
Know your Destination
Where the event is hosted will have a huge impact on operations and ability to deliver. Again, this is a critical point of discussion with the Program Design team BEFORE a destination is selected and finalized. Destinations will vary in their infrastructure and in their ability to meet the program’s needs. Critical to project management timeline, flow and cost, some destinations have seasonal and cultural practices that will either stop your planning in its tracks or will cause delays or hic-coughs that could have been avoided. Look at everything from airlift and ground transportation throughout the region to local taxes, government regulations, safety, and access to supplies. For example, some destinations may not be serviced by enough air lift to support the logistics you envision for your attendee arrivals and departures. (If only a few flights daily land from select cities, can all of your attendees realistically get on commercial carriers to arrive in time? If not, you’ll likely have to plan around missed welcome receptions or arrivals before and after Day 1 of your agenda.) Additionally, you’ll need to plan logistically around potential challenges based on local traffic patterns, availability of ground transportation and events or other factors that could put your program at risk. It’s also important to plan for potential language barriers; have translators or a means to ensure you can communicate with the local people - right down to the drivers of your coaches!
Much has changed in the travel and hospitality industry as a result of COVID-19. Now more than ever we have learned to ask about local mandates, guidelines, restrictions, and practical implications of anything affecting public health. Ask your local supplier partners, especially DMCs and CVBs, what’s happening in their area, and work with your suppliers to come up with viable solutions and back-up plans.
As travel trends changes, we will also see the impacts on program design and on operations. Be savvy, be flexible, and be patient with your plans and your partners.