Incentive travel is used to reward employees or business partners for exceptional performance – and it’s on the up. According to Society for Incentive Travel Excellence’s (SITE) 2018 research report, incentive travel budgets are continuing to grow and optimism is high. It’s a win-win for businesses and staff – if employees perform extraordinarily, they get rewarded, and the motivation of reward can lead to sales increasing.

The challenge that companies are facing in their selection of incentive rewards, however, is that because the average employee is already travelling in their private life, they expect more from incentive experiences, and look to a trip that is truly unique. And this is where the challenge comes in – meeting these expectations that make an incentive trip something worth putting in the additional effort to secure a unique and memorable trip that the employees would otherwise not experience in their own travelling capacity.

With this in mind, it’s important to understand what trends are shaping the incentive travel space, and how businesses can ensure their programmes have the desired results. Below are a few key trends shaping the world of incentive travel.

More authentic experiences/destinations

The trend at the moment is to do truly different things, explains CEO of African Tourism Partners (ATP), Kwakye Donkor. Budgets are extremely tight across most businesses, regardless of industry, so organisations that are willing to invest money in incentive travel are really looking for something unique. “People want to discover new destinations. This is driving many people to Africa.” Trips centred on popular sporting and cultural events have always been popular, he notes. Today, for these to hold appeal, incentive travel needs to incorporate once-in-a-lifetime experiences, continues Donkor. But these events aren’t cheap, so finding the right one that falls within the organisation’s budget is key.

Ethical and educational incentives

This trend ties into the experiential and educational travel trend, he explains, noting that educational travel isn’t necessarily for academic purposes, but is rather lending itself towards understanding how people in other countries live, understanding the culture and heritage of the places you’re visiting, and contributing to the community – this is referred to as “travel with purpose”, which means travelling to share skills and knowledge that an individual has with the communities they are visiting. “People don’t just want to enjoy a place; they want to make a difference.”

For Megan Conn, Brand Manager at Bushtracks Africa, incentive trends are also becoming more and more geared toward the future: a combination of eco-travel and tech-travel, and companies are becoming more aware of this trend. Travellers don’t want their trip to have a large carbon footprint; they want to enjoy ethical animal experiences, and favour respectful cultural interactions. So finding destinations with activities that make use of advanced technology such as solar-powered vehicles and boats are more appealing than ever before, not only for their eco-friendliness but for the novelty and excitement they offer, she continues. “Convenience is also key in travel. This is where tech plays an important role, with apps simplifying the booking of transport, activities and hotels.”

The rise of intra-African travel

According to Conn, as visa regulations become less strict, it’s easier for travellers to move between countries. In fact, over a third of African countries have relaxed their visa policies since 2016, with several in the top 20 most-visa-friendly. “In addition to this, there has been a boom in major airlines creating scheduled flights into the lesser-travelled areas of Africa,” she says, adding that there has been substantial development of gateway airports and cities. This makes it easier for businesses to travel to Africa, and more affordable in many instances, which in turn makes Africa an ideal destination for incentive trips.