To paraphrase from the movie Shrek: Ogres are like onions; you have to peel away their layers to see what lies beneath. The same can be said of incentive qualifiers. How do you know what really motivates them unless you dig deep? And how do you choose a destination that will strongly appeal to many, if not all, to satisfy your sales goals?

That's what Tourism Australia wanted to find out, knowing that while Australia has incredible appeal to Americans, it does not always make the cut. Last year, TA commissioned an online survey of end users, 537 U.S. residents who were eligible for an incentive award or who had recently received one. The results are a revealing look at where qualifiers want to go; what they want to do while they're on an incentive trip; and how different people are motivated based on age, gender, and the kind of company they work for.

While Tourism Australia commissioned the survey — and therefore drilled down into qualifiers' psyches about its destination's potential as a motivational tool — the results reveal quite a bit about international incentive destinations.

Tools to Motivate

Cash and international travel are the most motivating incentives for employees in automotive, financial, insurance, medical, pharmaceutical, and IT — those business sectors that most often use incentive travel as a motivator.

After an international trip, an international cruise is the most popular selection. International trips appeal most to younger employees and those in the pharmaceutical, IT, and financial/insurance sectors. Electronic goods (the only merchandise given as an option) landed last as a motivator among these survey respondents.

Participants were asked where they most wanted to go on vacation and what would be most motivating as an incentive destination. Here are some takeaways:

  • Australia is the most motivating destination, both for general travel and as an incentive destination. Other top choices are Italy, Hawaii, and the Caribbean.

  • Australia and Italy (the second most appealing incentive destination) are among the least visited, in general or as part of an incentive. One conclusion: The destinations least visited and hardest to reach on one's own are very appealing as incentive destinations.

  • Hawaii and the Caribbean are also popular but at lower levels of enthusiasm, while China is a niche destination — strongly appealing to a few.

  • Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean are the leading international destinations visited. A significant two-fifths of respondents have already visited Hawaii.

  • Europe is home to seven of the top destinations in the open-ended question about where respondents would most like to visit.

  • China and Tahiti are the only other destinations outside Europe (besides Australia) to make the top 10.

  • The U.K. does not figure strongly in the survey results, but that could be a reflection of the survey's timing (shortly after the July 2005 bombings).

Attitudes by Industry Sector

Responses were also cross-referenced by industry sector:

  • The only sector in which any destination outstrips Australia is the pharmaceutical sector, in which Italy was the most desired destination.

  • Outside pharma, European destinations are strong motivators for potential qualifiers in financial and insurance.

  • Africa interests the medical sector.

  • Employees in the pharma sector have a narrower repertoire of destinations than those in other sectors.

  • Medical and pharmaceutical employees show a tendency toward more “exotic” destinations.

The Incentive Experience

Respondents rated 11 incentive program activities from “very interested in participating” to “not at all interested.”

  • Looking at scenery, especially beaches, is the most popular activity.

  • Beaches appeal more to the younger generation, historical and cultural experiences to older employees.

  • Spas and massages are second most-popular — more popular with women.

  • The food and wine experience is also very attractive.

  • Meeting locals is popular, especially to younger employees and males.

  • Golf is more attractive to men, especially younger men and those who work in large companies (and in finance). In fact, including golf can often make the incentive unappealing to women.

  • The most desirable bonus in an incentive package is a day to do your own thing.