Incentive travel is being retooled in these uncertain times, and for some companies, individual travel programs make more sense than ever, allowing winners to travel when and where they feel most comfortable.

HMI, an incentive house in Norwood, Mass., recently experienced this firsthand when a client pulled out of a plan to bring 500 qualifiers to Paris in December. As plans unfolded for the war in Iraq, company management contacted some of its best salespeople — many of whom are stay-at-home moms from middle America. “The consensus was they would not be comfortable traveling internationally,” explains Lincoln Smith, director of business development for HMI. The reward was shifted to individual travel certificates, and the reaction from many was gratitude. “Given the current circumstances in the world, everyone was relieved to not have to travel abroad,” Smith says.

David Dittman, vice president of New Brunswick, N.J.-based Dittman Incentive Marketing Group, had a similar situation recently with a banking client, but for reasons tied more closely to business than to world events. The lender decided that it didn't make sense to have 100 top people out at the same time. The company has moved to individual travel rewards.

Completely replacing group movements with individual travel programs is still the exception, but travel certificates are also earning a close look for their ease of administration, varying price points, and practicality in short-term incentive situations.

Of course, for companies to get the most bang out of individual incentive programs, winners do need to be willing to travel. Philip Duyff, vice president of product development for St. Louis-based Duyff International, is seeing many winners exercising their option to stay home. Producers, he says, are just sitting on their rewards at the moment. “I have never seen this before,” he says. “Many are waiting until the war is behind us and the terrorist level is lowered until they start traveling again.”