Is Cash Really King?
There's good news and bad news from the 301 insurance agents who filled out ICP's incentive trip survey in the fall of 2003. The good news: More than three-quarters of the respondents said that they are no less motivated by travel than they were before September 11. The bad news: More than half — 55 percent, compared to 49 percent when the study was last conducted two years ago — said that cash was their preferred reward.
It's easy to understand why the first reaction of some producers would be to pick money over travel. Particularly in challenging economic times, who among us couldn't use a few extra bucks? But money doesn't foster relationships, or create lasting memories, and companies that are looking to build loyal agents aren't going to give up the long-term benefits of incentive travel.
“We've done surveys of all our [incentive] distributions, and the No. 1 request is for cash,” said Mutual of Omaha Vice President Sales and Marketing Scott Taylor, during a panel discussion at the Insurance Conference Planners Association Annual Meeting in Orlando in November. “But,” he stressed, “I want that producer to get to know me. This is a relationship business. I know [incentive travel] works because I've seen it in action. … We don't want to stop doing it.”
The bottom line: Insurance and financial services companies aren't going to dump their incentive travel programs. But planners have to produce ever-more-memorable incentive meetings with tighter budgets and leaner staffs. Learning to reach producers with what they want has never been more important.
Where to Go
One thing that hasn't changed: If you want to please producers with what they like best, give them sun and surf. “Beach resort” beat all other types of properties hands-down as our respondents' No. 1 choice, as it has for the last the last three surveys, with 76 percent choosing it as a preferred facility.
Cruise ships moved up to second place (from third place in our last survey), chosen most often by producers who travel more than once a year (50 percent) and those who are 50 and older (46 percent). Golf and spa resorts came in third, much preferred by respondents under 40 (47 percent) than those 50 and older (32 percent). Mountain/ski resorts ranked fourth, also picked more by producers under 40 (39 percent) than by those in the over-40 age groups. Gaming hotels garnered fifth place, followed by a tie of conference center resorts and large downtown hotels.
Hawaii reigned as the U.S. destination of choice, up from third place in our last survey, with 75 percent of all respondents choosing it as a preferred site.
Las Vegas ranked second. Interestingly, Las Vegas was chosen most often by respondents under 40 (57 percent), although fewer of the under-40 set picked gaming hotels as a preferred property (24 percent).
San Diego/Southern California came in third, closely followed by Miami/Fort Lauderdale — another favorite of the under-40 respondents (41 percent). At fifth place, San Francisco/Northern California was a favorite of the respondents age 50 and older (38 percent), while sixth-place Orlando gleaned a huge vote from the 40 to 49-year-old agents (46 percent).
Once again, the Caribbean/Bahamas was the No. 1 choice for international destinations, chosen this year by greater numbers of younger producers (73 percent under 40 and 72 percent age 40 to 49) versus those age 50 and older (60 percent).
But the strong preference for beach resorts doesn't mean your producers don't have a sense of adventure: Australia/New Zealand kept its second-place ranking as a preferred destination. It was followed by Bermuda (a favorite of the 40-to-49-year-old respondents), Western Europe, Mexico, and Canada.
Favorite U.S. Destinations
- Las Vegas
- San Diego/Southern California
- Miami/Fort Lauderdale
- San Francisco/Northern California
Favorite International Destination
- Australia/New Zealand
- Western Europe
The allure of an “all-expenses-paid vacation” is what motivates the vast majority of our respondents to qualify for incentive conferences. But “camaraderie with fellow attendees” also counted for a very respectable 41 percent — ranking highest with the top-tier producers who travel more than once a year (51 percent) — and “visibility within the company” counted for 40 percent of all respondents. Clearly, networking with peers and corporate execs on incentive trips is not only important to the company, but to the attendees as well. Two out of three respondents said that they believed group incentive travel is an effective motivator.
The old saying “location, location, location” is truer than ever when it comes to pleasing incentive qualifiers. If your producers are independent sales reps or brokers who qualify for more than one incentive program, the destination makes the difference: 91 percent of our respondents in this category said it was the deciding factor that leads them to choose one company's program over another. No other factor came close.
Respondents were more ambivalent about family-friendly incentives: 37 percent said that they preferred the option to bring children on incentive travel programs, 26 percent said they preferred not to, and 37 percent said it makes no difference.
We also asked producers to rank factors that most affected their enjoyment of an incentive trip, from extremely important to not at all important. Quality of meals was the top-ranking factor, (with a 5.4 rating on a six-point scale), as it was in our last survey. It was followed closely by the quality of hotel service (5.3), quality of guest rooms (5.2), quality of recreational facilities (5), and airline service (4.8). Not far behind in the rankings were flight time to destination (4.3), interesting theme events (4.2), and in-room amenities/gifts (4.1). Even the lowest-rated item on the list, the importance of a recognition/awards event, got a 3.9 rating.
Top Five Motivators
- Paid vacation
- Camaraderie with fellow attendees
- Visibility within the company
- Build relationships with home office execs
- Educational opportunities
What to Do
How do producers want to spend their time during an incentive program? Perhaps the most surprising news from the survey was that for the first time, spa treatments was the activity picked by the greatest number of producers (56 percent) when asked what type of activities they want offered during an incentive trip. Note that 81 percent of survey respondents are men — they clearly crave pampering as much as women. Their enthusiasm for spa treatments infers that the spa has become as important — arguably even more important — than the golf course when it comes to hotel site selection.
City/sightseeing tours came in second as an activity of choice, chosen most often by producers age 50 and older (57 percent), followed by snorkeling/scuba diving, far preferred by the under-40 respondents (58 percent) than the over-40 groups. Golf dropped to fourth place, and surprisingly was also preferred by the younger producers under 40 (51 percent) than those 40 to 49 (35 percent) and 50 and older (36 percent).
Despite their desire for pampering, your producers have a definite taste for adventure. When asked which type of incentive travel option they found most appealing, more respondents chose adventure activities such as guided safaris and fishing trips than conventional options such as sightseeing. As would be expected, those under 40 cast more votes for adventure travel (45 percent).
It's also noteworthy that almost two out of three respondents said that high-quality business/educational programs are extremely or somewhat important in an incentive travel itinerary. They may want sun and fun, but they also want useful learning experiences. Corroborating the importance of educational content, more than half of all respondents — and 60 percent of those under 40 — picked “sales techniques” as a speaker topic of choice, coming in just behind first-place “inspiration/motivation” and second-place “humor.”
Top Five Speaker Topics
- Sales techniques
- Marketing techniques
- Insurance product information
Top Five Incentive Trip Leisure Activities
- Spa treatments
- City/sightseeing tour
- Snorkeling/scuba diving
- Deep-sea fishing
While we know that online registration is a huge trend for meetings in general, insurance incentives have been slow to get on the online bandwagon. Only 18 percent of our survey respondents said that they have registered online, just a 2 percent increase from our last survey two years ago.
It's significant, however, that 44 percent of producers say that they would like to register online, up from 33 percent two years ago. Not surprisingly, more agents under 40 (51 percent), would prefer online registration, while 62 percent of those age 50 and above would not prefer it.
The trend to online registration for insurance incentives may be slow-moving, but Web research is proliferating. More than half of our respondents research the destination online prior to attending an incentive program, with those under 40 going online most often (57 percent). In addition, 46 percent of all the respondents go online to get information on the hotel.
Meeting Web sites are also being used quite extensively by agents to keep track of program qualification goals (36 percent), sign up for recreational activities (36 percent), and sign up for educational activities (20 percent). In all of these cases, respondents under 40 use the meeting Web sites more frequently than those over 40.
Safety and Security
Despite the fact that more than three out of four agents are undaunted about travel after 9/11, they're still concerned about staying safe. Forty-four percent of all respondents said that they would feel more comfortable about travel if increased security were provided during the incentive program. Of the 14 percent who said they are less motivated by travel today than they were pre-9/11, twice as many were age 50 and above and 81 percent of them said this was due to safety and security concerns.
However, most producers aren't willing to give up choice locations for added safety and security. When asked if they were more motivated by regional, close-to-home travel than before 9/11, only 15 percent said yes.
Fifty-seven percent of the survey respondents described themselves as independent career agents, 17 percent as employee career agents, 13 percent as managers, 6 percent as independent brokers, 4 percent as financial services advisors, and 2 percent wrote in titles such as agency owner.
They are well-traveled and experienced professionals who regularly participate in incentive meetings. Twenty-one percent attend an incentive program twice a year, 43 percent attend an incentive program once a year, and the rest attend less frequently. They have spent an average of 13 years in the insurance/financial services field.
Twenty-six percent of respondents 50 and older have attended 20 or more incentive trips in their lifetime.However, of that same age group, 25 percent have been in the field 10 or fewer years, implying a second career in insurance/financial services.
While the number of women agents has grown over the years, the male/female ratio dropped 1 percent from our last survey, to 19 percent female respondents. Of those 57 respondents, 20 were under 40 years old, 22 were age 40 to 49, and 13 were 50 and older. Sixteen percent of all women agents attended incentive trips more than once a year and the rest attended once a year or less.
Conversely, of the 81 percent of respondents who were male, three out of four attended incentive trips more than once a year.
The big news: With an average age of 43, agents are getting younger. Of the total pool of respondents, 19 percent were 30 or younger, a significant leap from our last survey when only 8 percent were under 30. Of the remaining respondents, 21 percent were 40 or younger, 33 percent were 50 or younger, and only 27 percent were over 50, compared to 40 percent over 50 in our last survey.
And, of the 81 percent of respondents who were male, there were more under 40 than any other age group. The complete age breakdown for the 244 male agents who participated in the survey totaled 92 under 40 years of age, 75 age 40 to 49, and 76 age 50 or older.
In conclusion, this year's survey suggests that agents are getting younger, more adventuresome, and a bit less conventional in terms of how they prefer to spend their leisure time. This doesn't mean that they want to be challenged with daredevil, hard-adventure activities, however. Think a Hawaiian incentive with a snorkeling/diving trip followed by a beach luau, a Caribbean incentive with off-road jeep tours followed by massage treatments, or a Vegas fling at a luxury resort and spa. And don't forget that the desire for sun and fun notwithstanding, a big part of the take-home is educational content that can help agents be even more productive.
30 or under: 19%
51 or older: 27%
The 2003 Agent Incentive Trip Study, conducted exclusively for Insurance Conference Planner magazine, was designed by the staff of Insurance Conference Planner and our research arm, the Primedia Business Marketing Research Department. Questionnaires were mailed to 1,200 top producers in October and November 2003. We compiled the mailing list with the help of four insurance/financial services companies located across the United States, each of which contributed the names and addresses of producers who regularly qualify for their incentive travel programs. We received 301 complete responses, a 25 percent response rate.