It isn't the promise of an engraved pen set that shifts sales reps into high gear. It isn't the corporate logo polo shirt either. It's the exhilaration of boarding flights bound for places they've never been. It's departing in snow and landing in sunshine. Nothing motivates like seeing the country--or the world--on the company's dime. But the year (or more) of working to qualify for a big group incentive conference can start to drag. How can you keep the spring in the step of sales reps so they'll remain in the game for the long haul?
One answer: individual incentive travel certificates.
Individual travel awards offer flexibility for recipients, who get to choose their travel time and destinations, and simplicity for meeting planners, whose "planning" is done as soon as they hand over the certificates to the winners.
Jump-Start Sales Jana Stern, director of conventions at ReliaStar Life in Minneapolis, for example, ran a six-month contest to boost sales, rewarding her winners with individual incentive travel certificates. Three prize levels were awarded: a two-day Marriott hotel stay, a three-day stay, or a three-day stay plus air.
More than 200 of the 2,500 eligible agents qualified for trips and the contest increased sales at an even higher rate than expected.
Among the drawbacks of using individual incentives, according to Stern, is the fact that some winners forget about them and then request extensions after they've passed the expiration date. (Awards are typically valid for 12 months.) "Marriott was extremely flexible and easy to work with," Stern says, but she adds that next time around she'd consider sending out reminders to recipients when expiration dates near.
Also, some qualifiers assumed that air was included, even when they'd won just the hotel certificate, so Stern points out the necessity of clearly stating what the award entails. She negotiated the price of the certificates upon purchase: "The more I bought, the better the rate."
Overall, she was pleased with the outcome of the competition. "Conventions are great for networking, but our agents loved the fact that this trip was just for them and a guest," she says. "It was a nice perk, and it drove sales."
Jack Connor, of Global Incen-tives in Boston, believes that individual incentives work because of their immediacy. "It's not just any trip, it's a special trip, and one they wouldn't ordinarily be taking," he says. Create as many memories as the budget will allow, he advises corporate customers, to reap the dual benefits of employee loyalty and a strengthened family support system. "A spouse who also enjoyed the trip will be more supportive of the lengths it takes to get there next time."
Here's a directory of certificate programs offered by the major hotel companies and airlines.
HOTELS Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts Individual incentive plans are customized by each property's staff to accommodate a company's needs and price range.
Details: June Locke, National Insurance Manager, Chicago
* (312) 944-4949
Hilton Hotels Corp. Individual incentive plans are customized to accommodate a company's needs and price range.
Details: Francine Liem Cobb, Director of Insurance Sales, Moline, Ill.
* (309) 762-7929
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts Hyatt Stay Certificates--redeemable for stays at Hyatt properties in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, and select international properties
* Classic: $99/one night
* Choice: $135/one night
* Premier: $165/one night
* Elite: $249/one night
Hyatt Weekend Certificates--include breakfast for two
* Select: $298/two nights or $447/three nights
* Prestige: $418/two nights or $627/nights
Hyatt Check Certificates--available in denominations from $25 to $500
Hyatt $100 Certificates--good for $100 off a two-night stay ($10 each with minimum order of 2,000)
Details: Angela Sikkema, Specialist, Corporate Relations, Chicago
* (312) 920-2325
Marriott International Marriott/Renaissance North America Weekend Awards--redeemable on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday nights; include breakfast for two
Flex: valid at 136 participating Marriott Hotels and all Courtyard, Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn, SpringHill Suites, and TownePlace Suites hotels; $109/one night
Gold: valid at more than 165 Marriott properties in the continental U.S.; $135/one night
Select: valid at any Marriott or Renaissance property in North America; $199/one night
North America Anyday Awards--redeemable any time; include breakfast for two
Gold: valid at more than 165 Marriott properties in the continental U.S., Canada, and Mexico; $169/one night
Select Platinum: valid at more than 310 Marriott and Renaissance properties in North America; $199/one night; $597/three nights; $995/five nights; $1,393/seven nights
Worldwide Awards--valid any time at Marriott and Renaissance properties worldwide; breakfast included; $295/one night
Marriott Cheques--available in denominations from $10 to $100
Details: Denise Durgin, Director of Certificate, Bethesda, Md.
* (301) 380-4283
Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company Prestige Travel Awards--$220/one night, select Ritz-Carlton properties; include breakfast for two
Royal Prestige Travel Awards--$295/one night, any Ritz-Carlton worldwide, include breakfast for two
Royal Prestige Suite Travel Awards--$335/one night, suite accommodations, any Ritz-Carlton property worldwide, breakfast for two
Ritz-Carlton Currency--available in denominations from $25 to $500
Details: Pam Ferguson, Director of Insurance Sales, Midwest, Chicago
* (312) 527-5100
Alexis Romer, Director of Insurance Sales, New York
* (212) 888-6800
Starwood Hotels & Resorts Details: John Jeffrey, Global Account Director, Flower Mound, Texas
* (972) 691-3105
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Prices not published
Value Awards--redeemable on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights
AnyTime Awards--redeemable any night of the week
Both available in four categories:
Bronze: valid at select Wyndham Hotels and full-service Wyndham Garden Hotels in the continental U.S.
Silver: valid at more than 90 Wyndham Hotels, Wyndham Garden Hotels, and Wyndham Resorts in North America and the Caribbean
Gold: valid at Wyndham and Wyndham Garden hotels in North America and select Wyndham Resorts in the Caribbean
Platinum: valid at Wyndham Resorts in the U.S. and Caribbean, and at Wyndham and Wyndham Garden hotels in North America
Wyndham Gift Checks--available in denominations from $25 to $100
Details: Laura Tallman, Dallas
* (214) 863-1338
AIRLINES American Airlines Something SpecialFlight Certificates--available as one-way or roundtrip coupons; prices depend on destination and range from $399 to $999 (coach only); Saturday-night stay normally required
Incentive Gift Certificates--available in any amount in increments of $25, which can be applied toward the purchase of any published fare
Details: Incentive specialists
* (800) 677-9555
Or order online at: www.aa.com
Continental Airlines World of Thanks Certificates--available for roundtrip travel; prices depend on destination and range from $350 to $3,500; Saturday-night stay normally required
Details: Sandra Golden, Incentive Sales Manager, Houston
* (800) 322-8662
Delta Air Lines Win The World--available for roundtrip travel; prices depend on destination and range from $369 to $3,599; Saturday-night stay normally required
Minimum order: 10 certificates
Details: Tom Cangelosi, Atlanta
* (800) 241-5008, ext. 7156893
Hawaiian Airlines Wings of Paradise--pre-paid air travel certificate, offering a set fare discount valid for one year
Gift Certificates--available in denominations from $25 to $250
Minimum order: five round-trips or 10 interisland segments
Details: Hawaiian Airlines Group Resources
* (800) 554-2924, ext.18
Northwest Airlines Northwest/KLM On The Move Individual Travel Rewards--available for travel on the Northwest/KLM route system; prices depend on destination and number of certificates ordered; certificates can be personalized with your company's logo; Saturday-night stay normally required
Minimum order: 10 certificates with a travel period of one year
Details: Northwest World Meeting & Incentive Line
* (800) 328-2216
Or order certificates online at
Southwest Airlines Southwest Airlines Gift Certificates--available in denominations from $10 to $100; can be used toward travel to any Southwest destination
Details: Beth Harbin, Projects Manager, Dallas
* (214) 792-5452
US Airways Dividend Incentives--individual awards available for up to 50,000 dividend miles per year (equal to two roundtrip tickets anywhere in the continental U.S.); cost is two cents per mile in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,500, and 5,000 miles
Minimum order: 50,000 miles
Details: U.S. Airways Service Center
* (800) 883-1019