Lately, investments in ‘Incentive travel’ have been growing steadily, owing largely to its success in meeting corporate objectives – namely revenue growth, employee morale, and loyalty. In fact, in a recent survey undertaken by SITE, it was found that 96% of respondents agreed that their incentive travel programs were ‘very effective’ or ‘effective’ in achieving program objectives as measured by increased sales/revenue.
By 2020, India alone is expected to generate more than 2 million outbound tourists for MICE and will continue to grow at 7.5-10 % YOY. With this article, I hope to shed some light on the operational challenges faced by the growing incentive travel industry and how technology is helping shape the future of the sector.
For starters, an incentive travel program usually involves collaboration between 5 broad actors, namely – program coordinator (corporate), group members (internal or external employees), MICE operator, Tour manager and, finally, third-party vendors (VISA, Airlines, Activity vendors).
The moment the corporate defines the incentive program criteria such as budgets, destinations, and category wise eligibility – the MICE operators are engaged. The registrations for participants are handled either at the corporate or the operator level.
The dealers/employees are approached individually to check their availability. The MICE operator will verify the documents, create a detailed excel tracker, and pass it along to the other departments for fulfillment.
The pre-departure execution stage involves sharing of travel documents, i.e., E-Visa, Flight Tickets, Agenda, Hotel bookings and, finally, on-ground management.
Broadly, the challenges faced by either of the two parties are with the following:
- Document collection: It is usually the first step in the operational process and the most tedious. It may be handled at the corporate level or outsourced. The different methods used are as follows:
- Zonal/Regional level sales managers individually reach out to members to confirm availability and collect documents.
- Internal WhatsApp groups used to engage members and request for documents
- MICE operators usually reach out to all members telephonically – collect information and request for documents.
- Communication: Communication is a large part of the process, since fulfilment team needs to reach out to individual members on issues with document pendency/non-compliance, itinerary updates, biometric, and interview date requests.
- Document sharing: It is either distributed as a hardcopy or shared with program coordinators, who in turn distribute the documents individually. Backups need to be carried in case any document is lost.
- Data entry errors: In most cases, operators receive original passports and manual line entries are created on excel. When dealing in large numbers, typographical errors are common – which then get transferred to other teams (Airlines and VISA) and can come at a high cost.
- Change Management: Any change or updates during an ongoing tour is a challenge. In most cases, WhatsApp is the preferred tool of communication.
- Collaboration: Required at multiple touchpoints – at the corporate level, within corporate and MICE operator, and among the different teams at the operator level.
- Tour Manager: Keep track of ad-hoc expenses and manage changes on the go.
- Feedback Collection: Feedback is collected post-tour through a physical feedback form.
From an industry standpoint, balancing corporate interest with operator limitations are a big challenge. While the program co-ordinator expects the highest quality at the lowest price, the operator is restricted by the budgets to go beyond the basic commitments.
In this challenging environment, a travel technology solution is the only way to bring down cost through operational efficiency and raise the experience of the traveller.
Available MICE technologies vary in their use cases and feature list. While most focus on conferences and exhibitions, incentive travel (which covers roughly 65% of all global movement), gets scant attention.
Travelexic solution, for incentive travel, focuses on raising the overall quality of the incentive program by bringing the corporate, the MICE operator, and group members on the same platform. Travelexic’s travel solution enables collaboration, collective communication, improved tracking, and better pre & on-journey engagement.
It helps save significant time and resources during the different stages of the operational process, which includes – registration, document collection & sharing, biometric and interview scheduling, and lastly, on-journey management.