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Incentive Travel High Yield for Alberta Tourism Economy

The sun is barely up and you’re already enjoying a linen-table champagne breakfast atop Sulphur Mountain, gazing at the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies, eyes peeled for wildlife.

Next up is Italian-style rock climbing on the Via Ferrata at Mount Norquay, or adventure caving in Canmore. The evening gala features chart-topping Alberta musicians and top chefs serving local wild game, farm-to-fork produce and award-winning craft beers, wines and spirits.

Then off to bed in an iconic castle with a new gift placed on your pillow each night.

An impossible dream? Not for travellers who have earned luxury vacations to Alberta as part of an important market segment for the province’s tourism economy – incentive travel. “Incentive travel is high end and high yield,” explains Brian Slot, Travel Alberta’s Director, Meetings, Incentives, Conventions & Events (MICE). “People who have earned these trips spend a lot on shopping and activities. It’s a boost for the entire destination.”

What is Incentive Travel?

Industries with a strong sales or marketing component are always looking for ways to motivate high employee performance and retain top earners.

Organizations like SITE Global (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence) have found that cash bonuses or gifts don’t do the trick on their own.

Bonuses often just end up in the household budget, or if they are spent on extravagances, people feel guilty and stressed about the purchase.

The attraction of a spectacular vacation earned through work is that it triggers no guilt, SITE says. Everything to the smallest detail is paid for by the company, employees are fussed over and publically commended for their achievements.

Does it work? SITE says an employee’s total base compensation would have to be increased by 8.5 per cent to achieve the same effect in performance and loyalty as from incentive travel.

A Lucrative Market Segment

Despite a sluggish economy, incentive travel budgets are getting bigger. A survey by the U.S.-based Incentive Research Foundation found 67 per cent of respondents plan to increase their incentive travel budgets by up to 10 per cent in 2016.

This presents lucrative opportunities for Alberta tourism businesses. The key, says Cathy Macdonald, Senior Manager, MC&IT at Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, is providing experiences that are more than what an average traveller can buy off the shelf.

Whether it’s a private charter on the historic Royal Canadian Pacific train or an exclusive night at the Brewster Cowboy’s Dance Barn or MountView Barbecue, it’s all about making people feel special.

“These aren’t just another tour bus coming through,” says Macdonald. “They are looking for those special nuggets – the little ‘wows’ – that make memories. As an operator, you have to be flexible and creative.”

The spinoffs are huge.

“These people haven’t spent any of their own money to get here, so there’s a real spirit of abandon and celebration,” says Lana Casavant, Sales Executive, North America at Rare Indigo Destination Management. “They do a lot of shopping and spend big on attractions on their free days.”

After a trip of a lifetime, these employees go home, tell their friends about Alberta and return for family vacations, often staying at more affordable lodges and hotels.

“These are people who have money and do travel,” says Casavant. “So if we can go the extra mile, the whole destination benefits from return business.”

Trends for 2016 and Beyond

Incentive travel used to be all about “sun and fun,” and destinations like Hawaii are still popular.

“But demographics are changing and even people in their 40s and 50s want something more to do than sunbathe,” says Macdonald. In particular, the up-and-coming Millennials (ages 20-35) are seeking extreme recreation.

The Incentive Research Foundation says “experiences” are the “new luxury” and Millennials want one-of-a-kind events, locally authentic cuisine, entertainment that reflects the destination, and excursions centred on local practices and customs.

This is where Alberta shines, with our breathtaking, unspoiled wilderness and wildlife, unique history and culture, exhilarating sports and activities, sizzling food and beverage scene, and a safe, friendly environment.

All Seasons Draw

Summer in Alberta has traditionally been the biggest draw for incentive travel, but Travel Alberta, destination management organizations and companies have been raising awareness of the province’s winter wonderland, too.

One winter day for a company’s top earners started around a fire pit, with hot chocolate and hand-made mittens at the Brewster Barn. Then they hopped on dog-sleds, with a stop for home-made cookies.

Next up was “human curling” on Lake Louise, playing the classic game not with rocks, but with colleagues perched on plastic discs.

Soon they were sipping dry-ice cocktails before a breathtaking ice castle dinner. Later, night-time snow-shoeing on the lake and an astronomer with a high-powered telescope unlocking the mysteries of the brilliant night sky.

Incentive travel is all about the extraordinary – both in experiences for visitors and opportunities for tourism partners.

To learn more about incentive travel in Alberta, go to meetings.travelalberta.com or contact Brian Slot at brian.slot@travelalberta.com


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