Once in a Lifetime

It's not only possible to top last year—it's a mandate.
Mar 01, 2005
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

The Mario Andretti Racing School in Las Vegas offers incentive winners the chance to break the speed limit—and then some.
Hearing Alicia Keys Belt Out a Tune Live, in concert, has got to be a highlight. Sitting 50 feet away from her as she belts one out for the glitterati of the music world at the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles has to be a once in a lifetime experience.

And it was—for 30 of the top sales reps from a leading biotech company and their spouses. This extraordinary trip was the culmination of a nine-month sales incentive program that kicked off with a product launch. Not only did this select group receive tickets to the awards show, but their airfare and accommodations at the Regent Beverly Wilshire were included, as well as a spa treatment and makeup session so everyone could look refreshed for the big night.

Talk about rolling out the red carpet. You might think this would be a tough act to follow, but there are many companies out there that are putting together equally impressive offerings—whether it's to race a 600-horsepower race car at 180 mph or shoot rockets off the USS Hornet in the San Francisco Bay—because the incentive industry has required it.

"Today's incentives demand greater creativity than ever because most employees have 'been there, done that,'" says Mark Bondy, partner/president, VIKTOR Incentives & Meetings, Traverse City, Michigan. As vice president and board member of the Society of Incentive & Travel Incentives (SITE), he says today's companies are under increased pressure to keep their employees motivated and however they do it, it has to get better every time. "Both employees and corporations are more sophisticated now and incentive planners need to create better and increasingly unique and challenging events from those in years past," Bondy says. In today's pharmaceutical marketplace, "better" typically means more ambitious, creative and adventurous, which is much like today's corporate marketplace.

If you don't get in the game, you are missing the game already in play, say many industry experts. Susan Lejeune, vice president of operations, Maritz McGettigan, Philadelphia, has not seen any decrease in incentive trips, but she admits some destinations have changed due to budgetary concerns over the declining US dollar. According to Lajeune, most pharma reps want fun and sun and less structure. "They want more adventurous type activities because they tend to be a younger age group," she says.

John Wilkinson, president, Total Adventures Inc., a San Francisco-based team building, training, and entertainment company, has found that despite post-9/11 travel fears and the economic downturn, there has never been more demand for incentive trips. "This year's first quarter is double over last year, and over our fifteen years in business, we've never been busier," he says.

Incentive travel originated in reward trips to exotic ports of call for top performers. But over the last two decades, incentive travel has evolved, embracing numerous client tailored activities including—but not limited to—team building, adventure travel, product launches and training. Rather than signing up for one incentive activity, the current trend is to let attendees select from an la carte menu, developed based on the company's budget, number of participants and objectives.

"Today, we're seeing a trend toward offering winners a choice of activities, based on their personal preferences," says Bondy. Offerings can range anywhere from spa treatments to golfing fees to individual dining costs at pre-selected locations with arrangements handled by the incentive planner.

It's all about knowing the audience and tailoring the trip to the group.

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