More incentive trips in China integrate education

Emerging incentive travel trends show that some companies want to make employees 'work' during the trip.

The sprawling Alibaba corporate campus in Hangzhou.
The sprawling Alibaba corporate campus in Hangzhou.

Incentive trips have always been a been a mix of business and leisure, both to reward top performing employees and foster closer networking within the corporate culture with the ultimate objective to drive business growth.

Alicia Yao, managing director of IME Consulting, however, believes that gone are the days when incentive trips are centered around luxury travel for company employees and their spouses as companies are keen to achieve more tangible ROIs.

“There are now more corporate events and meetings, site visits planned into the itinerary of incentive trips. I don’t see that many companies organising ‘pure’ incentive trips anymore,” Yao told CEI.

A Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) forum on incentive travel trends held in Frankfurt earlier this year concluded that there were certain characteristic changes for Asian groups, such as educational tours and activities in the agenda as well as adventure-driven team-building activities.

Therefore, the choice of destination becomes ever more pertinent in these ‘kill two birds with one stone’ trips, Yao said.

“It is not because the destination is a great travel spot, or whether there is sun and beach. Companies want to look for a location that has market opening or product launch potential, if not somewhere that offers best industry practices related to their sector for knowledge sharing,” Yao explained.

“Discovery of new investment opportunities would be the most immediate ROIs that we can expect from this kind of trips,” Yao added. She will be speaking at the upcoming IBTM China conference in Beijing next month on problem solving with incentive travels.

Alicia Yao

Between, Chengdu, Guizhou and Chongqing, for example, Yao said an IT company would likely pick Guizhou since the southwest Chinese province is seeing a boom in the IT sector while Huawei has recently set up a data and hub centre.

Yao added that Hangzhou is another popular destination, thanks to the scenic West Lake and pagodas, as well as the Alibaba campus headquartered there.

“Increasingly, there's more cross-market collaboration and many international companies are eager to learn about mobile payments and look into collaboration opportunities with Chinese companies,” said Yao.

It also helps that the local government is supportive of its MICE industry with initiatives such as the Hangzhou International Meeting Bidding Service Center. Hangzhou played host to the 2016 G20 Summit and was third-ranked Chinese city for global conferences between 2011 and 2015 in a report released by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). 

Yet Yao agreed that the main goal of incentive travel remains rewarding top performing employees besides gaining some publicity from interesting itineraries that could further contribute to brand building. She pointed out that local governments may be keen on sponsorship in the future as a win-win solution to promote the destination.

Meanwhile, surveys by her consultancy shows that half of attendees on trips are recurring participants; what differs is top leadership participants depending on the purposes and destination.

“Top management will always be joining the trip to build a closer rapport with the employees. But if the trip involves more collaboration opportunities with local authorities of the destination, you could see the No.1 guy, or even the No. 2 and No.3,” said Yao.

“Cross-departmental participation among leaders facilitates easier decision making rather than a lot of delayed discussions, being in a trip together puts them in the spirit of ‘let’s do it’.”


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