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Going in Style

Posted by Training Magazine on December 02, 2008

By Margery Weinstein

As a journalist, I’m not used to traveling in style. Unless by 'style,' you mean a super-prime seat in ultra-luxurious coach, with a connection or two, and a sleepless red-eye flight thrown in about once a year for good measure.

So my latest journeys on behalf of Incentive magazine have been a revelation, and a relief. In our recessionary times, I expected to find travel no more indulgent than my usual “style,” and I had a fear that despite still sending workers on incentive trips as rewards for superior performance, companies were cutting back by cutting out the first class tickets. Well, I have to tell you, I hope it doesn’t come to that—no matter how financially life and death business gets. What’s an incentive trip, after all, if the journey to the destination is full of misery and woe?

Since misery and woe wasn’t what you were aiming for, I’d like to persuade you of the importance of comfortable transportation—as an integral part of every incentive trip.

I’ll start with my Oct. 15-23 trip to Britain. At first the scenario looked bleak. My press trip’s gracious organizers, Visit London and VisitBritain, informed me that I was booked on British Airways’ World Traveler Plus (fancy economy essentially) on the way there and just plain World Traveler on the way home, but that they had put me on the list for an upgrade. Accustomed, as all us peasants are, to over-booked flights, I held little hope of an upgrade. My negative attitude usually helps keep disappointment at bay on my travels, but this time it wasn’t necessary—I was upgraded both ways to the airline’s flat bed business class section. Given that my flight there was a red-eye with a (very) full next day planned in London, I was much better off than I would have been in an economy class seat (no matter how much better they are than our paltry U.S. airline coach accommodations). In addition to the novelty of being able to lie down (especially critical given that I still haven’t mastered the art of sleeping sitting up), I savored the warm chocolate chip cookies and whip cream-topped hot chocolate at bedtime. I could have opted for a more serious, adult meal of some kind of fancy salad-or-other, but thought the childish menu route more soothing. “Breakfast in Bed” the next morning got me off to a good start. I was still grumpy from spending the night in an airplane, but as I said, infinitely better than I would have been in more measly circumstances.

My argument on behalf of ultra-comfortable transportation on incentive trips isn’t limited to air travel, by the way. I also think, if you’re sufficiently impressed with an employee’s performance, to send him/her on an intended-to-be-indulgent trip, you ought to pony up the added cash for the best train seat possible when locomotive travel is part of the experience. In my (lucky) case, BritRail treated me to a first class seat on my journey from London to Manchester, which, as you can guess by now, I was extremely grateful for (partly, to be honest, because I needed the extra space to store my enormous suitcase). As it wasn’t a crowded train, I had a table and four seats all to myself!  And delightful men who periodically checked to make sure I didn’t want any tea, coffee, biscuits, or cookies. Sure beats our Amtrak, in which nobody ever offered me anything, let alone biscuits.

Beyond air and train, even common place car rides shouldn’t be common on a classy incentive trip. Instead of leaving me to languish in a sweaty, irritable cab line at Heathrow, for instance, Visit London arranged for Tristar Worldwide Chauffeur Services to pick me up (or “collect” me, as the Brits say). My driver not only deposited me safely at the London Hilton Park Lane, but acted, with no nagging from me, as a tour guide, even detouring at one point to show me Royal Albert Hall. Unfortunately (and this is embarrassing to admit, but all true), I was too lazy at the airport to exchange any portion of my modest allotment of American cash into British currency, so I wasn’t able to tip him. But, like a true sport, he didn’t complain.

Then, on my last day in London, to get me from the Hilton to Euston station for my train ride to Manchester, I was transported by the Green Tomato taxi service, a fleet of environmentally friendly Toyota Prius cars. They’re probably more comfortable than your average taxi, and for companies with corporate social responsibility initiatives about making the environment greener rather than even dirtier, it’s a nice addition to the schedule. It shows you’re so forward thinking and organized you’re staying on message even in the midst of indulgence.

Next, I have to tell you about my great Australian transportation experience—well, actually, New Zealand, if you want to be technical about it. On another press trip, from Oct .29-Nov. 5 to Sydney, I was treated to a flat bed on Air New Zealand’s Business Premier, complete with gourmet meals and wine, a personal entertainment system with my own television, and access to the Business Premier lounges in Los Angeles and Auckland, where we made a very comfortable connection onto Sydney (shopping included in the Auckland airport). The airline is promoting the fact that it offers connections to seven cities in Australia, and judging from the relatively good mood I arrived and departed from Sydney with, I’d say they’re entitled to do so.

Then, of course, you can’t neglect the off-the-beaten path transportation experiences that can be a nice added surprise to your group’s itinerary. That’s just what it was when I found myself on a Venice, Italy-style gondola boat on my way to lunch on the day of the Melbourne Cup horse race. A bus or car would have been more efficient, but the novelty (especially in Sydney) of a gondola boat ride spiced up our day, as did the helicopter ride we were surprised with in Queensland on our way from the Australia Zoo to the Spirit House Thai restaurant. 

It’s like I always say: If you’re going to go, go in style.


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