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.

Where Are We?

Posted by Stacy Straczynski on November 04, 2008

WhereareweDo you recognize this destination? (Click on image to enlarge.) E-mail feedback@incentivemag with your answer, and be entered into a drawing for a $50 American Express gift card.

Debbie Wilson of Fort Worth Community Credit Union correctly identified Sandpear Resort in Clearwater, Florida in our last issue. Congratulations!

Where Are We?

Posted by Stacy Straczynski on October 02, 2008


Do you recognize this destination? (Click on the image to see an enlarged photo.)

E-mail [email protected] with your answer, and be entered into a drawing for a $50 American Express gift card.

Our September picture featured Bocas del Toro in Panama. Some guesses were close, but no one got it quite right last month!

Just Put It on the Corporate Tab

Posted by Karen Yi on September 18, 2008

Dailyperk_20080917_onthecor You're a corporate employee barely alive after last month's layoffs. After a long dry spell, the company finally decides to send you abroad. You take it. Transportation, accommodation and meals-included. It's an all expense paid trip, but not exactly your dream vacation.

With companies cutting down on business travel and the economy forcing households to rule out leisure trips, employees are being hard-pressed to find alternatives for their vacation. Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Orbitz for Business said in an interview with The New York Times, "a majority of business travelers we survey tell us they're traveling as much, if not more." So how exactly are these employees still managing to take their much needed vacations?

The answer is simple-by putting it on the corporate tab. More and more employees are taking advantage of business trips by meshing them with personal or family vacations. But is combining business with pleasure really a money saving strategy? If the company's paying, why not bring along the whole family, right? Well, not exactly. In reality, tacking on extra days to a pre-paid trip is cheaper because the company already pays for the flight. One less airfare could mean one nicer dinner with the fam. And if you're lucky, you might just be able to extend your hotel stay for the same discounted corporate price.

The economy is not the only gun-hoe encourager behind these business-pleasure vacations. In their profit-seeking schemes, airlines have actually opened up a whole new portal for leisure travel to mooch off of corporations. With airlines increasingly charging for trivialities to compensate for rising oil prices and plummeting profits, they recently incorporated what they call "minimum-stay fare rules." Basically, another money-sucking implementation, but this one might just benefit the corporate world, or at least their employees.

With these new rules, it's the companies that end up losing, paying double to four times as much for short business trips. Cheaper fares require two-to-three-day stays and often a Saturday night. And that's where the vacation time kicks in. If you're going to stay the weekend, benefit from it. Combining these business trips with pleasure ends up being more economical for the company and enjoyable for the employee. It-s a win-win situation. And it's the growing trend.

Your packing checklist is simple and obvious, basically preparing for a work sleepover - now add in baby formula, some toys, a bathing suit and casual clothes.

Whoever said work couldn't be fun?

In the Category of Stranger than Fiction...

Posted by Stacy Straczynski on September 02, 2008

By Terry Epton, Chief Executive Officer of USA Hosts, Ltd. and online columnist for Incentive magazine

When you've been in this industry as long as I have, you have lots of stories to share. Some tales are romantic, some are adventurous, some illustrate genius, some are tragic and some are just plain bizarre--such as this one tale told to me several years ago at an incentive industry conference by one of SITE's founding members and past presidents...

We were at a tiki bar behind the beach resort where an event was headquartered. Our conversation took place as I was taking a break from some rather strenuous body surfing in the amazing waves. While I was watching two of my closest colleagues continue to catch wave after wave, my friend described a site inspection that his co-worker and a client were on for the purposes of wrapping up the details of a future incentive trip.  He explained to me that while sitting on the same stool, at the same tiki bar, his co-worker was watching his client body surfing in similar conditions. The inspection trip had been a success and the hotel was in the process of making some final adjustments to the contract. It was a rather satisfying moment for the incentive company executive, seeing his happy client and realizing that well-made plans were now in place for an impressive sales incentive program, featuring this fabulous resort. All that was left was Shark_surferfor the client to sign the contract and attend a hosted dinner at the hotel's gourmet restaurant before returning to the States in the morning. That's when he noticed his client being followed in the surf by a large shadow, which turned out to be an enormous shark.  As quick as he could stand up and shout, the shark ended his client's life and the incentive program that was so close to fruition.

Hearing this account, I was stunned for a moment, and then shocked to see my two close friends still out there in the waves. I called them in, bought us all a round of drinks and counted my blessings! In what other business would you hear a story like that? 

Editor's Note: Be sure to read Terry Epton's September column on the history of the incentive industry on Incentivemag.com

JetBlue Should Charge More for Blankets and Pillows

Posted by Jonathan Tannenbaum on August 05, 2008

A lot of people are angry with the airline companies since they're now requiring payment for once free amenities. Their outrage has only increased with JetBlue's announcement that it will begin charging $7 for a blanket and pillow set. I have news for these whiners: the airlines aren’t doing anything wrong. When you're in financial trouble, it’s entirely appropriate to charge money for some non-essential good or service. It’s simply the rational thing to do.

Like the rest of us, the airline companies are coming to terms with the fact that staying afloat entails making decisions that were previously unnecessary. JetBlue posted a $7 million loss in the last quarter. While this pales in comparison to the losses witnessed by other airlines, the costs of providing air travel are rising, and JetBlue needs to keep its business viable. Quite frankly, I rather JetBlue protect its profit margin raising prices, rather than resorting to more layoffs.

The fact of the matter is that we’re all JetBlue – through and through. I’m sure you could come up with at least one example in the last year where you decided to charge more for something, or decided to stop doing something voluntarily. You were simply making a reasonable decision, one that said you had to change your behavior in the face of tough economic circumstances. If by some small chance if you haven’t made such a change, it’s either because you’re weak – or because you have a trust fund. 

If people take offense to such pragmatic decisions, well, that’s their problem. In the case of JetBlue, customers’ indignation stems from their own sense of entitlement. They’ve enjoyed some degree of comfort for a period of time and now they feel they have a god-given right to it. However, they’re living in a dream world. Why should the airline companies sacrifice just so they can be cozy? 

Looking at the times in which we live, the CEO of JetBlue would be wise to charge more for blankets and pillows. Especially considering that passengers get to keep the set, $7 is too generous. JetBlue should charge at least $12.   

Where Are We?

Posted by Stacy Straczynski on August 04, 2008

Inc_20080801_wherearewe Do you recognize this destination? (Click on image for larger view)

E-mail [email protected] with your answer, and be entered into a drawing for a $50 American Express gift card.

Last month’s picture featured the Florida Town of Celebration. The winner was Guillermo Gutierrez of Florida First Capital Finance Corporation.

Vegas, Anybody?

Posted by Avi Nimmer on July 09, 2008

“Can I have everybody’s attention, please? In order to show our appreciation for all the hard work you guys have been doing, we’re taking the whole office to Las Vegas for the weekend. Fully paid.”

Sound crazy? Maybe, but according to a recent article from Incentive Magazine’s Web site, Las Vegas is becoming quite the popular destination for incentive programs. When I first read that, I went through a wide range of emotions: first shock (Las Vegas?), followed by jealousy (why am I not in the city of sin?) which obviously lead to a good 15 minutes of day dreaming (Seventeen? Hit me…Twenty-One! Whoo!...Yes darling, I’d love another cocktail).

Once I was able to bring myself to stop salivating over my keyboard, I realized what a great idea Las Vegas is for an incentive program. Think about it: Las Vegas has something for everyone at every time of the day: fantastic food, luxurious hotels, gambling, drinking, broadway-caliber shows, spas, golf courses…the list never ends!

Of course, in order to be a worthwhile trip (the goal is not only to reward your employees, but also build camaraderie and good office chemistry), you can’t just rent out hotel rooms, give your staffers a wad of singles and tell them to knock themselves out. There needs to be structure, a set program that gives employees the opportunity to enjoy themselves and their fellow co-workers in a rare non-work environment.

Organize a fancy private dinner for everyone in the company to demonstrate your appreciation; arrange rounds of golf or spa treatments for the employees to enjoy together; buy the whole office tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show (or, better yet, have the cirque perform a private show for your office).

The key to a good weekend is fun activities and office bonding. Vegas provides the perfect venue for an enjoyable time; the rest is up to you.

Where Are We?

Posted by Training Magazine on July 01, 2008

Aerial_of_celebration_large_copy Do you recognize this destination?

E-mail [email protected] with your answer, and be entered into a drawing for a $100 Marriott® TravelCard®.

Last month’s contest pictured Pfalz Castle on the Rhine River in Kaub, Germany. Congratulations to winner Julie Shrewsbury of JCA Incentives!

Higher Air Line Prices Mean Companies Should Find Cool, New Incentives

Posted by Jonathan Tannenbaum on June 23, 2008

Now that the airline industry charges more for travel--jacking up costs for flights themselves and tacking on expenses for once free amenities (two dollars for a cup of orange juice anyone?)--businesses focused on travel as part of their incentive programs need to think outside the box. Arguably, there is no incentive more alluring than vacationing in a far-off location; but astute companies who decide to forgo the steep cost of travel this year should make up for it by adding stellar, new offerings to its pantry of goodies.

Employees often enjoy the thought of a vacation since it would mean spending a wonderful time with family or that special somebody. How about providing an comparable experience and allow an exceptional employee to devise a romantic weekend in a local city. For those on the East Coast, a trip to the Big Apple may not provide the same sense of “getting away,” but it’s hard to go wrong when dining at Tavern on the Green, attending a Broadway musical, staying in a nice hotel, etc.

Of course, the itinerary all comes down to the preferences of the employee in question. If he’s a sports fan and checks off going to a Yankee game instead of a horse-drawn carriage ride around Central Park for two, well, that’s between him and the missis.    

Another way companies can make up for jettisoning airline packages is by offering trips that involve travel by train. For many of us, the journey would certainly be less stressful: no security detail, long lines or spending a good chunk of time 50,000 feet above ground (Read one of our editor's experiences in a previous blog post when he chose to travel by other means than air). And for the hard worker seeking rest and relaxation, there’s no jetlag to deal with. Sure, San Francisco or Washington D.C. may not possess the magic of Spain or Paris, but you can still have a great time in local domestic locations. Being a New Jersey resident myself, I wouldn’t object if someone presented me the chance to go down to Maryland, hang out on the beach, eat seafood and play mini-golf.

And when you get down to it, besides the obvious cost-issue, there’s something that just doesn’t feel right about paying extra, for say, checking your bag or reserving a window seat. Even if these additional expenses may not raise the grand total of airline travel all that much, in your gut, you still know that’s its total nonsense. And that’s a reason in itself for companies to come up with sweat, new incentives.