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15 minutes with...Jim Ruszala, Senior Director of Marketing, Maritz Travel

Today’s incentive travel universe is much more diverse and complex than ever. Jim Ruszala, Senior Director of Marketing at Maritz Travel, recently discussed how diversity in three specific areas will require planners of travel-oriented motivation and incentive programs to alter their approach in order to achieve more aggressive goals. 

Q: What are the three areas you’ve specifically targeted in incentive travel that planners should think differently about?

A: The first is objectives. There are a lot of cases where incentive travel strategies are adopted to help achieve an organizational goal – building loyalty, trust and sales; acquiring, retaining and developing talent; etc. While some incentive travel objectives can be complimentary to one another, other combinations can overwhelm a participant’s ability to successfully achieve, resulting in a lack of engagement and true participation. Then there are the stakeholders within the company. We find that the diversity of stakeholders can often be at odds with one another in terms of what the incentive travel strategy should be trying to achieve. Goals, hopes, objectives and subsequent strategic and tactical support can be independently influenced if there’s no clear alignment with overarching expectations. Human Resources, Marketing, Sales, Procurement and other departments don’t set out to conflict with one another’s core occupational objectives; it’s more an ‘act-of-nature’ to some degree, which, requires a higher-level perspective than divisional, departmental or other operational segmentations.

Q: And the third area?

A: That would be the participants themselves. There’s much more personal value, interest, need, want and lifestyle diversity than ever in today’s workforce. Applying market-based and/or demographic breakdowns alone won’t give the ‘value edge’ that organizations are looking for in helping achieve ideal incentive travel outcomes. A better understanding of your participants’ personal goals and values is essential to help inform decision-making approaches to best promote, align and truly motivate. 

Q: So how do we need to change our outlook?

A: The sole focus has been mainly on the delivery of operational elements – increased emphasis needs to be placed on the key ‘shoulder’ areas of design and measurement to more effectively inform, construct and drive increased value returns through incentive travel practices. Striking the right balance through design requires a deeper understanding of market trends, best practices and individual program participants’ personal goals, values, interests, preferences, likes and dislikes. From kick-off communications through destination selection and onsite experience inclusions to post program feedback about experiences, organizations need to adopt key approaches that help develop a program design that participants will find more meaningful, motivational and memorable. Part of that equation involves driving investment dollar efficiencies and achieving expected levels of performance effectiveness. Too much of one or the other will result in disproportionate outcomes that deliver one area at the expense of the other.

Q: How can planners and companies more effectively measure all these variables and outcomes?

A: Incentive travel performance needs to be evaluated through a ‘double bottom line’ approach. From a business perspective, it’s about how efficiently and effectively costs were aligned to deliver incremental outcomes. For program participants, it’s determining whether or not an incentive travel opportunity is worth the added time and effort. In addition to the reward and recognition opportunity, program participants and sponsoring organizations achieve added individual and business-level values. These values consist of participant social, intellectual and personal self-worth advancements – all significant drivers for continued organizational performance. The true measurement of performance involves a collective approach to better evaluate performance impact by further understanding, interpreting and aligning both areas of business and personal participant value.

As Senior Director of Marketing for Maritz Travel, Jim Ruszala leads the company’s development of new and innovative strategies to help organizations achieve better business value through their incentive travel efforts. He is a former President of the Incentive Marketing Association’s Incentive Travel Council. Find more on Maritz Travel at www.maritztravel.com/

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