With incentive travel increasing, have some of us maybe forgotten how to give and get a proper brief? Try considering these 20 questions from FMI and see how far you get.
We often get rung up by all kinds of promotions agencies and direct clients asking for a costing on ‘a little sales trip’ to add some sizzle to a national consumer promotion, with just a few days’ notice.
How hard can it be, they say, to look up a package in a travel brochure, add ten per cent and there you go? It’s a bit like asking the EU to come up with an agreeable Brexit plan…if you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll get the wrong answers.
1. Incentive travel to most agencies means group travel, hosted by the client. If you mean one-off holidays as prizes for individual winners you probably need to speak to a tour operator…the ones who market individual holidays.
2. Of course some tour operators do actually do group travel. Travel agent packages, especially long haul, are normally seven-night rotations because they are tied into consumer charter contracts they have signed up to for the entire season. So unless you actually want your winners to spend an entire week overseas, probably Saturday to Saturday, buying into an existing package won’t work.
3. If you decide, that’s no problem, don’t forget that the transfer to the hotel will be common to everyone on the tour package so a 30 minute transfer could be two hours or more as they drop off in every hotel they have contracted with at that resort. That goes for the return to the airport too.
4. If you still decide that’s no problem be aware that in terms of airport priority, scheduled services go first. So if there is any technical delay in flight departures, the charter planes tend to be at back of the queue.
5. If you think that’s no problem, when they go on organised excursions at the destination, the same ‘dropping-off-at-every- conceivable-hotel-nonsense’ still applies.
6. If you still think that’s no problem…are you sure you actually want incentive travel?
7. When you give the brief please state how many people you wish to send. Ten winners is not the same number of seats as ten couples. And three hosts is not the same number as three hosts and their partners.
8. If you definitely want to take ten winners but don’t know who they will be yet, you cannot book the seats. Eagle-eyed business travellers will recall that whenever you book an air ticket you have to state your name otherwise you cannot book a flight.
9. If you really do not know who they will be until the end of the incentive period, can I suggest you plan for the group to travel, say, more than two months after the end of the campaign? Making the campaign end in April and then booking the event for mid-May just isn’t going to work because there will be no seats left.
10. For most marketing projects there is usually a budget. It appears that for incentive travel there never is…or rather there is, but ‘we’re not going to tell you’. Much as we all love a challenge there is a big difference in the travel experience between a £59 a night motorway lodge and a five-star beach resort. And if you are hosting 100 people, the budget difference is enormous.
11. Make a decision about whether it is city or beach in the brief. Yes, okay, some cities are on the beach, I accept that. But it is not very efficient for us to research five city destinations only to discover in the first two minutes of the pitch that the sales director’s wife is looking forward to a lovely beach resort…again!
12. Give us a clue on the destination. Short haul, medium haul or long haul? Medium haul means North Africa, Canaries, Russia, Middle East. If you know that the group never goes long haul, please say so and save everyone a lot of work.
13. Some destinations are not easy to fly directly to from the UK. So if changing planes is an issue for your group, mention it at the brief stage.
14. Some country destinations work best as a twin centre visit…the contrast can be very motivational. So if this is an acceptable format it is worth stating so, rather than dismiss it because some additional time is required in packing up and getting on another plane mid-trip.
15. Sometimes clients feel they will not get their money’s worth if they are not active all the time with organised events on the ground. Others say they want it to be more like a holiday with plenty of built-in leisure time. The first one is more expensive than the second one so when you are comparing prices, look at the detail, not just the bottom line.
16. You don’t necessarily get the best value for money if you ask dozens of agencies to pitch, especially if they are briefed to propose exactly the same destination. The World is a small place and one destination is even smaller. Everyone knows who the client is and that there are at least 20 agencies pitching. What you will actually get is dozens of very similar proposals…now there’s a surprise. (The cheapest proposal will come from the agency that has forgotten to cost in one of the prescribed elements. Or offers a predatory price to try and ‘buy’ the business.)
17. When choosing which agency to work with, avoid being swayed by the pure lottery of them proposing the destination you secretly wanted. All this proves is that they are good at guessing. The important thing is are they cost-effective and are they good organisers. There is nothing wrong with saying…’you did not guess what destination we wanted but we like the way you run things, so can you now cross-quote on the destination we actually want?’
18. Don’t change the presentation deadline because one agency bleats that they have been too busy to prepare a document. Keeping to a deadline is a demonstration of how they will run your project. So if they cannot organise themselves to hit your pitch deadline, there is not much hope for your actual event.
19. Do the costings actually add up correctly? You may be surprised how many times the bottom line, per head cost bears no relation at all to the list of items included. Strange I know, but an Excel spreadsheet is a curious beast.
20. Caveat emptor. Try and take a few minutes to look up the agency’s financial returns at Companies’ House. There’s nothing more embarrassing than having to explain to your chairman that you’ve lost your £50k deposit because the agency has gone bust.
21. Are the people who did the pitch the ones who are actually going to run the event? Just checking…
The best client approach to travel briefing came from Nissan a few years back. They invited pre-qualified agencies to suggest ONE global incentive travel destination in not less than 10 pages…and don’t bother with any creds. It was a pleasure to work on and really focused attention on the key issue…where the hell are we going to suggest and what are the participants actually going to do?
John Fisher, Managing Director