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Collaboration and unique experiences crucial to incentive travel

Tourism NI Events, Industry Development Programme

Posted by Tourism NI

Published January 27, 2017


The opportunities available in the lucrative ‘incentive’ market were explored at a Tourism NI masterclass for industry members on Wednesday.

Collaboration and unique experiences crucial to incentive travel

Brian Murray, Joanne Taylor, Richard Foulkes and Ken Lyons

‘How to Win and Handle Incentive Business’ was held at the Galgorm Resort in Ballymena and attracted a wide range of industry professionals interested in the growing sector.

Addressed by three incentive business experts including the managing director of a destination management company, the founder of a bespoke consultancy agency and a creative agencies and event consultant, the audience was given a number of key insights into the market. These included advice on how to improve your business base, promote your business to destination management companies and how to get return business from incentive groups.

Stand out points reiterated by each speaker included the importance of building trust and unique travel experiences, complete flexibility and unique selling points. The necessity of collaboration and partnerships in creating experiences was also underlined.

“Industry members need to be working together to create unique travel experiences,” Brian Murray of Aspects of Ireland told the 70 strong audience. Brian, who set up the destination management company in 1994 and who caters for the meetings, incentives, conferences and events (MICE) market revealed that incentive travel now accounts for almost 75 per cent of his business. He cited Ballyknocken House and Cookery School in County Wicklow as an example of what business owners could do in targeting their product at this market.

“Ballyknocken went from a normal B and B to an incentive destination which can now host 300 to 400 people for lunch or dinner with entertainment. In terms of what you as a business should be selling, everyone knows that hotels for example have beds etc. so you need to tell people what they can do which always comes back to the travel experience. You need to have partners in order to deliver that experience and you need to have done something that works.”

Brian also stressed the difference between FAM trips and site visits, a site visit being a chance for the client to ‘come in and kick the tyres’.”

“If it’s a site visit they’re coming in to make a decision, that’s your opportunity to make the deal so you need to bring your ‘A game’. The client needs to trust that you can deliver, if you win the site inspection you win the business.”

For those deliberating on whether or not to target the demanding but lucrative sector, he added, “You have the business, you have the people and sterling is so cheap at the minute, if this isn’t the time then I don’t know what is.”

Tourism sales and marketing professional Ken Lyons of Ken Lyons Communications echoed Brian’s message on how the quality of the experience surpassed hotels’ physical attributes.

“The incentive travel buyer is not interested in the physical attributes of your hotel but the experiences it can offer so you need to look at those attributes and see how you turn those into an experience.”

Ken cited the use of a bar in the five star Westbury Hotel in Dublin, usually closed during the day as an example of maximising hotel space.

“The incentive travel buyer is always looking for something that is not open to individual guests so in this instance the bar was transformed into an exclusive reception area for incentive travel guests. It also provided the opportunity to increase food and drink revenue which is always a bonus.”

Ken also stressed the importance of collaborations asking, “Who in your immediate area could become a partner? The Westbury created an experience with a neighbouring parfumerie where guests are talked through how the perfume is made while enjoying canapés and champagne provided by the hotel. This kind of event also signals that the hotel understands the kind of high-end experience the client is looking for and can deliver them.”

Ken added that although the market was a challenging one in which to operate, the benefits could be extremely rewarding.

“It is a long term commitment and the business is not easy to win but done well it can mean a sustainable future for your business.”

Consultant Richard Foulkes gave an overview of what factors influence choice of destination, current perceptions of Northern Ireland and the roles of creative agencies and destination management companies and what they are looking from destinations and suppliers.

Stating that ‘opulence is out and experiences are in’, he also returned to the key messages of unique travel experiences and collaborations.

“You need joined up thinking which opens up opportunities you alone might not be able to see. This might even involve selling across other businesses but if you sell everyone else as well as you sell yourself everyone will benefit.”

See the presentations of each of our speakers here.


Posted by Tourism NI

Produced by Tourism NI