Creative Incentives in the UK

Today’s corporate incentives require a business objective, but that doesn’t rule out some more imaginative options, as Tom Newcombe discovers

In the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street, stockbroker Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, rewards some of his top performers at his company, Stratton Oakmont, with a trip on a private jet filled with booze, brasses and little yellow pills. The debauched employees are evidently ecstatic with this incentive and no doubt staff retention levels peaked after that night.

However, while Stratton Oakmont’s finance department would no doubt agree this represented an excellent return on investment (ROI), bean counters at – shall we say – less liberal companies may take a more prudent line when it comes to showing returns for your company’s programme. They may even ask whether incentives – especially of the more hedonistic type – are relevant at all. So how healthy is the sector in these fiscally cautious days?

According to the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE), 2015 was “one of the best years” for the incentive travel industry globally. The organisation – a membership group for incentive professionals around the world – also predicts 2016 to be “another banner year”.

Its annual index benchmark study of 2,000 members found both buyers and sellers reported an increase in budgets over the past year. However, nearly three-quarters of buyers are managing costs through planning shorter programmes (34 per cent), having fewer inclusions (29 per cent) and selecting less expensive destinations (29 per cent). The study proves companies still view incentives as an important tool within their business, but how they are planned and implemented is changing.

Wendy Cartwright previously managed incentives and rewards as HR director at the Olympic Delivery Authority, and does now in her current role as non-executive director at the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD).

She says there must be a business objective when planning incentives. “Given financial pressures, and increasing scrutiny from shareholders and the general public on use of companies’ money, there is a strong business focus to many of these events,” she says

Chris Groundhill is UK and Ireland national account manager for Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s meetings and events (M&E) division. He says: “The last few years have seen the amount of delegates per trip reduce considerably and, instead, a smaller group will go on a trip in a more thought-out way. It shows companies still want to incentivise staff but in a more controlled manner.”  He believes the type of incentives have changed “considerably” in the past five years. “Businesses are more aware of what’s out there and can give us a detailed brief, so it can be bespoke for their sector.”

SITE says one of the greatest challenges for buyers is how companies assess the effectiveness of their incentive travel programmes. The study showed that although a large majority believe incentive travel programmes are strong motivators of performance, less than one-third always track ROI.

When it comes to measuring ROI, BCD Travel M&E director Anthony Coyle-Dowling believes simplicity is key. “At BCD our approach starts with the key objectives of the incentive and what the client hopes to achieve from the investment. It’s impossible to truly measure the success of a programme unless there is a clear understanding of the desired outcome.”

However, he adds that “one true fact” about all incentive programmes is if they are worthy of implementation, they deserve measurement to ensure that programme goals have been accomplished.

MOD’s Cartwright says some incentives are hard to measure in “absolute terms” and recommends regular reviews of the programme. “I’d encourage all organisations to have a good look at their benefits and incentives packages from time to time, to see whether they are actually delivering value for money,” she says.

In its study, SITE says the incentive travel services market is likely to become even more competitive, with customers’ expectations going “well beyond acquisition of a travel package”.

Woburn Safari Park’s commercial manager Ashleigh James, who has recently introduced experiences and animal encounters to its corporate offering, believes, with standards becoming even higher, sellers cannot afford to remain complacent about creating value.

“A lot of people are moving away from the traditional methods across all MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] and looking at more experience-based activities, where they’re getting people up and about and engaged, rather than being talked at for hours,” she says.

BBT takes a look at some of the new more off-the-wall incentive offerings around the UK


Woburn Safari Park offers extra incentives, which can be booked as stand-alone events or tacked on to your business meeting. Safari Survival is a team-building adventure game where delegates compete to win gold stars by completing a selection of trials with the animals. Woburn also offers a VIP Experience, where small groups take part in an off-road tour of the park in a 4×4; and employees can experience Up Close Encounters with animals such as rhinos, tigers, lions and penguins.


Originally built between 1867 and 1880 to protect Portsmouth from Napoleon III’s forces, No Man’s Fort is an unusual venue located off the south coast of England, half way between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. The venue offers 22 bedrooms and suites, and guests arrive by helicopter or private boat.

Following a recent multi-million pound refurbishment, it now offers activities suitable for corporate incentives. These include fishing excursions, wine tasting and RIB boat rides. Day delegate rates start at £99 per person, with 24-hour tariffs from £399. Included in the package is room hire, function spaces, buffet lunch, LCD projector and other AV equipment, as well as a dedicated event manager. The entire venue can be hired for exclusive use.


In February, Merlin Events opened its doors to its newest feature, the Tavern Pub at the London Dungeon. Available as part of the attraction’s corporate package, the Tavern promises to transport guests back to the world of 1896. The experience concludes the Dungeon tour, and includes an actor-led tour of the dungeons themselves. The venue can hold up to 150 guests and is equipped with integrated lighting, audio and other AV equipment.


For 2016, Alton Towers has introduced new attractions into its corporate offering. From April, the theme park will launch its first rollercoaster dedicated to virtual reality – Galactica. It will be available for exclusive corporate hire, either on its own or part of the new Ride Before You Dine package. This includes meals at the new Rollercoaster Restaurant, which will see dishes travel along more than 400m of spiralling steel track.

This year the theme park is also launching Big Kids at Work – where Alton Towers believes that, unlike adults, kids have “fewer fears and inhibitions” when it comes to new challenges, so it offers team building activities around waterparks, Extraordinary Golf and tree-top high rope courses. This package starts at £115 per person and includes an overnight stay.

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