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3 ways to make your incentive trip a cultural, life-changing experience

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If you’ve planned an incentive trip, you know it can be a challenge, albeit a fun one! Since incentives are viewed as coveted rewards (often requiring hard work to achieve), expectations are high. Think bucket list, not simply another beach excursion. Regardless of what (enviable) location you choose, there’s one way to ensure you deliver an unforgettable incentive trip: make it an immersive cultural experience that connects attendees to both the place and local people.

That’s what Augeo did when planning an extraordinary incentive experience for an automotive client. After a collaborative brainstorm on possible locations, we picked Fiji for its unsurpassed beauty and dynamic culture. Now, we’ve compiled a few tips to help you deliver a more impactful incentive getaway that embraces local as much as luxury.

1. Understand your destination

Once you’ve selected your location, study up on its history, its customs and its people. By getting to know more about the destination, you’ll likely spot opportunities to enhance the trip in ways that are a natural fit with the local culture.

During initial conversations with vendors in Fiji, Augeo account executive Michele Woods noticed just how important customer service is to Fijians. “They’re nurturing, always looking to take care of people,” she said. The commitments to helping others, along with hospitality, became two of the primary themes of the trip, and attendees had an even better experience as a result.

“At the resort, guests had villa buddies and villa mommas that took care of the resort and made sure guests had everything they needed,” said Michele. “They might overhear that a guest likes chocolate chip cookies and would bake them for that guest.” Villa buddies acted as expert guides, ready to take attendees on an adventure. If a guest wanted to kayak, for example, the villa buddy would plan a specific tour based on the water levels, the wind and what would be the best experience on that day.

“It was like having a personal tour guide, which was outstanding,” Michele said.

2. Experience like a local

The most effective incentive trip includes a number of thoughtful experiences combined in one unforgettable escape. Planning these smaller experiences is another opportunity to infuse the trip with local culture.

In Fiji, for example, guests attended creative workshops and learned how to make hats and baskets. Culinary enthusiasts went to a local market for fresh produce, then caught shrimp and worked with a local chef to prepare a beach picnic for the group. Michele and her team also spotted an opportunity to tap into Fiji’s creative community. During a welcome dinner on the first night, guests browsed a market featuring painting, clothing, baskets and jewelry made by Fijian artisans. Once guests made their purchases, the wares were shipped to their homes.

Another hands-on experience? Building bamboo billy-billy rafts, then taking them for a ride down the river. One of the village buddies took the group to his family’s village for a heartwarming experience that included a traditional welcome ceremony in the village chief’s home.

Among the most memorable cultural experiences was the celebration on the last night of the trip. The resort staff came together and sang a song to the group to thank them for coming, a festive occasion that quickly became emotional.

“Our guests were crying and hugging,” Michele said. “It was one of those meaningful things that they walked away from and said it was life-changing.”

3. Be respectful

Part of understanding your destination and its people is learning to follow local customs, including business etiquette. For Michele and the Augeo team, that centers on one primary motto. “We need to leave every place better than when we arrived,” she said. That often means dealing with factors like considerable time differences — in the case of Fiji, the local time was 17 hours ahead of the U.S. And in the Fijian business community, people don’t typically work overtime, which meant that much of the planning discussions for Augeo happened between 9pm and midnight.

Yet by putting in the effort to be a courteous and responsible business partner, the entire incentive experience will be even better. “Try to be as authentic as you can to the location,” Michele said. “In every case, we adapt to the place and people we’re working with, then they get on board with what you’re doing.” That mindset also helps foster lasting connections, both for the planning team and the guests themselves.

Michele said she still stays in touch with a couple of Fijians after they bonded during the planning and the trip itself. By incorporating Fijian people and daily life into the incentive trip, we created a compelling experience that left as big an impact on us as it did the guests.

“This was the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m so lucky that I was able to be a part of it,” Michele said. “A trip like this stays in your soul and doesn’t leave you.”
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