Why Choose Group Travel? It’s All About the Return On Experience

by | Aug 13, 2018 | Blog

Outstanding achievements deserve rewards that stand out. Give your customers, sales people, or channel partners a reason to come back and measure that using Return on Experience. Here’s an example of why Return on Experience works. 

Recently, I had to book a flight for a friend’s wedding. After I put the destinations and dates into Google Flights, the cheapest options that popped up happened to be on Spirit Airlines.

Now, if you’re familiar with Spirit, you know that they offer some of the cheapest flights available. But as I examined my options, I decided to forego Spirit and instead choose a more expensive flight with a different airline.

There are two questions here. The first is, how much more was I willing to pay just to avoid flying with Spirit? The answer: $150. Not an incredible sum of money but not insignificant either.

The second question is, why would I choose to spend that extra money on a flight that, on the face of it, is similar to the one I ended up booking?

Sure, you can talk about things like the quality of the plane (onboard comfort, snacks, etc.) and the extra baggage fees. But let’s assume I’m traveling light and the flight is short, meaning these qualities weren’t factored into my decision. What’s left?

The answer: Brand Experience.

Because I’ve been burned too many times by Spirit, had too many flights delayed or canceled and too many shoddy customer service experiences, I decided I wouldn’t let the airline bait me again with their superior price point.

So, I’ve avoided Spirit whenever possible, in favor of “Anyone Else” Airlines, because my brand experience with Spirit has been so negative.

While I’m not entirely sure how high I’d be willing to let this number go, what my decision tells me is that avoiding Spirit is worth to me somewhere in the vicinity of $150, or 60% of the actual cost, per flight.

That’s a cost gap I’m not sure even Spirit can make up, and in a way, it served as a value what we at HMI call Return on Experience (ROE) with Spirit.

Obviously this is an example of a negative brand experience, resulting in a negative Return on Experience, but the same principle holds true for brands that seek to positively influence their audience—for example with a group travel program.

The Return on Experience Incentive Travel

There are many reasons why a group travel program could be the right choice for you and your organization. In fact, we’ve discussed some of these reasons in previous posts. However, the one reason I want to focus on here is how incentive trips can offer tremendous Return on Experience for those who utilize them.

In business, the all-important ROI has been the traditional financial barometer for whether or not an investment is a good one. But more and more companies are beginning to look at marketing strategies that go beyond the simple dollars-and-cents of ROI and instead focus on providing a positive brand experience for their audiences.

Nowhere is this truer than with group travel. It is the ultimate brand experience, essentially offering participants a unique, brand-sponsored vacation. But what makes an incentive trip special is that it doesn’t just provide a positive experience with a brand—what it offers is a truly extraordinary experience on behalf of a brand.

This means that any positive (or negative) emotion associated with the experience should be intrinsically projected onto the brand.

In other words, a great time in Cozumel, Mexico means a great time on behalf of Brand X who sponsored it. In this way, Return on Experience is really a function of whether or not a brand is able to build—and sustain—a positive relationship with its audience, and an incentive trip is the culmination of this relationship.

But to better understand the role that Return on Experience plays in group travel, it’s important to look at two of the primary effects of a good incentive trip: Memorability and Personal Relationship-Building.

Memorability of the Experience

Let’s say participants are having such a great time on their incentive trip that during the trip itself they’re not really focused on how or why they’re there—in other words, on who’s sponsoring the trip.

For starters, branded marketing communications, brand-sponsored trip events, and brand executives being among the trip cohort virtually ensure that this won’t happen.

But also, chances are, if the incentive trip was really this great, participants will likely be thinking and talking about the experience long after they’ve returned home.

Just like with any great vacation, there will be the sharing of photos with friends and family, answering questions from coworkers, and reminiscing with fellow trip earners.

Put another way: few people are probably going to post photos of their new laptop on Instagram, and even fewer will share updates on Twitter about how they spent that latest gift card they earned.

But when Facebook posts the inevitable “Memories From 2018” on their wall, it’s more than likely people will see that photo of themselves and their spouse swimming with a dolphin in Hawaii and click on it to rekindle the positive memory and feeling the image conjures up.

Those same people might even start to think, “Gee, I wonder if Brand X is going to run a trip again this year, and if so, I wonder where they’re going?” That’s how memorability can contribute to ROE and lead to enhanced productivity—and an improved bottom line—even after the trip experience is finished.

Personal Relationship-Building

The other important element of group travel that can generate significant Return on Experience is personal relationship-building.

That’s because an incentive trip, whether it’s designed to reward your top salespeople or your most loyal customers, provides the perfect opportunity for these trip-earners to connect with important points of contact within your organization.

In the case of salespeople, enabling them to network with company executives in a fun, relaxed environment puts a social and accessible face to your leadership team.

It also lets them know that a company is an organization made up of people—not just a corporate machine comprised of replaceable cogs—and that they are important to the health and success of that organization.

For an audience of loyal customers, finding face-to-face time with the salespeople from whom they bought products reinforces the idea that they are not simply numbers attached to dollar signs.

It lets them know that the relationship is just as important as the sale, and that the company has appreciated the relationship even after the sale has been made.But whether you’re looking to connect with your salespeople, customers, or another group, this idea that personal relationships are important to business success isn’t new.

It’s an idea worth repeating, however, because relationships with the people who represent a brand—brand ambassadors—are simply extensions of the overall brand relationship.


What I find especially interesting with this idea of Return on Experience is that, unlike ROI, ROE looks at an investment’s impact on the future, rather than on the past. It takes a particular experience, like a flight or an incentive trip, and attempts to extrapolate the impact of that experience on future business.

Although there isn’t really a way to quantify ROE, when it comes to valuing the experience of an incentive trip, you can look at a couple of things to get an idea of this value.

First, if you happen to be running a similar trip the following year, at the end of Year 2 you could look at year-over-year growth to see what kind of an impact was made in light of the trip in Year 1.

Second, you could offer a participant survey at the conclusion of the trip, and possibly right before the following year’s trip, to gauge how impactful the trip experience was on the participants’ motivation to succeed moving forward.

While this is certainly more qualitative, it’s a measure that’s not without its merits.

Interested to reward your high achievers with an incentive group travel program? Check out our Group Travel Solution Guide for more information, or contact us.

Photo by DAT VO on Unsplash


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