Purposeful Meetings: 5 steps to take Incentive Travel to the next level

Attending the IMEX17 in Frankfurt for the first time, I felt like a small fish in a big ocean. With +3900 exhibitors and almost 10 000 visitors, this is considered one of the biggest of its kind for Event, Incentive and Meetings planners.

Our first IMEX in Frankfurt. Building relations and closing the gap between people, business and planet

The single, emerging theme was ‘Purposeful Meetings’. Something we at SAS World hold very close to our heart. I kept my focus on trying to understand what the future of incentive travel will look like and what companies need and should be doing to make their incentive travel work even better. There is no doubt that incentive travel is a tactic that drives sales, and it works, yet when marketing and sales budgets are tight it’s often one of the first initiatives to be cut.

So how can we make incentive travel work even better?

Purposeful Meetings

The highlight of the meeting was the keynote session with a global thought leader on event and meeting excellence Janet Sperstad. Her white paper ‘Purposeful Meetings: creating deeper meaning’ explores neuroscience and human behavioral research about how our brain and body work, its social drivers and how to optimise the meeting experience to produce more moments of meaning, creativity, learning and connectivity.

In summary, Purposeful Meetings are about shifting human experiences at an emotional level, from overwhelming, unexciting or unhealthy, to engaging, inspiring, and healthy. Leaving a positive long-lasting outcome. Although difficult to imagine incentive trips to be overwhelming, unexciting or unhealthy we still struggle to justify their investment or wonder as to how to make them better.

Janet prioritised five pillars leaders and planners need to think about to shift the experience to the next level of value.

  1. Meeting design for the human experience
  2. Behavioural science
  3. Health and wellbeing
  4. Leaving a positive legacy
  5. Technology
    IMEX17 5 Pillars

So what does this mean for Incentive Travel programs?

  1. We are in an experience economy. Going to a great destination is important but not enough. What you do on your incentive trip will shift the needle from a nice trip to a truly magical and memorable moment.
  2. With incentive travel, you already have a positive emotion and a captive audience. Expectations are higher, as each year you try to make it better than the last. Trying to guess what will work is a risky exercise. Listening to the needs and expectations of your guests is essential to make sure expectations are met. Understanding employees PURPOSE and why they do what they do is a key success factor. It’s why Human Resources should be part of the discussion.
  3. The battle between trip objectives. Is this a trip to say thank you, relax and recover, inspire and motivate, fun and sun. Probably all of the above. Each objective impacting the trip design. To help your thinking, ask the question about EMOTION, what activity will touch the hearts and minds? What does the traveling party really care about, emotionally? Fun & Sun is great but in today’s economy people are also seeking meaning and purpose.
  4. Your top performers are exceptional people who enjoy doing great things. They don’t want to stop doing great things. The incentive trip is a unique opportunity for them to continue the journey, to make a difference in this world. It’s what motivates and drives them every day. Giving them a meaningful story to share when they return home and turn them into heroes.
  5. The incentive program is a full year programme. It’s the longest event of the year. With technology, we can now easily keep teams in the loop, informed and show off progress. Adopting a mobile application or platform dedicated to incentive travel will keep the programme top of mind and an important ingredient to the success of the program.


Incentive travel is shifting to another level and needs to be more than just an exciting destination. If done right, it will inspire and change lives for the better, something every leader wants to achieve. Business leaders and professional planners have a unique opportunity to leverage incentive travel programmes focusing on PURPOSE and EMOTION. Making the incentive travel programme a tool that attracts talent, increases engagement and drive sales to another level. Janet’s research and her 5 pillar model help us make our incentives and meetings raise the impact and convert incentive trips from a NICE to have, to NEED to do.