Tailor-made rewards

Providing the right incentives to staff can be a difficult business. Today, many staff view corporate gifts as an outdated form of appreciation and expect their hard work to be recognised in a more meaningful way. The challenge facing many companies is uncovering unique, enjoyable activities that  also reflect a company’s culture.

For those looking to create luxury experiences for staff, it sometimes pays to bring in the experts. With offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, Lightfoot Travel specialises in small group arrangements. The company refers to its group of highly trained operatives as “senior travel designers” and is well primed for create luxury incentive and team-building trips. Its major clients are usually small companies and top performing sales people.

With offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and China, financial management company, the Henley Group, enlisted the services of Lightfoot Travel to create private travel events for its team for the last two years, first to the Maldives then skiing in the upscale resort of Niseko. Henley's marketing manager Joel Carpenter explains: “The purpose of the trip was to reward our top performers with a unique experience that they wouldn’t be able to get from any regular holiday that they’d organise themselves. To do so, we needed to enlist the services of someone who had a great knowledge of luxury experiences across the world and the contacts to arrange a trip for a group of 10-20 people from Singapore, Hong Kong and China.”

Carpenter adds: “When we tried to organise these trips in the past, it required a huge amount of time. Without the right connections we had to rely on internet searches to find the best deals, the right locations and [appropriate] activities. Lightfoot has the local knowledge to suggest places and make first-hand recommendations that met our needs. This included everything from airport pick up in different locations to the best restaurants.” Carpenter says that Lightfoot was also able to coordinate the return flights from the Maldives to maximise the group's time. He says: “They spotted a gap in the itinerary between leaving the resort island and catching flights out of the mainland. The company arranged for the entire group to spend the afternoon at an exclusive country club. It really rounded off a great trip.”

Lead-time for planning these trips can run from a month to six weeks. “Depending on the brief and what the company is looking for, we try to meet all their expectations,” says Lightfoot Travel’s managing director, Simon Cameron. “Any destination is possible as we have contacts around the world.” 

Resort to enticement  

Luxury resort-based travel incentives remain a popular way to reward staff. Orient Express – which offers luxury train travel with stopovers at upscale hotels globally for instance – specialises in working with small incentive groups. One of the brand’s latest experiences is a Myanmar-based river cruise on the Orcaella, which journeys down the Irrawady and Chindwin Rivers to take in popular cultural sites. The boat offers 25 spacious river-facing cabins, a lounge area, bar and swimming pool and can be booked out by a company. Onboard entertainment such as cultural dances can be arranged. It's also possible to make organised stops at interesting temples and local villages along the way.

Further afield, luxury travel group Orient Express offers three tented camps in Botswana that can be booked out by groups. The service includes twice daily safaris by either car or kayak plus food and beverage options.

Orient Express can additionally organise private plane pick-ups for guests. These luxury lodges enable guests to immerse themselves in the environment for a once-in-a- lifetime experience.

Banking on incentives

At Standard Chartered Bank, rewarding staff means creating experiences that tie into the company’s CSR programme and the causes it supports, such as “Seeing is Believing”, which tackles avoidable blindness. The bank has several global programmes that uphold its “Here for Good” principles, which staff are encouraged to follow. As Nita Law, regional head of human resources says: “We make sure there’s a well-defined incentive system, which helps the performance and growth of the organisation. We also engage staff through some ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences that leverage on our existing programmes. It helps build a sense of pride in company culture.”

Seeing is Believing is one of the main beneficiaries of the annual Standard Chartered Marathon in Hong Kong. The financial institution's staff are encouraged to participate in the yearly global fundraising campaign. To date, the endeavour has raised more than HK$31 million for eye care projects in mainland China over the last decade. 

Law says: “Each year, the two Hong Kong staff – one who has raised the highest amount of money, and the one with the highest number of donors – travel with the Seeing is Believing project to get a firsthand experience of the impact we are making to the visually impaired. It enables them to see how lives have changed through the bank’s support.”

Sports fans at the bank, meanwhile, are incentivised by personal encounters with Liverpool Football Club legends, which is available through the bank’s sponsorship of the team. The bank annually holds the Standard Chartered Trophy Tournament, exclusively for staff and clients across selected markets. The winning team from each market is rewarded with a trip to play at the Standard Chartered Trophy Finals at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool FC’s home ground in the UK. Earlier this year, the bank ran an additional internal competition to choose one member of staff from Hong Kong to join the Hong Kong team on its trip to Anfield and report match highlights live from the event. To be eligible, staff were required to submit a proposal on how they would report and promote the five-day trip on social media. The employee chosen to be the so-called “staff reporter” videoed himself playing the keyboard and changing the lyrics to a song to make it about why he wanted to go. The winner followed the same itinerary as the Hong Kong team, which included watching an English Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Queens Park Rangers; took part in the Liverpool FC Stadium and Museum tour; attended a training session at the Liverpool FC Academy with coaches and player legends; and watched the Standard Chartered Trophy Finals at Anfield. 

Ultimately, Law believes that it’s important that company incentives work in unison with the bank’s brand promise and beliefs.  She says: “At Standard Chartered, we value the contribution of all staff members. We are an organisation that runs on merit. We encourage positive reinforcement of desirable behaviour – which means not only achieving different goals but also the demonstration of our corporate values and brand promise “Here for Good” in the process.”

Motivating incentive suppliers

While they often provide the backdrop to glamorous incentive trips, luxury hospitality brands also need to motivate staff. The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts rewards its top teams with special travel incentives. Every year, the company’s best performing teams are sent to a Four Seasons destination for an “extraordinary experience.” 

In addition, all employees at the luxury hotel brand can enjoy travel incentives with everyone working for the brand eligible to stay a certain number of nights at the brand’s properties around the world for free. The number of nights depends on the number of years of service, and the brand also offers employee experience rates when complimentary room allotments are used up. Not only is this a sweet way to reward employees – it also gives them a chance to experience the brand’s service and hotels from the side of the guests. 

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts’ corporate employment manager, Bjorn Thies says: “Four Seasons was founded on a single principle that transcends time and geography, religion and culture and our golden rule is that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same. Our Employee Complimentary Room Night programme is just one initiative within our Employee Experience programme that offers Four Seasons colleagues the opportunity to experience our product and service. To be an undisputed leader in the luxury category, we must be the number one choice for our employees, listen to what they want and engage them in our decisions.”

Today the way in which companies motivate and inspire their employees is changing. This isn’t limited to luxury incentives but also incorporates experiences that add value and exhibit a company’s beliefs and branding. As a result, employees are given more opportunity to understand the companies they work for and develop a stronger sense of place and loyalty within them.


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