The Power of ChoiceMarch 1, 2015

Designing Effective Individual Incentive Programs By
March 1, 2015

The Power of Choice

Designing Effective Individual Incentive Programs

Mary MacGregorMary MacGregor, Corporate Vice President – Event Solutions at BI WORLDWIDE (BIW), is responsible for all operating areas of the BIW Event Solutions Group including purchasing, design, delivery, group air, individual incentive travel, onsite operations, technology, communications and merchandise. She leads a team of more than 175 industry professionals who deliver memorable experiences and measurable results for their customers. Visit or email

As demands on their top performers’ time continue to escalate, many organizations are turning to individual travel as an extremely effective way to recognize and reward achievement. While group incentive travel programs are still an outstanding strategy for bringing people together, they don’t always fit the needs of the award-winners, program sponsors and even the end-user customers.

Individual Travel Can Be Good for Everyone

The most obvious benefit of individual travel for the award-winners is choice…of destinations, accommodations, transportation, activities, experiences and travel dates. Individual travel can frequently offer highly appealing destinations and properties that can’t accommodate groups. Choice can be a powerful motivator.

For program sponsors, individual travel can offer financial and customer service strategies. Packages can be created with guaranteed pricing for up to a year to fix expenses. Out-of-office time for top performers can be spread out over several months to ensure that key people are always available to handle sudden opportunities, instantly react to any problems and serve end-user customers.

With the use of social media sites, individual winners can be publicly recognized over several months — not just once at an awards dinner. Winners’ names can be posted and co-workers can be invited to send messages of congratulations. Trip updates and photos can be shared by winners after the trip. Look for a travel partner who can customize an announcement website to excite and motivate your audience to reach their goal by showcasing all the exciting travel experiences the program offers.

On the surface, individual travel sounds like the perfect choice for incentive programs! And it can be, but only when it is carefully crafted using the behavioral economic principles of idiosyncratic fit and choice architecture.

Choice Can Be Invigorating and Exhausting.

If you’ve ever tried to navigate a self-serve travel website to book your hotel, resort, airline, cruise, car rental, tours, activities or special adventure, you’ve likely experienced what Barry Schwartz, noted psychology professor at Swarthmore College, calls the “paradox of choice.”

We claim to love unlimited choice. Choice is liberating. We all believe we know exactly what we want to satisfy our individual needs, desires and circumstances. Behavioral economists call this “idiosyncratic fit” or the belief that our situation is unique and that the perfect solution is out there just for us when given unlimited choice. Thus the appeal travel booking websites offer: go anywhere, stay anywhere and do anything!

Yet Too Much Choice Can Be Overwhelming.

With the entire world at your fingertips, where do you even start? Professor Schwartz explains that as the number of choices grow, problems arise as we become “overloaded, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.”

With too many choices, we can quickly become the proverbial deer in the headlights — not wanting to experience regret or buyer’s remorse by making the wrong decision. We start second-guessing ourselves. We may even over-research the choices trying to confirm our decisions. In many cases our default choice is to make no choice at all.

This is where the behavioral economics principle of choice architecture comes into play.

Creating “the right” set of choices is the name of the game for individual travel award-winners.

Choice architecture is the process of helping people make the best decisions by offering carefully crafted and often limited options. Drilling down into the details of trip planning requires lots of time and insider insight that goes well beyond what social media website user posted reviews have to offer. It takes an experienced professional well-versed not only in the travel industry, but also one with a deep appreciation for what it takes to achieve goals to create an incentive program trip that becomes a valuable, impactful reward.

Architecting the Choices

Creating the right selection of individual travel reward choices requires evaluating both personal and business demographics:

  • Personal Demographics. This seems obvious, but it’s more than age, gender and income. Good individual travel choice architects look deeper at program participants.
  • What is their level of travel experience? Have they traveled all over the world? Only taken one or two trips? Do they have the time, interest and/or knowledge to plan logistics and activities at their destination?
  • Are they looking for adventures? Experiences? Cultural exposure? Social causes to impact? Ways to broaden their education? A place to veg out for a few days?
  • What cultural diversity exists in the group? Are religious holidays a factor? Must certain belief systems around food or interpersonal customs be respected?
  • What generational diversity exists in the group?
  • What obstacles or challenges do they deal with that could get in the way of enjoying a trip? Do they have children at home? Do they care for elderly parents? Do they have ready-resources or backups when they are away? Does their spouse work? Will it be challenging to coordinate time off to travel?
  • Would a family trip be appealing? What does family time mean to the winners?
  • Will the inevitable additional costs of a trip be affordable?

Business Demographics. In addition to budget parameters, seasoned individual travel choice architects want to know:

  • What is required of the participant to earn the trip? Is it a tremendous effort that only a few can attain?
  • Is the trip considered within the organization as a highly prestigious honor? Or is it more of a thank-you reward for meeting tight deadlines or going above and beyond to meet short-term sales goals?
  • How long is it appropriate for winners to be “out of office” on their holiday?
  • Where are most anticipated winners residing now?
  • Is it preferred that travelers not leave their home country? Are certain countries to be avoided for business security reasons? Will needing passports or visas be an issue?

Knowledge Is Power

With this data in hand, the experienced individual travel choice architect creates a selection of incentive program packages that gives the winner choices that are appealing, but not overwhelming. Although there is no steadfast rule, a choice of five to seven packages is often all that’s needed to give winners the variety they want without being overwhelming.

Using choice architecture also helps avoid the common pitfalls of making broad-based assumptions. For example, when people think “family packages,” theme parks often come to mind. But by studying personal demographics, the experienced planner may discover that “hassle-free, no decisions required, quiet time together” is what is really important — not attributes usually associated with crowded, sensory-overloaded theme parks. Packages on cruises or at all-inclusive resorts can turn out to be very popular family awards. And at the very same time, cruises and all-inclusive resorts can have an equally powerful appeal to couples looking to escape their hectic lifestyles.

Personalized Service Required

Individual reward travel should never be considered do-it-yourself travel. Having an experienced travel concierge help with all aspects of the trip planning is critical to maximizing the investment. Every interaction with the travel concierge must be celebratory and special. It’s important to remember that the individual travelers have done significant work to achieve this travel award. As such, they should receive the same level of service a group trip winner receives: accommodations and transportation booked and confirmed; activities and tours arranged; special requests investigated; and recommendations for restaurants, sightseeing and destination do’s and don’ts proactively communicated. If travel problems come up, the individual traveler needs a go-to pro who can get flights re-booked, rooms upgraded, tours exchanged or emergencies handled.

Choose Wisely

When individual reward travel is the right choice for your organization’s incentive program, be sure to choose an experienced travel partner who knows how to develop the right packages that will motivate your specific program participants. With more than 60 years of experience and locations throughout the world, BI Worldwide has the expertise to architect and deliver highly effective individual reward travel programs. Contact us at or I&FMM


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