These days, if you're very, very good at your job you'd best have your passport handy.

These days, if you're very, very good at your job you'd best have your passport handy.
Overseas trips with a top-tier itinerary attached are supplementing the old-fashioned cash bonus for top performers in the corporate world - and guess where they want to go? Yes, New Zealand.

It's the beauty of our country as well as our approach to business innovation that's catching the eye of international businesses with a big incentive budget.

"Employment incentives have been around for decades but have evolved over time," says Lisa Gardiner, international business events and premium manager at Tourism New Zealand.

"International research has found there is now more of a trend towards experience/travel incentives as opposed to cash bonus incentives.
"These clients tend to look for one-of-a-kind events that take in a destination's culture, entertainment, and cuisine."


Indeed Tourism New Zealand is seeking to grow the number of incentive groups it hosts annually by partnering with major incentive houses.

The organisation will help educate their sales and sourcing teams on New Zealand as well as run client familiarisation tours and events, trade training and site support as these companies demand the very best in service and accommodation.

Ramping up the off-season

Gardiner says that a bonus of incentive travel is that it tends to take place in the 'off' or 'shoulder' season, which is a great benefit to New Zealand tourism overall.
It also helps that many activities are easily combined into one itinerary and groups don't have the challenging travel times across cities that some other destinations face.

Groups can jet-boat in the morning then hop into a helicopter and enjoy champagne on a mountain peak, lunch at a vineyard and top it all off with a round of golf in the afternoon.

"For years tourism operators have struggled with ebbs and flows in international visit numbers with peaks in summer and winter months putting pressure on infrastructure and supply, and vacancies in autumn and spring bringing financial instability.

"Tourism New Zealand has focused a considerable amount of effort in promoting shoulder season travel in a bid to broaden the peak arrival period and sustain the tourism industry throughout the year - to great effect overall - and incentive travel has had a positive impact within this."

And it's valuable to the local economy: last year Tourism New Zealand's leads accounted for more than $94 million in estimated converted value.

This included the recently secured $50 million piece of incentive business with Amway China, which will be sending 10,000 of its elite sales people to Queenstown in 2018 (in waves of 500).

"This is a new model way of working for them which they are specifically piloting with New Zealand due to our ability to work innovatively."

Experiences key

Are we offering the right activities and experiences?

"Yes, New Zealand delivers superbly on activities and experiences that are in line with what the destination is all about," says Gardiner.

"We have found mature groups need a lot of creative and uniquely New Zealand activities, which incorporate the landscape. These groups will not repeat activities they have done elsewhere unless it is very special.

"For example, having lunch at a winery is available in many countries. We tend to input a 'wow' factor that other countries cannot carry out, such as extreme adventure sports in Queenstown (day and night bungee and sky dives, jet-boating, river rafting, skiing), and Maori cultural activities in Rotorua."

Part of the rise in demand for New Zealand with incentive groups is that it is perceived as a safe destination - suitable for top-tier incentives from the US, South-east Asia and India. Add to that our world renown for down-to-earth hospitality.

Sue Sullivan, chief executive for Conventions and Incentives New Zealand says that South-east Asia in particular is a fast growing sector.

"The reward system is well and truly part of their culture and New Zealand offers something that is unique and desirable."

She says that the business end of New Zealand's tourism industry is high-value and offers a huge growth potential with international convention delegates spending an estimated $350 per night, twice as much as other visitors to New Zealand.

Experiences are continually being fine-tuned for the incentive market and the rewards are now more personalised and sophisticated as client's expectations are high.

"As organisations have grown so have their reward systems, which now meet the needs of the individual far more than they used to," says Sullivan.

And Sir Peter Jackson may well be our most valuable tourism ambassador.

Sullivan says Matamata's Hobbiton Movie Set is incredibly popular with incentive parties.
"The product they offer has developed considerably over the years to meet the changing needs of the sector."

Today Hobbiton's Movie Set provides a wide-range of customised events for corporate clients and incentive parties.

Clients can choose to host in The Green Dragon Inn (a replica of the inn seen in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies), the Party Marquee or one of the facility's other prime locations in which to experience Middle Earth.

Auckland hosted the greatest proportion (24 per cent) of incentive activities last year, generating 38 per cent of the total incentive activities' delegate days, followed by Wellington and Christchurch and Canterbury.

Canterbury's perfect recipe

But the province's reputation as an incentive destination is on the rise with a new initiative recently announced by Christchurch Airport.
The airport has invited destination management companies to pitch them an idea. The aim is to remind everyone why Christchurch and the Canterbury region is a great incentive travel destination.

"This is a fantastic starting point to ramp up our incentive business into the city and region and put us firmly back on the map for incentive travel," says Christchurch and Canterbury Convention Bureau manager Caroline Blanchfield.

"Canterbury has the perfect recipe for incentives. We offer a huge variety of locations for groups of all sizes, and a vast range of activities, attractions, unique venues and new hotel stock - all within easy reach of Christchurch Airport."

It helps that Christchurch is the international gateway to the alpine and marine playgrounds of the South Island - stretching from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.
Attractions like the alpine thermal resort of Hanmer Springs, Akaroa's boutique French village and the Mackenzie's Aoraki-Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo are very popular with incentive parties.

Then there's stargazing, high-country farm experiences, whale-watching, foraging tours, jet-boating, 4WD adventures, heli-picnicing in the Alps, golf at an alpine resort or spa experiences.

The only problem might be getting them to leave.

What is incentive travel?

*Incentive travel is a global management tool that uses an exceptional travel experience to motivate and/or recognize participants for increased levels of performance in support of company goals. Incentives are now a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the world's fastest-growing systems of corporate and other rewards.

* Incentive trips, meetings and events account for 15% of all travel spending worldwide
What do companies get out of it?

* Well-designed and executed incentive travel programmes can increase sales productivity by 18 per cent and produce a return on investment of up to 112 per cent. (source Smart Meetings research)