Sport Incentive Tours

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Picture the scene. You’re slogging away, it’s been a crappy week, the difficult boss is on your case and your biggest client is being his usual pushy self.

But, someone out there is smiling on you. Your e-mail ‘pings’ and there in front of you is your saving grace. That same annoying boss has just come out of an exco meeting where various numbers and sales targets were discussed and he now wants to thank you for all the work you’ve done on that big account. His ‘thank you’ comes in the form of two tickets to the Rugby World Cup final in New Zealand, later in the year. It includes flights, accommodation, all transfers and match tickets and suddenly your boss has gone from ‘difficult’ to ‘dream’. On top of that, you may be able to score some points with the missus and get to see the biggest rugby game of the year.

Or, let’s look at another scenario. You’re away at the annual company bosberaad and management decide that they need to push the boat out in the coming year, in terms of retaining some of the company’s biggest clients. You get the OK to purchase 10 international sports tour packages – ranging from Wimbledon, to a grand prix race, to the end-of-year Springbok rugby tour. You smile to yourself, because you know that once you dangle that inviting trip in front of your biggest spenders, you’ve already gone a long way to making your annual target.

In short, sports incentive tours have become big business and an effective business tool, whether it be incentivising staff or taking care of big-spending clients. Kim Renyard is the marketing and sales manager at Edusport Travel and says that, ‘in surveys Edusport has conducted with clients, sports incentives come out as the highest-ranking loyalty builder and the incentive type that delivers best on improved performance’.

They’re also holidays with a difference and perhaps not something you’d ordinarily take the family on. “People have been to England, they’ve been here and they’ve been there,” says Neal McAlpine, director at Ski Leading Tours & Pure Sport. “But have they watched that specific sporting event? A lot of these sporting events have a high-profile aura around them.” High profile, yes, perhaps to the male side of any relationship. But, even though it’s a free overseas trip, ‘SA vs. England at Twickenham’ may not sound as attractive to the wife as it does to you. Not to worry, says John Ridler of Thompsons Holidays.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and if it’s based on couples going together, it can be flexible, whereby the partner does not have to attend the actual sporting event. They can go shopping, go to a spa, etc.,” he says. So, a win for everyone and a great way to build loyalty on either side of the business relationship. “They are largely out of reach to the average sport-loving South African, due to the high cost of travel and tickets,” says Renyard. “In contrast to leisure incentives, sports incentives offer a unique exclusivity in that the venues can only hold so many spectators, and thus offer a certain status for those fortunate enough to be present.”

McAlpine treads a similar line, pointing to the ‘one-upmanship’ and ego that just about goes hand-in-hand with almost all big business. “It is a status thing”, he says. “If you’re networking at the golf club and you tell someone you’ve been to Singapore on a company incentive, they’ll say, ‘that’s great’. But, if you can say, ‘well, we went to Singapore and we went to the grand prix’, that just has so much more value to the client.”

“That’s where sporting packages are lifting themselves above a normal incentive, but at the same time, budgets are getting tighter and tighter, so it’s not that easy anymore,” says McAlpine.

Just by way of example and, according to McAlpine, you’re looking at about R15 000 per person for three or four nights in the UK for a Premier League football game, whilst a two-week Rugby World Cup finals package, incorporating tickets to the semi-finals and final, but excluding spending money, lunch, drinks and dinner, will set your company back about R100 000 per person.

So, it’s nothing to sniff at and one can understand why McAlpine is concerned about tighter budgets. Either way, it’s no surprise that belts have been tightened over the past couple of years, taking into account the global financial crisis. But, specific to the staff incentive take on the subject, that financial outlay needs to be weighed against the goodwill that can be fostered and the greater productivity and loyalty that can be garnered.

This is where Ridler urges companies to adopt a long-term approach. “Sporting fixtures are set well in advance, so plan and book early. This also gives the client a long lead-time to organise teaser programmes and time for the staff to achieve their incentive budgets,” he says.

But McAlpine urges caution when first dipping one’s toe in the sports incentive tours pool. “Make sure that companies are affiliated to organisations like IATA and ASATA,” he says. “When it comes to sporting events, with the event tickets there’s such a fine line between where these events tickets are coming from, especially for a high-profile game. You’ve got to do your homework and deal with a reputable company, because there are so many fly-by-nights or one-man organisations that are working from home, with no overheads, so their prices can be cheap.”

Renyard concurs, saying, “Consumers should be aware that some operators might not actually have access to the event tickets and are relying on third parties to procure these closer to the event. In some cases the tickets are not procured and the incentive does not have the intended impact. The credentials of travel agents should always be checked.”

So, watch out. Do your homework, but also open yourself up to the great possibilities that sports incentive tours offer, right across the business spectrum. As Renyard says, ‘as a motivational tool, these types of incentives are incredibly powerful’.

Now, when is that e-mail going to ‘ping’ for me…