From Mystery Destinations to Alternative Awards: Options to Keep Your Incentive Program Alive & Well

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We’ve been down this path before. Surges in COVID cases cause some people to be hesitant to travel now, or even plan travel a few months ahead. Companies are faced with deciding when employees will be back in offices AND when people will be traveling again for business. Perhaps further down on the list is deciding when to revive your highly motivating group travel incentives. According to the Incentive Research Foundation, 80% of U.S. employees surveyed found group travel to be highly motivating, so don’t let your revival fall too far down that list!

Motivation Excellence has good news for business leaders out there wanting to get their reward and recognition programs back on track, yes, even with group travel!

In this white paper, we’ll give an overview of how and why “Mystery Destinations” work. We’ll also give other options for rewarding experiences outside of group travel, if you’re still not ready to commit to that quite yet. As you begin to shore up budgets and plans for 2022, do not overlook this critical piece to increased productivity and improved company culture!

“Mystery Destinations”

This is a tried and true concept we’ve used many times during the history of our company. The benefits to you greatly outweigh the risks, and during this particularly fluctuating period, it can be a great fit for safety-minded business leaders who still want to use a group travel incentive.

Instead of contractually committing to a property and destination more than a year out, our Mystery Destination solution allows you to book much closer to travel. This significantly lowers the risk of having to cancel.  After talking with you about budget, time of year and location preference, length of stay and probable number of travelers, we start monitoring several good-fit destinations and watch for hotel room booking “holes.” Knowing you want good weather and outdoor activities in June, we could be watching Denver, Orlando, Austin, Texas and Cancun all at once.  In the meantime, we start a creative engagement campaign with participants to get them to start guessing “where in the world” they’ll end up if they win. 

Benefits Include:

  • Securing great purchase value by filling unused room blocks
  • Less worrying about attrition and cancellation clauses
  • No hotel/DMC deposits needed until closer to actual travel
  • Monitoring of destination “issues” allows you to book at the safest choice 4-6 weeks before travel
  • Engaging participants is very fun, clues are generic and the reveal can be very creative

Risks Include:

  • Losing out on first choice of property/destination
  • Activities may be harder to schedule the longer you wait to book

Overall, our “Mystery Destination” solution can save your hopes (and maybe even some cost) of a group travel program in 2022 and beyond, as long as you can be flexible. You can watch a short webinar on this topic, featuring one of our hotel suppliers, on the Newsroom tab at

“Alternative Rewards”

If you are not ready to host a group travel experience just yet, you still need to reward the people in your company that make a difference. There are nearly unlimited possibilities when it comes to providing alternative rewards to group travel. 

Our biggest piece of advice on this is to make it personal. Giving your employees the ability to create a reward meant only for them is undeniably motivating and memorable. An emotional connection between the reward and the company that provided it is rekindled each time the employee sees it or remembers the experience. Motivation Excellence has several ways to achieve this type of connection.

  • “Concierge Shoppers” are available to help select participants who have earned rewards to redeem them in a way most befitting their desires. It could be a down payment on a vacation home, or custom-made jewelry, or even home improvement projects. We literally helped purchase a cow at auction for a participant once – give us your dreams and we’re ready to help make them come true! 
  • “Your Day, Your Way” is an option where earners can design a local getaway using their rewards and our Personal Shoppers. We’ve partnered with dozens of hotels across the U.S. and Canada to help craft unique packages that can include activities like a chef’s table, whiskey tasting or spa treatments. It’s perfect for the winner who wants to share their award with a small group of friends, creating lasting memories for years to come.
  • “MAXRewardsYourWay” is the perfect way to reward top performers through aspirational lifestyle upgrade packages. We can create a variety of packages to fit your budget and because each is filled with name-brand items coveted by many, this option is highly promotable. Think kitchen appliances and gadgets, fitness room improvements, the latest trending entertainment devices, individual travel packages and more! Each package can also be customizable if the winner already has one or more of the items included. 

We also have a wide selection of merchandise, gift cards, travel and event tickets and experiential activities in our online award offerings. Through COVID-19 we’ve had to transition several travel programs to online award platforms. We found earners were thrilled with the opportunity. 

“I always wanted this guitar, but could never justify the purchase before this award program!” 


“What an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience my wife and I will have when we get to travel the Danube one day.” 


“I had new windows and gutters installed in my home and am thrilled that I (and my husband) will never have to clean a gutter again!” 


“I would never spend this kind of money on myself normally. This was the perfect opportunity for me to get (luxury accessories).” 

“This would be an amazing program to introduce annually. Making it this personal was meaningful.”

One client, with more than 120 winners, was so pleased with how this turned out in 2020 in lieu of their spring travel to Hawaii, they opted to do it again instead of traveling to Lisbon in the spring of 2021. The results were phenomenal. 100% of their winners redeemed their allotted award. This is how it broke down in 2020:

  • 70% utilized our concierge shoppers to create totally unique reward experiences
  • 15% booked future travel using certificates or our online booking tool
  • 15% redeemed their points in our online offerings for merchandise, special events or experiences

With all of our reward programs, engagement remains strong. There is an almost even split between redemptions for merchandise, individual travel and event tickets versus gift cards with the former taking a slight edge. Throughout the pandemic, the most popular redemptions include new electronics and individual travel packages. 

We recently dedicated a short webinar to the importance of finding the right rewards to enhance your incentive program. You can watch it on our Newsroom tab at

Hopefully, you see now how you can still keep your group travel dreams alive despite our current situation OR easily decide to shift to alternative awards that are personal, meaningful and memorable. 

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