The global marketplace is continuing to grow, so it makes sense that national and international travel is increasingly common for most organizations. Whether it’s executive meetings, team building events, or travel incentives, employers are recognizing the powerful impact of matching key people with corporate objectives.

As business travel grows increasingly common, many companies think that in-house planning can cut costs. However, this can cause problems if the planner is inexperienced or ignorant of attendees’ needs. This article will explore some of the real-world situations encountered with in-house event planning, as well as the kinds of questions and considerations that help keep those problems at bay.

Lodging Arrangements

There’s more to lodging than a bed with clean sheets. Your room should be a safe place to unwind, process the day’s events, and enjoy some private time. Sharing a room with someone else, however, often changes the dynamic. Doubling up may not be as common these days, but some groups still make people share rooms as a way of cutting costs. This greatly hinders each guest’s ability to enjoy their privacy, especially if they are expected to share a bathroom. Here are just a few of the potential issues:

  • Smokers bunking up with non-smokers—even if the smoker isn’t lighting up in the room, it can still be problematic for someone who doesn’t smoke.
  • People with medical needs, such as sleep apnea machines, may lack comfort or technological considerations for their medical equipment.
  • Lack of privacy, especially if there’s only one bathroom.
  • Safety concerns, such as the only woman attendee sharing a lodge with men.

Food and Dining

Everybody loves a good meal, and travel can provide opportunities to try local cuisine, sample new foods and drinks, and enjoy a new food culture. However, it is also important to consider the needs and preferences of guests. Consider these obstacles:

  • Dietary restrictions, such as low sodium or sugar diets, nut allergies, or celiac disease.
  • Food preferences, such as Kosher or vegan diets.
  • Over-indulgence in alcohol—you don’t want your trip ruined by hangovers, sickness, or drunken passes and sexual harassment.

Entertainment and Activities

Travelers will be grateful for entertainment opportunities, and recipients of a travel incentive reward will have particular expectations of an enjoyable time. However, be sure to consider the following:

  • Health limitations such as:o   Hiking/biking will be a struggle for those with a joint condition
    o   High-adrenaline activities are a bad idea for someone with a heart condition
    o   Horseback riding will be an inconsiderate option for those who are overweight
    o   Some activities will not mesh with a person’s religious attire, such as a zip line adventure for a Muslim woman wearing a hijab.
  • Talent can pose an obstacle—a sand volleyball match may not be enjoyable for those with no skill or experience.
  • Activities must also be appropriate for the whole group. Taking the group to a comedy show can be a problem if the comedian makes off-color jokes, is racist or sexist, or discusses inappropriate topics.

Transportation

Getting attendees from Point A to Point B is the fundamental goal of travel, but there are plenty of factors involved. Transportation can be a good opportunity to experience interesting and fun cultural experiences, but there are also potential obstacles. For example:

  • Pick-up and drop-off issues such as arriving too late, getting lost, or taking shortcuts through unsafe areas.
  • Lack of background checks for one-on-one pick-ups and drop-offs can lead to safety issues (such as muggings or sexual assaults).
  • Inadequate seating, such as having to sit in someone’s lap in order for everyone to be transported, or leaving someone behind for a later pick-up.

Corporate Culture

Travel, especially for team building or executive meetings, is a great opportunity for networking among peers. However, corporate culture can change when people aren’t in their usual workplace environment. Here are a few problems to watch out for:

  • Inappropriate behavior such as drunkenness, disorderly conduct, sexual harassment, loud and disruptive behavior, and disrespect or destruction of property.
  • Lack of social skills, such as racist, sexist, or inappropriate remarks/stories/jokes.
  • Rules becoming increasingly lax, due to a ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’ mindset.

Other Considerations

  • Religious needs and requirements:
    o   Prayer or meditation breaks
    o   Dietary restrictions
    o   Attire
  • Health Issues:
    o   Need for electrical outlets near the bed
    o   Someone else trained in how to use an Epi-pen or certified in CPR
    o   Environmental Illnesses: becoming highly ill from the scent of hairsprays, perfumes, candles, cigarette smoke, etc.
    o   PTSD, such as from being suddenly startled, loud noises from fireworks, etc.
  • Personal/Home issues that make overnight travel difficult:
    o   Primary care provider for a loved one with a chronic or terminal illness
    o   Single parent who requires overnight child care
    o   Treatment for a medical issue or a medical issue that makes overnight travel challenging or impossible

Solutions

  1. Get to know your audience.
    Many issues arise because of a failure to ask and answer important questions. Consider creating a blind survey to make these inquiries:

    1. Health restrictions and limitations
    2. Dietary needs and requirements
    3. Personal preferences, such as smoking vs. non-smoking, staying alone or with someone else, etc.
    4. Religious needs, such as those regarding attire, diet, or breaks
    5. Certain cultural or individual moral issues that should be considered for example:
      1. Whether brewed or caffeinated products are acceptable
      2. Whether animal products can be used such as gelatin, broths, tested on animals, etc.
      3. Attire expectations of attendees and entertainers
    6. Whether or not overnight travel is acceptable, and under what circumstances
    7. Would travel pose a financial hardship, such as requirement payment for overnight childcare, nursing staff for an ill loved one, etc.?
  1. Review, screen, and select entertainment.
    If you have speakers, be sure they know what is and is not acceptable, and hold them accountable with a written contract. Also, consider looking over a speaker’s notes beforehand to ensure their material fits your criteria.If you’re traveling to a specific destination for entertainment, such as a comedy club, live performance, etc. be sure someone from your organization has actually seen the entire performance and not bits and pieces. Ask questions such as:

    1. Will my attendees find this enjoyable?
    2. Is the entertainment appropriate? No sexists or racist remarks? Appropriately clothed? Minimal to no profanity? No off-color remarks or topics?
    3. Is this something that honors our brand, our company reputation?
  1. Check into the safety and security of any vendors involved.
    Consider the following:

    1. Background checks for all in attendance
    2. Clear directions/instructions about times and destinations. Review these details several times, including a few days before the event
    3. Privacy for attendees
    4. Safety and security for both attendees and data
  1. Internal Messaging.
    Meet before the event and provide a hand-out sheet with necessary details:

    1. Restrictions
      1. Minimal/restricted use of perfumes or other personal care items
      2. Ask before eating—is this a restricted diet based upon my needs?
    2. Special areas
      1. Smoking vs. non-smoking
      2. Breaks—where to go if you need an area to pray or meditate
    3. Health Issues
      1. Who will handle issues, from a simple cut needing a band-aid to someone having a heart attack or stroke
      2. How will health crises be handled—who will you call, where will people go for help, etc.
      3. How to notify loved ones if illness or injury strikes – who has the emergency contact records, under what conditions will loved ones be notified, etc.
    4. Safety issues, specific to the destination
      1. How will people stay safe—e.g. don’t go alone or without telling someone else where you are going and when you’ll be back, don’t carry cash or valuables, etc.
      2. Check-in points for safety
      3. What to do/who to call if there’s a problem
    5. Corporate Culture
      1. What is the meeting’s ‘tone’, and why?
      2. What is acceptable behavior? Professional, considerate, polite, orderly, etc.
      3. What behavior is unacceptable? Disruptive or destructive behavior, sexism, bigotry, sexual advances/harassment, drunkenness, etc.
      4. Who is the HR liaison for the trip? This person should be available at all times
      5. What are the consequences for unacceptable behavior? Sending people home, suspension without pay, termination, etc.

Conclusion

Planning group business travel is a lot of work, with dozens of questions to ask and variables to consider. Don’t leave this important task to someone who is inexperienced as this can leave your trip vulnerable to a host of problems that could be avoided by hiring a professional travel incentive or meeting planning company.

Is an executive meeting or travel incentive program in your company’s future? Contact Gavel International to discover more about mitigating the risks associated with planning these events.