Winning Essay for the David Riddell Scholarship 2020

Every so often a star emerges and this is what we LOVE about our David Riddell Scholarship. This year, the selected essay was written by Isabel Hagel, Operations Executive for Custom Ireland. It is a powerful reminder of what is at the very core of incentive travel – the achievers themselves. Often known as ‘the participants’ or ‘the attendees’, we love the reminder that these people are first and foremost, achievers. They worked so hard, achieved so much to get this reward. As such, it is paramount they are front and centre in experience design and itinerary planning, from the get go.

Read more below about this worthy scholarship as well as the impressive lady to win it this year. And of course, enjoy her fantastic essay and its important reminder of what incentive travel is all about!

The David Riddell Scholarship

The David Riddell Scholarship was created in memory of SITE Past President David Riddell. David was always upbeat about the incentive travel industry; forever the promoter of the value of performance improvement. To this end, this scholarship provides an opportunity for worthy individuals to participate in SITE educational programs, including funding to attend the annual SITE Global Conference. Scholarship recipients are selected by the SITE Foundation Board of Trustees upon submission of an application form and essay.

The David Riddell Scholarship Winner 2020

About Isabel Hagel

Isabel knew long before completing her Bachelor degree in Tourism Management that she wanted to work in the incentive industry. Motivated by the incredible reward that is travel, she relishes being able to reward and incentivise people in this way. People work so hard and sacrifice a lot for their companies, so being able to create meaningful programmes that lead to long-lasting memories is a real pleasure for her. Starting her career initially as an intern with DMC Custom Ireland, Isabel hasn’t looked back. She says that this scholarship is an incredible opportunity for a young professional like her. It enables her to learn more about our fantastic industry, make valuable international connections and move forward in her career.

Winning Essay – The Importance of ‘The Achiever’ in all aspects of Incentive Planning


Incentive travel is widely used as a performance-enhancement tool, and according to SITE’s CEO Didier Scaillet, an extraordinarily effective one at that. The official SITE definition describes incentive travel as;

“A modern management tool used to accomplish uncommon business goals by awarding participants an extraordinary travel experience upon their attainment of their share of the uncommon goals.”

When looking closely at this definition, it becomes clear that the reward that is incentive travel is directed towards achievers. These achievers are the top performers in their organisation. The goal of incentive travel is to motivate them to continue to accomplish the extraordinary. Achieving this with an incentive trip can be very challenging and, according to Mr. Scaillet, a waste of money if done the wrong way. This essay is dedicated to the importance of placing the achiever at the centre of all aspects of incentive planning.

The ‘All-Purpose’ Approach

When cleaning my house, I count on a good old all-purpose cleaner – my secret weapon for all target groups around the house. Even though I am aware of the existence of bathroom, glass, floor and cooktop cleaners, I never bother buying them. The good thing here is: our furniture won’t move to a different house, even if we don’t treat them with the respect they deserve. But what about employees?

Historically, the all-purpose approach has been a common procedure in incentive travel planning. Creating an all-purpose itinerary may simplify the process and save time, however, choosing the easy way out is putting our own interests before everyone else’s. A multi-purpose tool may do the job at home – but when it comes to incentive travel, do we want to create something that only does the job? Shouldn’t we aspire to design a programme that amazes and makes the achievers shine? As SITE’s first full-time president Robert Guerriero said:

“This new traveller was a winner, and expected to be treated as the champion he or she was”.

If these winners need to over-perform to win an incentive trip, we owe it to them to do the same.

The Centre of Incentive Travel

The ‘Bangkok Manifesto’, created at the SITE Global Conference in 2019, includes ten statements on the nature, purpose and direction of incentive travel. According to the Manifesto, the achiever and their interests and aspirations should be the drivers of every stage of incentive planning, industry-wide. The main reason for unsuccessful incentive programmes is that the achievers are not put firmly in the centre of the planning process. The question is: How do we know what the achiever’s innermost desires are? How can we guarantee an incentive that leaves the achiever feeling respected, motivated and rewarded? Even though there is no magic formula for the perfect incentive, there are some guidelines that will help planners get closer to creating incentives that are as extraordinary as their winners.

The Dynamic of the Target Group

Understanding the dynamic of the target group is the key to crafting an incentive that inspires. We have reached the decade in which Millennials make up half of the global workforce and are therefore a large target group which the incentive industry needs to focus on. Millennials are particularly interested in leaving a positive impact on the destination they are travelling to, and to disconnect. While sharing holiday photographs with friends and family is still on their mind, they are also craving time to stop and take in the beauty around them. There can be over four different generations in one workplace, each coming with their own interests. Looking closely at the demographic cohorts of the achievers can shed light on their interests. However, it is necessary to dig even deeper to find out where the achiever’s desires lie.

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want

These words don’t just transport us back to the 1990s, they are also applicable to the incentive industry. Achievers will tell us what they really, really want. We just have to ask. 

Promising tools to gain insight into the achiever’s interests are: pre- and post-programme surveys and interviews, conversations with the company or the agent, as well as keeping an eye on recent studies. The SITE Foundation are doing a great job of carrying out studies and sharing them with members. Even though intimate details may be confidential, these tools will help us discover general trends and insights.

What are the questions we need to ask?

Take a close look at the demographics and psychographics of the participants such as age, origin, position in the company, opinions, general attitude. How do they spend their leisure time? Have they done a lot of travelling in the past? If not – is the reason for that not being able to go or not wanting to go? If the team works very closely together in the office, they may want to deepen their team spirit even further or split up for individual activities. For me, travelling to a new destination means experiencing as much as possible. However, for the achiever, an incentive trip is time away from their desk where they may wish to relax and recharge. For this reason, we cannot make any assumptions. We need to ask the questions. Then, stop and listen to ensure the incentive trip we are planning is tailored exactly to the audience. Now don’t go wasting your precious time, get your act together it will be just fine.

I’m a Wellness Enthusiast and a Mountain Magnet

Based on these findings, different achiever-profiles can be developed: Adventure Lovers, Culture Chasers, Foodies, Wellness Enthusiasts and many more. These can then be matched with suitable excursions the achievers can choose from. Even if it may not be possible to match everyone’s interests, achiever-profiles can help get as close as possible to a personalised incentive trip. Personalisation has evolved from a trend to an essential part of incentive planning. We wouldn’t gift each family member the same pair of shoes or send them on the same weekend trip. This also applies to the incentive industry. To create a programme that inspires, every detail has to be personalised and fascinating options have to be given. Allowing the achievers to pick their favourite destination, excursions and gifts is an invaluable step in the right direction.

Keep an Eye Out for Trends

As mentioned before, target groups, and thereby achiever-profiles, are dynamic, not static, and need to be revisited regularly. In order to keep track of what moves our audience and create incentive programmes that are fresh and exciting, incentive planners have to keep an eye out for trends. New luxury is a term we have become quite familiar with. Today’s travellers desire more than relaxing by the beach with a drink in hand. The new understanding of luxury includes authentic experiences and full immersion in the local culture leading to personal growth and self-actualisation. Some other trends we have witnessed over the past years that are still relevant today are Wellness, Technology and Sustainability.

New trends will also evolve from the impact the Coronavirus has on the industry. With achievers becoming more conscious of their health and safety, incentive planners have to provide new solutions to make them feel as safe on the trip as they are at home. For this reason, individual incentives will become an integral part of incentive planning in the near future. Individual incentives make it easier to personalise trips based on an achiever’s needs. This ties in with the growing importance of personalisation and may be the industry’s silver lining to Covid-19. Trends are evolving every year, if not every day. As incentive planners, we should be mindful of what motivates our audience, pay attention to trends and continuously test new ideas. 


Crafting an experience that amazes the achievers is a complex process. Constant communication between industry professionals and clients is a fundamental part. Being part of a remarkable support network like SITE helps industry professionals exchange the latest trends and news, and ultimately craft relevant and remarkable incentive trips. Having recently started working in the incentive industry in Ireland and discovered the amazing product this country has to offer, I understand how easy it is to get carried away by that. It is mandatory to keep in mind that every client is different and to start afresh on each project. However, quick responses and proposals are key, and getting an in-depth understanding of the achievers can be very time-consuming. The procedures mentioned in this essay are effective tools in the time-conscious life of an incentive planner.

Incentive travel has matured from generic group excursions and moved on to personalised experiences. I’m very excited to be part of the industry’s evolution in the near future. In the meantime, I will add glass and floor cleaner to my cleaning routine to bid farewell to the all-purpose approach altogether.

Written by Isabel Hagel, Operations Executive for Custom Ireland, a DMC Network affiliate; and Winner of SITE’s David Riddell Scholarship 2020

Isabel Hagel, Winner of SITE's David Riddell Scholarship 2020

For more articles on Motivate, please see our repository here, covering topics like SustainabilityWellnessCase StudiesIndustry Member InterviewsCovid-19 related change, and many more general words of wisdom!