A new breed of incentive travel award-winners is demanding programs that effect change in the world.

While the traditional incentive recipe of luxurious accommodations, lavish meals and sun and sand will never fall out of fashion, organizations such as the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) have moved corporate social responsibility (CSR) to the top of their list.

SITE’s “Bangkok Manifesto,” revealed its call for the incentive travel community to embrace CSR as its most important priority:

“Every stakeholder in the incentive travel community should embrace social responsibility as a core part of their business philosophy and recognize that our business practices are exercised.”

One of the top 10 trends recognized in the 2019 IRF Trends Study, published by the Incentive Research Foundation, also points to many of the personal enrichment benefits CSR programs provide:

“In 2019, transformational travel will continue to push and extend the experience economy even further. Transformational travel proposes offering highly memorable, authentic experiences while connecting people with a deeper meaning that leads to personal growth and/or self-actualization. The concept of transformational travel connects and incorporates concepts of wellness, sustainability, community and personal fulfillment.”

To sum it all up, many of today’s incentive travelers desire more than fun in the sun with a Mai Tai in hand.

The Incentive Travel World Catches the CSR Wave
Incentive travel professionals such as Kevin Gorman, director of business development for CWT Meetings & Events, are already surfing the CSR activity wave. “Not only are we seeing that, but it’s something at CWT we push at every opportunity,” Gorman said. “Whether it’s a large or a small meeting, we encourage our clients to have some sort of CSR program to have some kind of positive impact on the destination they go to.”

One of the appealing aspects of adding a CSR activity to an incentive is that even relatively simple programs can make a dramatic impact in the lives of those in the destination who benefit.

“We start with something as simple as building a library,” said Gorman, who added that CWT usually works with local DMCs to facilitate CSR activities. “Each attendee brings a children’s book and we donate it to a hospital, a school in need or an orphanage. The CSR activities that resonate the most with audiences are the ones that have to do with kids.”

One CWT incentive program CSR activities included planting more than 100 trees, including breadfruit and coconut trees, during a program for 350 3M incentive winners in Maui. The trees were projected to provide 200,000 pounds of fruit annually to the local community. CWT won a coveted SITE Crystal Award for “Most Impactful Effort Toward Corporate Social Responsibility as Part of an Incentive Program” for the effort.

An Incentive Travel CSR Pioneer

Harith Wickrema, president of Island Green Living and chief visionary officer of Eco Serendib Villa and Spa, has been in the business of promoting CSR for nearly 20 years, launching the Sustainable Tourism Meetings Management Course at Temple University in 2001. He also instituted the Sustainability category as chairman of the SITE Crystal Awards Committee.

Now living in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a popular incentive destination, Wickrema is leading the fight to ban coral-destroying chemicals from sunscreen.

“I lived the talk in going after hotels and destinations and I thought of the of the ways to encourage that would be in an area I could make a difference, and the U.S. Virgin Islands is a small enough place that I could make an impact.” Wickrema, who says he has donated approximately $1.5 million to sustainability efforts through his Harith Foundation, currently operates Eco Serendib Villa and Spa.

Eco Serendib is a high-end eight-room villa resort with a focus on sustainability, but with luxurious concessions such as name-brand amenities and 600-threadcount bedsheets, offers one interesting feature centered around providing sustainable food.

“About 125 days before they arrive we have guests choose what they want to eat, then we sow the seed, and according to the germination period, when they arrive our chef will take them to the garden in the morning and they will pick their food,” said Wickrema, who has previously operated incentive programs that took a group to Rio de Janeiro to work in the city’s impoverished favela neighborhoods. “Most human beings like to feel good by helping others,” he summed up. “You make it a volunteer option. And unless there’s a physical handicap, I’ve seen 100% participation because they want to feel good helping the less fortunate.”

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