SITE Crystal Awards 2016: Best Destination-Based Experiential Incentive Travel Program “The Desert Experience” by Distant Frontiers

Since 1980, the annual Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Crystal Awards Recognition Program — sponsored by IMEX Group — has brought industry acclaim to incentive travel companies. These are the world-class organizations that excel in the design of unique, memorable group travel experiences, which deliver measurable benefits for their clients.

The 2016 awards were presented at the SITE Global Conference, which took place early November in Panama City, Panama. This year seven companies from around the globe were honored for creativity in program design, marketing, corporate social responsibility and, most importantly, business results. The events showcase the best — not just the best-known — destinations that have advanced client values and brands, and whose programs have given generously to local communities, while achieving important business goals such as increased sales, higher employee engagement, and greater loyalty. 

Program Overview

When their client wanted to offer a “wow experience” for their top 30 directors, destination management company Distant Frontiers chose Jodhpur, India for its diverse landscape, delicious cuisine, and rich cultural heritage. With the city of Jodhpur as their home base, participants explored the city and the surrounding region in an action-packed, five-day itinerary filled with authentic and unique experiences. From sunset camel rides with cocktails, to celebrating a traditional Holi festival, to a memorable gala evening with magnificent views, participants were treated to the best one of India’s lesser-traveled regions.


Effectiveness and Results

The client came to the DMC with three primary goals: recognize top-performing directors, offer an opportunity to network and collaborate, and provide an experience that would be exclusive and lasting. Participants of this incentive were very well traveled, and many had visited India before on business. The diverse experiences and activities on the program nonetheless exceeded the expectations of attendees, who were surprised by the experiences offered by India and found the trip “one of the most incredible incentives they had ever been on.” The experiences on the trip also allowed teams to interact, bond, and collaborate, while the Gala evening and awards night recognized participants while providing an unforgettable conclusion to the experience.

The Creative Approach

Throughout the program, activities and accommodations were selected with two key elements in mind: the client and DMC wanted the experience to be “out of the ordinary” and “authentic.” The Distant Frontiers worked to ensure that the experiences the participants had in India would be rare and unique to the region, while diverse accommodations – from tented desert camps to an old mansion in the heart of Jodphur – added to the authenticity. Among the most notable experience for participants was a trip through the rural region surrounding Jodphur, where participants learned about local wildlife and interacted with local communities. A local bush lunch was organized outside a village in the desert, and participants played a cricket match against locals. Later in the trip, a gala evening at the Mehrangarh Fort gave participants unbeatable views of the city and the opportunity to wear traditional clothing, partake in a procession with fire torch bearers, dancers and drummers, and view a magnificent fireworks display over the city skyline.


Program Execution

In order to match the client’s high standards and ensure a flawless program in a less-common destination, the DMC thoroughly investigated the region’s infrastructure and relied on the knowledge of local service providers to execute the program’s experiences. Service providers were expected to maintain a close attention to detail, and developed a highly-detailed programme and working notes. The DMC also ensured that contingency plans were prepared and ready to implement if necessary.

During the program, the DMC overcame a number of challenges associated with hosting an incentive travel program in an unusual destination. The historic narrow streets proved to be a problem for transportation, as coaches could not enter the city due to its narrow streets. Instead, they innovated and used local tuk tuks to transport participants to and from the hotel, ensuring that at least 35 tuk tuks were waiting outside the hotel for the group’s every movement. Additional challenges arose in negotiating with a hotel that had never hosted an incentive group. With careful planning and precision, the DMC was nonetheless able to execute a flawless program in a unique and beautiful part of India.