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.
Cementos Moctezuma, a Mexican producer of cement and concrete products for the construction industry, conducts an annual incentive program for its internal staff and distributors. Africa was selected as the preferred destination – a continent that few Mexicans have visited. Working closely with their local agency and Walthers Destination Business Solutions Africa, the company selected a nine-night program covering three regions and four countries: South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, followed by two nights on safari at 13 lodges located in three South African regions.
The program kicked off with four nights at Cape Town’s Table Bay Hotel where 300 participants experienced the city’s charm and beauty, as well as optional excursions including a tour to the scenic Cape Peninsula, private cable cars to the top of Table Mountain, and a visit to the Cape Wine region for a picnic lunch, wine tasting and dinner at Allee Bleu Estate. Participants also visited the Southern tip of the African continent at Cape Point where several climbed into a cage to dive with Great White sharks
Mexican Independence Day was celebrated African township “Shebeen” style. A casual evening with entertainment ranging from a local choir, to mariachi and salsa music, was held under a clear marquee in the grounds of Cape Town’s historic Castle. Special permission was received from the city to allow a traditional Mexican Independence Day fireworks display to be conducted from high up in the Castle battlements.
The program continued with a two-night safari, which required utilizing three separate geographic regions each located over 1000 miles away from Cape Town. Participants were split into three groups: group one flew to Phinda Private Game Reserve located in South Africa’s Kwa Zulu Natal Province where they were accommodated at three separate lodges; group two departed for Hoedspruit located adjacent to the Kruger National Park where they split into five lodges including Thornybush, Ngala, Kapama and Tintswalo; and group three headed to Skukuza located inside the Kruger National Park, staying at another five lodges located in Sabi Sabi and Singita.
The final act entailed bringing everyone together for three nights at The Royal Livingstone Hotel at the spectacular Victoria Falls on the Zambian side of the river. The following day participants enjoyed a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls and exploring the National Park. On the last day they were treated to a jeep and river safari at Botswana’s Chobe region, famous for its vast elephant population. Special permission was required for the surprise Gala Dinner, which was held under a Bedouin-style marquee within the environmentally sensitive Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park located on the edge of the gorge. A laser show, utilizing the granite rock walls of the Batoka Gorge, formed the backdrop with animated images projected over the river, an international boundary, using the Zimbabwe side of the gorge as a screen.
Effectiveness and Results
The primary objective of the annual incentive program is to drive sales growth and market share with both the internal staff and distribution partners. The success of the program is clearly demonstrated by record results: a 20% increase in gross sales, plus a 5.5% increase in gross margin, resulting in a 36.6% increase in earnings. The return was phenomenal considering that the construction industry GDP growth for the same period was only 2.6%. The company believes that the incentive program to Africa was the major factor in motivating both the sales team’s and distribution channel partners’ extraordinary performance.
An important secondary objective was to build distributor loyalty by providing an environment where customers feel appreciated and have almost unlimited access to Senior Management, enabling company leadership to hear valuable feedback from its distributors. The value of the time spent together, the relationship building and the lessons and advice communicated during the program are impossible to calculate.
While global trends are for shortened programs and staying closer to home, this program demonstrates that an exceptional incentive travel experience – even an 9-night program to a destination more than 24 hours away – can motivate spectacular results!
The Creative Approach
Participants were located all across Mexico and, with no direct flights to Africa and a 24 hour plus long-haul journey, the decision was made to extend the trip to compensate for the long travel time and maximize the participants’ experience in the destination. The extended stay greatly increased the budget and there was immense pressure to contain and reduce costs in three areas – accommodations, air and entertainment.
Due to the short, five-month, lead-time, safari lodge availability was limited. During the site inspection, the client selected 19 lodges of a similar standard. Working closely with the reservations offices of all lodges, chasing up provisional reservations and allocations, and removing expensive suites from the initial block, Walthers managed to reduce the total number of lodges to six, saving on rooms, staffing and production costs.
The initial proposal included charter flights to all safari lodges, but due to budget constraints, scheduled options had to be considered. Walthers managed to negotiate a larger aircraft on two scheduled carrier legs, allowing for an additional 46 seats and avoiding the higher cost of charter, as well as an expensive repositioning of an empty plane. The 46 additional seats on the scheduled return were made available on the airline booking system and mostly sold, further reducing costs.
As the trip coincided with Mexican Independence Day, the client had initially considered a Mexican performer to ensure that authentic entertainment was available. A talent search and Skype interviews resulted in local performers being used for the evening entertainment, once again saving on budget. Additional savings were also realized by sourcing locally for room gifts, welcome packs theming and décor.
Landing restrictions at some safari lodges meant coordinating numerous charter flights, some in aircraft as small as eight seats. Excluding the international long haul flights, a total of 30 domestic and regional aircraft were used ranging from an eight-seat turbo-prop to a 150-seat jet to helicopters.
Border crossings between Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana can be tedious and time consuming, with slow processing and long lines, and 300 arrivals at the same time would usually take many hours to clear immigration. Working with Zambian immigration, Walthers was able to minimize the impact on participants by collecting and bulk processing 300 passports, obtaining permission for the DMC staff to be in the immigration hall to supervise the process. The process was repeated for exiting Zambia, the Chobe River crossing and entry and exit to Botswana.
September is low water season and Victoria Falls is relatively dry on the Zambian side so participants needed to visit the Zimbabwean side of the Zambezi River. Regulations state that Mexican Citizens must apply for visas before arrival into Zimbabwe, and South Africa also required pre arrival visa. It was not possible to arrange two sets of visas within the time frame between qualification and travel so Walthers convinced the Zimbabwe Immigration Chief to personally sign 300 letters authorizing each participant to obtain a visa upon arrival in Livingstone. Participants handed in their passports and, despite visiting 3 countries in three days, only saw their passports again upon departure. A total of nine immigration points, 2700 passport stamps and almost $40,000 in onsite cash visas payments was managed by Walthers without the participants actually being present with their passports.