Incentive travel is one of the most experiential and memorable rewards you could offer your employees. With so many destinations to choose from, it can often be a tough decision-making process to pick the perfect incentive destination that not only offers a reward of a lifetime, but also inspires individuals within your organisation.
Ever considered New Zealand? BI WORLDWIDE’s Events Project Executive, Teresa Allen, recently undertook a two-month sabbatical and travelled to New Zealand and Bali for a voyage of self-discovery and enlightenment. Teresa shares a flavour of her New Zealand experience with us and what it could potentially offer for an incentive trip of a lifetime!
Perceptions vs Reality
New Zealand. Never been there. Never even thought about going there, that is until my sabbatical opened up a window of time that was perfect for a long-distance journey.
Before my travels I had, rather naively, always accepted that New Zealand was just too far away to travel to. It just wasn’t a destination on my radar, let alone on my bucket-list. When I announced where I was travelling to, I was staggered at the vast number of people from the UK who said ‘Oh, I’ve been there, you’ll love it’, so clearly travelling to the ends of the earth isn’t quite so difficult after all.
Situated at almost the furthest place on earth from the UK, New Zealand does give the impression of being a fairly inaccessible country, requiring an epic journey of multiple flights and ‘lost’ days through travel. Experience within the travel industry has now equipped me with a more informed view to surmise that, in actual fact, a lot of the arising ‘remoteness’ issues come down to mind-set. It is all too easy to focus on the negatives but what about the positives? Modern-day life is a frenzied blur of ‘busyness’ and connectivity; always being ‘on’ and available. Doesn’t an opportunity for hours of no phone calls, no emails and a chance to catch up on sleep or watch multiple films in a row now sound remarkably appealing? We should really be thinking ourselves lucky with the rise of modern-day travel; Captain Cook’s voyage took many months!
With more global client events taking place each year and with businesses who have offices based all over the world, New Zealand could be an over-looked but perfect location for an incentive event, especially for attendees from Asia and west-coast USA. In some cases, travel distances could be comparable or even better than to European destinations so the 'distance barrier' argument can be hastily kicked to the side.
I spent five weeks travelling solo in a campervan (a highly recommended inclusion for your ‘things to do before you die’ list!) from the top of the North Island to the bottom tip of the South Island and it certainly taught me a fair few things about this beguiling country to alter my misled assumptions…
Life on the road was a rewarding expedition and fundamental part of my trip. The lack of motorways was probably the reason why continuous hours of driving went by so surprisingly quickly; the passage of time from A to B was chock-a-block in jaw-dropping scenes (not an iota of traffic tedium like the M1 or monotony of the M25 in sight)! The road trip combined twisting and turning mountainous and forest roads to steep gradients snaking around the hills and peninsulas. Vast open valleys of rolling agricultural land, vistas of barren landscapes framed with snow-capped mountains and coastlines of turquoise bays and ocean views all appeared one after another like a perfectly edited documentary film . . . the hardest part was tearing my eyes away from the scenery and focusing on the road. As the famous saying goes, 'life is all about the journey'!
An open mind leads to unexpected surprises
It is funny how past perceptions or experiences can train your brain to think certain things without validation or fact. I encountered a few scenarios in New Zealand that proved exercising an open mind has great benefits.
As a solo female traveller, I have found in some countries it has been best not to engage too much with over-friendly locals to avoid being sold a camel(!), pestered for money or put in a potentially awkward or compromising situation. In New Zealand, any anxiety or hesitation I may have previously learnt completely melted away within minutes of my arrival. Kiwis are some of the most genuine and friendly people I have ever met. They are quick to engage in conversation with no hidden agenda; simply interested, willing to chat and offer helpful advice. My travels were peppered by encounters with some lovely characters and individuals who made me feel instantly welcome and I am confident that anyone attending an incentive event would share similar experiences.
Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, pre-organised plans just don’t work out. One activity I was most looking forward to during my trip was to go whale watching at Kaikoura. Unfortunately, my boat was cancelled because an overnight storm resulted in there being no whales in the area where the boat could venture. I was naturally very disappointed and was in two minds about pushing my schedule back to try again the following day. As I strolled around the quaint town, past tourist shops mockingly selling wares branded with whale tails, I mulled over my dilemma and stumbled across a window-front that stopped me in my tracks. The shop specialised in whale watching flights and scenic air tours in 7-seater planes and helicopters. With a new-found spontaneous streak I never knew existed, I booked myself on to a tour and just a few short hours later I was buckling up my seatbelt, raring to take to the skies.
Whilst I didn’t get to see any whales (it just wasn’t meant to be), I gained in more unexpected ways. The thrill of seeing dolphins playing in front of the boat cruising in the bay was completely different to seeing them from a ship. Flying in a small aircraft gave me such a different perspective of the ocean and the panorama of the surrounding landscape. Having observed the countryside from ground level, my new bird’s-eye view allowed my vision to extend far beyond what I’d previously encountered and highlighted the juxtaposition between the land and sea. This experience really helped to highlight that incentive travel is all about doing things you wouldn’t normally do.
As we completed our final descent and the wheels hit the tarmac, I was buzzing and grinning from ear-to-ear, knowing that this unexpected turn of events was the best thing that could have happened. Thank goodness there were no whales!
You are never too old to learn
As adults, it wouldn’t be incongruous to make the statement that we know more than children based on advanced knowledge and life experience. Little did I know that in New Zealand, this thought would be completely flipped on its head and I would be well behind the education of the local primary schools! I really hadn’t expected my journey to be such a learning experience, but I became aware of entirely new animal species that I didn’t know existed, trees and rock formations I’d never set sight on before and a culture that I had no education in.
It’s funny how species that are very normal to locals appear to be exotic and unusual through the eyes of a foreign traveller. Kakariki, Kaka, Takahe, Kea; these are all birds that a year ago meant absolutely nothing to me. I was astonished to discover that the infamous Kiwi bird is bigger than a chicken (I thought they were much smaller) and that a Royal Albatross has a wingspan of 3.3 metres (nearly as long as a small family car)! I was also lucky enough to observe Hector’s dolphins (the smallest species in the world) and Fiordland crested penguins, both of which are only found in New Zealand waters.
I think it would be dishonourable for anyone to visit New Zealand and not try to learn and appreciate a little bit about the history and traditions of Maori culture and I made a conscious effort to expose myself to as much as possible. Whilst Rotorua is famed for being the hub of cultural experiences, my favourite tour was at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in the far north and I would highly recommend it as a must-have inclusion for any incentive group visiting the North Island (it is also close to the stunningly attractive Bay of Islands, which shouldn’t be missed). Not only is the location the most important historic site in the country but the day pass includes an informative guided tour with a local Maori to see the world’s largest ceremonial war canoe, carved meeting house and a chance to watch a Maori warrior performance which includes the infamous Haka. I felt privileged to understand about the indigenous customs; from the importance of hospitality, generosity and respect to the spiritual life-force and responsibility for the natural world. Perhaps our society could learn a thing or two.