Cost Savings
Why Travel Is The New Employee Incentive

Why Travel Is The New Employee Incentive

Tristan Krause

1 May 2023
5 minute read
a traveler at the wave in arizona having a great experience as a travel incentive from her company

Imagine you're a sales representative who travels long hours and works tirelessly to meet your targets. The work is high-pressure and can be unrelenting, but you push forward knowing you’ll soon reap the rewards of your hard work. Fast forward a few weeks, and you’re sitting on a beach with your loved ones, sipping a cold drink, and feeling grateful that your company helped get you there. 

Now imagine you are that same hardworking sales representative, but after a grueling quarter in which you surpassed all of your quotas, the company sends you a gift card. That type of reward falls flat in comparison, doesn’t it? It seems like a token, one-size-fits-all gesture.

Anecdotally, it’s easy to see the allure of travel incentives and how these rewards can be a powerful motivator for employees. But data also proves that employees value time off above all else: If given the choice, nearly half of U.S. workers would choose more vacation time over a pay raise, according to recent research. 

Further, leisure travel post-pandemic is booming. The TSA predicts an even bigger summer travel season than last year; meanwhile, Navan saw a 44% increase in personal travel booking volume in Q1 2023 compared to Q1 2022. The bottom line: Travelers’ appetites for leisure trips are showing no signs of waning any time soon.

chart: personal travel booking growth by month

Whether a means of boosting morale, increasing productivity, or enhancing company culture, travel incentives can be a game-changer for companies looking to engage and retain top talent. And it’s a trend that is taking off: A recent Skift + Navan report found that 25% of corporate travel decision-makers plan to offer a stipend for personal vacations in the coming year.

It’s clear that travel is emerging as the ultimate way to reward, recognize, and incentivize employees. Let’s explore why.

Experiences: The New Currency

As companies strive to show appreciation and recognize their employees in meaningful ways, many are finding that traditional methods of recognition just don’t cut it. Cash bonuses and gift cards feel transactional, impersonal, and insincere. These rewards lack the personal touch and emotional connection that a more thoughtful gift conveys.

On the other hand, there's something special about receiving a travel incentive. Rather than a mere token of appreciation, the company is rewarding its employees with an experience — an opportunity to create memories and feel truly appreciated. And it's an incentive that resonates with people: According to one study, a staggering 74% of Americans prioritize experiences over material possessions.

Companies can also openly allow leisure extensions as a companywide travel incentive, which doubles as a way to turn the extra work of a business trip into a work perk. A recent survey of business travelers found that 65% planned to combine business and leisure trips in 2022. Navan data supports this trend: 35% of all business travel bookings on the travel and expense platform now include a weekend. 

As the popularity of combining business and leisure travel continues to grow, many companies are realizing the appeal and have even begun positioning and promoting bleisure travel as an employee benefit. Because Navan supports both business and personal travel bookings, employees can effortlessly extend their trips to enjoy some downtime. Some companies even leverage Navan Personal Travel as an employee perk in their benefits packages.

A recent survey found that after health insurance, employees place the highest value on benefits that offer flexibility and improve work-life balance, including more paid vacation time. And the amazing thing about improving work-life balance is that it helps people show up better both at home and at work. Travel incentives become a way to help employees bring their best selves to work and become the best contributors they can be.

Transforming Company Culture

Travel incentives give employees the opportunity to take a break from work to rest and recharge. The affect of time away from work on mental and physical health is well documented. Studies have shown that vacations can lead to reduced stress, increased happiness, and improved overall well-being.

By implementing travel incentives, companies also signal to employees that they are seen as human beings, not just cogs in a machine. It’s a subtle yet powerful way to show that employees are more than just their job titles and make them feel like they are valued members of the company’s community.

Whether travel incentives are implemented to incentivize top performers or as an across-the-board wellness benefit for all employees, these rewards demonstrate that the company is invested in its employees’ health and happiness. 

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many people’s outlook toward work-life balance. It gave them time to reflect on what is important to them and reevaluate how work should fit into their lives. Still, one study found an alarming 89% of employees report experiencing burnout at their current jobs, and 70% of those said they would leave their jobs because of it. 

Travel incentives could be a tool companies use to foster a culture of taking time away, which in turn helps employees maintain work-life balance and stave off burnout. 

More Carrots, Fewer Sticks

Companies have long relied on the carrots vs. sticks approach to motivate employees. A carrot is a reward used to incentivize good behavior, and a stick is a consequence used to push people to make adjustments. Together, these tools complement each other to drive long-term behavioral changes.

Navan helps companies use this approach to increase platform adoption, ensure policy compliance, and ultimately lower travel costs for companies. Here’s the carrot: Employees earn rewards to use on personal travel when they choose cost-effective business hotels — i.e., those under policy limits. And to make sure all employees use Navan, the stick comes into play: Most companies successfully mandate Navan by not reimbursing travelers for booking off-platform.

When used together, the carrot vs. stick approach works: Companies already enrolled in Navan Rewards have seen a marked increase in platform adoption rates while also enjoying a significant decrease in travel spend. Navan customers participating in the rewards program from August 2022 through January 2023 saw 19% higher rates of adoption. And individual companies such as EMJ Corporation have seen net savings of up to 35% on hotels since switching to Navan.

This is a perfect example of the power of travel incentives. In a world where competition for talent is fierce, companies that prioritize their employees' well-being and satisfaction will succeed. By offering vacation credits as a reward, companies can create a positive work environment that motivates employees to perform at their best. Employees get more carrots, and companies use fewer sticks. 

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