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How to create a truly sustainable incentive travel programme?

Despite being important features, sustainable incentive travel programmes are much more than offering vegan menus and eliminating single use plastics. For a truly sustainable programme, we believe there’s a backbone required and somewhat of a mindset to adopt that overarches all of the event details.

It’s likely you’ve read a WikiHow article at least once in your life, perhaps ‘how to tie a tie’ back in school days or seemingly fruitless ‘how to care for your plant’ articles in recent years. The idea is simple, academically researched articles authored by professionals, and we’ve taken inspiration from that to devise a few simple steps planners can follow when Googling ‘how to create a truly sustainable incentive travel programme’.

Step 1

Question absolutely everything.

If it’s not your first incentive travel programme, before you start planning the next one, take a moment to really dissect your last. Break down every programme element; from how your achievers travelled and what vehicles were used for transfers to food that was served, excursions that were offered, gifts that were ordered and any excess collateral that was thrown away. Then, make decisions as to how you can make every aspect more sustainable.

Everything has an alternative, it’s just how far you’re willing to go, but endeavour to make changes to every aspect of the programme in favour of a more sustainable option. Some easy substitutions might look like:

  • A location accessible by train to remove the need for flying (bold start, we know).

  • Electric cars instead of petrol for transfer vehicles.

  • A once in a lifetime activity that supports a need within local communities, like diving to replant coral instead of an emissions heavy helicopter tour.

  • Opting in your guests for a change of bed sheets every other day, rather than every day.

  • Booking unique local entertainment and artists, rather than flying performers over from other countries.

  • Giving achievers the option to pre-order 2-3 gifts they may actually use onsite, rather than handing out potentially unwanted items destined for the bin.

Step 2

Change the brief.

All too often briefs and requests for proposals miss off any indication of environmental, social or economic goals or initiatives. Selecting a destination and venue is typically the starting point of most event projects, and so setting goals and being clear in your RFP at this stage will result in a location that can make creating a sustainable incentive travel programme an easy job.

If you’re really serious about only hosting sustainable incentive trips, start your destination search by looking at the Global Destination Sustainability Index (GDS-Index), a ranking system that compares sustainability efforts against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on a global scale.

Otherwise, you can still define your selection criteria for both destinations and properties to encompass only those who:

  • Are investing in clean, renewable energy.

  • Implement a living minimum wage for workers.

  • Have equal pay for men and women.

  • Protect life on land and below water.

  • Are locally-owned (if not hotels, any offsite dinner venues).

  • Partner with local charities to donate leftover food, time or resources.

They are perhaps questions we as an industry aren’t confident leading with yet, but the more we make it the norm to do so, the more suppliers will make positive changes in an effort to keep up with demands and their competition.

Step 3

Create a carbon ‘budget’.

We’re all using tracking tools and at Zentive, we calculate the carbon footprint for all of our events when possible, meaning we can keep figures and statistics updated from the initial brief all throughout the planning process – rather than calculating the damage that’s too late to undo.

If we input expected carbon from a proposed excursion that’s coming out particularly high, take the chance to select one with less of an impact on the planet, and an equally positive, ‘once in a lifetime’ impact on your delegates.

Using a previous emissions report is a great benchmark to start on, or alternatively look at average emissions per delegate and set your targets from there.

Step 4


Sustainability is a complex, multifaceted issue that the majority are still just coming to grips with. As any incentive is a collaborative effort involving agencies, caterers, AV teams, transportation companies and so on, a sustainable programme too requires a holistic approach between all stakeholders.

Don’t be shy, share your sustainable goals and objectives, be vocal and transparent in a way that encourages the exchange of ideas and leveraging of pooled knowledge. Perhaps the hotel staff saw another group implement a great initiative that could work for your incentive, maybe your production crew know of a rooftop beehive building project with amazing views that needs help, or what if your caterers had been so eager to create an off-package, zero-waste menu from drinks to desserts? You’re not to know until you share.

This involves your achievers too, engage and educate your guests about what sustainable goals you’re trying to accomplish, it shouldn’t be a secret, it should be something to shout about. This could be included in the incentive promotions or pre-event communications, either way it’s a chance to get them on board and share how they can support conservation efforts in the destination or reduce their own footprint along the way.

Collaboration undoubtedly results in the development of innovative solutions and can accelerate progress towards sustainable goals. It’s not only an important component of the ‘backbone’, but also drives change towards a more sustainable future altogether.

Of course, so much more than 1, 2, 3, 4 goes into creating a truly sustainable incentive travel programme, and dependent on the brief, every eventuality is going to look different. We could write novels on various scenarios, but believe that by starting with these 4 steps, every detail within an incentive travel programme can be truly sustainable.

If you want to continue the discussion, feel free to drop us a line on

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