Transforming Rewards & Recognition with Travel


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Welcome to Travel Buddy

In episode five of the Travel Buddy podcast, James and Ian discuss the evolving landscape of employee rewards, focusing particularly on travel as a transformative approach to enhancing the employee experience. They delve into the generational shifts in the workforce, noting that millennials and Gen Z prioritize work-life balance and seek meaningful experiences over material goods. The conversation highlights how travel can serve as a powerful non-cash incentive, aligning with younger workers' desires for experiences that enrich their personal and professional lives.

The hosts explore the idea that offering travel and experiences as rewards not only benefits employees by providing memorable, enriching opportunities but also enhances employer branding. Employees become informal brand ambassadors, sharing their positive experiences and thereby boosting the company's image. They also touch on the practical aspects of integrating travel rewards into existing HR systems and the potential return on investment for employers in terms of increased employee satisfaction and retention.

Overall, the episode emphasizes the significance of adapting employee rewards to match contemporary values and expectations, showcasing travel as a strategic, beneficial component of modern employee engagement and retention strategies.


James and Ian, welcome again to the travel buddy podcast. This is episode five, and today we’re going to talk about travel rewards.  Influencing, transforming, revolutionizing, employee recognition.  So if  you’re not familiar with this space, it is a lot of different ways to recognize employees, different incentives, there’s perks, there’s wellness, there’s your standard benefits like medical, dental insurance, there’s non cash incentives, there’s experiences, and all that’s rolled up into EX, employee experience.
So,  Travel is a very interesting and novel way to approach and enhance the employee experience, but I want to get a little bit of the lay of the land. What what is the driving motive that companies are trying to, uh, you know, improve that employee experience? Like, what’s the logic there? And then how is travel a really great way to do that?
I think that’s a good place to start. So, James, I’ll start with you. What do you think about that? 
Yeah. I mean, the biggest thing is change, right? Um, we all have been kind of on the roller coaster of the 2020s and one of the big changes is, you know, the majority of boomers are retired and millennials now make up the bulk, um, of the workforce. And with that, there’s just a different set of goals, aspirations, and expectations. Uh, you know, millennials still over 60 percent surveyed by Deloitte in 2023 said that work was a big part of their identity.  But how that work happened or when that work happens, excuse me, and where, um, are all subject to change. And with that, you know, the benefits, um, compensation incentives change as well.
Yeah. Yeah. A lot of people that I know, uh, they, you know, being millennials, it is work is such a central identity. Like you said, they get so much purpose and value of it. But also we talked about this a little bit earlier. Work life balance is such a key concern. And so it’s not just, you know, pay relative to hours and things like that.
There’s this other kind of like integration millennials are really Yeah. Concerned about that. Maybe previous generations weren’t as concerned about is that, was that a fair summary
What do you  what do you think drives that though? Like the, the,  I think, you know, we’ve done a lot of talking and we’ve done a lot of research on that, the idea of work life balance kind of sort of arising in the Gen Xer, uh, time period really being carried on by millennial,  but as you’ve said, there’s so much value in their identity. And  in the  millennial generation, like how how do you meld those two ideas together? 
Yeah. James, what would you say to that?
yeah, I think part of it’s listening. The oldest millennial is somewhere around 45 right now. Um, plus or minus a year or two and you know, Jen’s Gen X, excuse me, didn’t really fill in the leadership gap. There’s just not enough people to go around. So. I think the market’s kind of evolving where it was going to go anyway. Um, but a big part of that is, you know, people,  people want to do good work. Um, it’s just the same Deloitte study said over 77  percent of people, um, would consider changing jobs if they’re forced to go in person. And with that, I think employers and brands need to be very cognizant of, you know, employment’s still sub 4%.
It’s not going to change anytime soon. Cause you can’t print more workers. Um, we kind of need to meet each other somewhere in the middle here.  The other thing too is, you know, we’re kind of,  we’re in this really interesting moment of kind of a combination of what feels like economic headwinds, but the stock market keeps breaking records every day. Um, you know, boomers are retiring. Um, millennials are here. Gen Z is joining. Um, in terms of expectations, there’s a lot of linkage between Millennials and Gen Z, too. Definitely not the same. Um, Gen Z is much smaller and does have a different set of wants and wishes. Uh, but in terms of work life balance, I mean, the biggest priority for all these, um, different, um, Generations is paying the bills, you know, having that base set of living. Uh, but once those basic needs are met, they’re really looking for work life balance, um, travel is extremely high on the list of priorities and the employers that, you know, re approach, um, compensation packages, as well as just kind of this total rewards concept that we seem to be evolving into. Um, those are really going to be the winners of the next decade. 
I love that. I love that you brought it in travel, uh, in relation to work life balance, because there is so much of that, where the reason that. Younger generations, younger workers want that work life balance is to travel. They want experiences is one of the big components. And so a lot of employers over the last 10 years, even maybe 20, 30 years since the war for talent came out, it was, um, it was all about how do you attract this, you know, this, uh, labor shortage that we have.
So how do you attract this high talent, this really talented group of folks to your organization? One of those is work life balance. One of those is pay. One of those is great benefits. A part of that could be like we talked about, like perks, wellness, things like that. But travel can be this really interesting way to do that because you get to match the experience and the expectations that employees want with a non cash incentive that an employer could offer as part of their total comp. 
And what’s interesting too, is, um,  The non cash incentives are kind of going the way of the corner office and that it’s not really a thing anymore. Um, I know all of us are in a remote situation. Um, you know, what, like, what do I have to show off behind me?
Right? Like I can hang a couple things on the wall, but that, you know, that at the end of the day is really not a strong lever, at least for me, personally. Um, there was a SHRM study, pardon the, pardon me for getting the year, but so within the last five, um, that asked people, how do they want to, um, Receive encouragement.
One of the top ways was, you know, just words of affirmation or a positive, um, note from their manager gifts was actually the lowest at 6%. I believe, um, you know, people just don’t want stuff. Um,  same thing with, you know, especially millennial Gen Z. So this is where we’re kind of backing up into, you know, how do I encourage someone?
Yes, cash is still King. Um, But, you know,  bonuses usually go one of three ways, bills, savings, or mattress slash other. It, um,  you know, it, it, it’s quickly forgotten. Um, and especially at least in North America, it’s not the culture to brag about how much you got, um, in a way that, you know, I send Ian or you Brandon on a trip,  you’re going to be posting about it on, you know, Facebook, Snapstagram, or, you know. You get together with the family, friends, and, you know, you’re just sitting, you’re just standing by the grill talking, well, Hey, we just got back from wherever. And, you know, actually it was crazy, but my employer, you know,  my employer is part of that story now. Um, so not only is it incredibly powerful for that relationship between the employer and the employee, um, but it’s also a big potential, um, opportunity or win for employer brand, um, because you’re getting user generated content, um, whether it’s served on the corporate intranet, which, you know, We do internally all the time, um, as well as, you know, the broader world, um, especially for the, you know, these bigger consumer brands, like think about the power that has. Um, you know, you make it, we, it feels like every day we’re hearing about, you know, XYZ, you know, company made this big, you know, social media flub or someone did something goofy. Well, you know, there’s also a positive here, um, especially travel, you know, with just the virality that content actually provides.  It’s a huge opportunity to be part of the story. 
Yeah, I just saw, uh, I had some friends on, on Instagram that are doing this year, year of travel. I don’t know how they’re pulling it off, but they’re traveling all over. But like the, the like magnetic energy that people have around their account because they’re just so fascinated on where they’re going and why, and you know, there’s so many questions.
And so, yeah, I love that point about employer brand, not only like you, the employee. Has that connection to the brand, but also you turn employees into like little influencers all marketing the brand. Cause they’re all going to talk about that. I think it’s a great point.
And the other thing too, is if we’re looking at the economics of this, the average trip sits somewhere between 1500 to 3000,  you know, and if we’re looking at normal American compensation, that’s a percentage of a percentage. Compared to overall total comp versus, you know, if I give you a $3000 spot bonus, like I’m sure most people would appreciate it, but it doesn’t have the same, um,  cachet or, you know, lifespan, excuse me, half life as what you’d expect with, you know, a trip. Like, like I still remember travel, whether it’s, you know, Facebook memory or, you know, just even a conversation that from 15 years ago. The other thing too, is, you know, kind of the tapestry of.  You know, when we, when Switchfly started going down this path in 22, um, there’s a pretty defined, you know, we’re employee rewards, we’re perks, we’re wellness. And it feels like, at least for me last year or two, we’ve really seen a consolidation of the marketplace to be more of just this overall employee experience, um, where, you know, you have everything from here’s an app where you can do yoga and your work pays for it to the gym membership to pet insurance and no experiential rewards.
And.  I think it’s really, um, interesting to see who’s doing what, um, socialize over 10 million people on platform right now in terms of like literal travelers or potential travelers. And we’re really seeing a lot of adoption around like this idea of multi campus, but I want to have a consistent culture. Um, how do we have, you know, across different either peer groups or business units, how do we have a similar experience? Um, but also let the employee be the, you know, kind of hero of their own story. Um, there’s also been a lot of market change where there’s been a couple more like concierge type services where it’s heavily dependent on where you sit or you know localization and the market continually seems to be evolving toward a much more android approach of You know, we want one system where they’re, you know, our people can choose to do what they want when they want. Um, and then, you know, it dove sails night, super nicely with a lot of different organizations and,  you know, work set rule sets, excuse me, whether they shut down for, you know, two weeks during the holidays or have a summer month and, or multiple companies where, you know, for a certain time window, usually around the summer, they just stop asking their employees where they’re going to be working from and just say, you know, Go wherever it makes you happy. Um, and you know, whether you call it pleasure, you know, there’s a lot of synergies here that can make the, um,  the work experience that we have,  um, completely different than that of our parents or previous 
So, yeah, and actually that was a pretty good segue into my, my question of how to manage all of this. Like, uh, some companies out there will have preexisting HR tech and reward systems.  Um, some will have never heard of HR tech, right? Like, what is that? How, how is it managed? What, what kind of avenues are there for, uh, for people to offer travel to their employees?
or crapshoot some, it’s as simple as, you know, you talk to Susie and the accounting department and there’s either a check cut or some kind of expense where, you know, you just turn in a receipt at the end of the trip.
It’s taken care of. You get the credit card points, you know, simple. Um, and that, that’s something where, you know, if you only are doing these at like a five year anniversary or, you know, in a limited use case, like, yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to onboard entire platform when it’s, you know, an additional line in, in accounting record somewhere. Um, but if you’re a larger organization or you have more complex needs. Where it’s not as simple as, you know, 
five years, 3, 000. Um, that’s where, you know, you’re gonna, you’re just kind of asking for trouble. Um, the other thing related to that too, is, you know, a smaller company, there can definitely be kind of just these let’s call them make goods where, you know, if someone gets into a hiccup and.
You know, there’s like cost overrun, you know, there can be just a quick exchange of information, uh, because once the last time any of us 
have been on a trip that didn’t have a delay or some kind of fun little side quest popup. Um, but, um,  you know, really if you’re a larger brand, um, you know, I would strongly, strongly recommend offloading that liability and just complexity, um, 
to experts and that, you know, certain brands, they, they want to go all in on experiential rewards and switch fly as a solution for that. Others want, you know, kind of a soup to nuts, um, of, you know, we want to let our employees pick, do they want to, you know, A branded piece of clothing. Do they want, um, you know, a lawnmower or  are they looking for, you know, a subsidized hotel stay to go visit grandma over birthday holidays, you know, whatever. Um, so, you know, really it depends what you’re looking for first. Well, excuse me, let me, back up. It depends on company size. Um, there is a little bit of region, you know, if you’re located somewhere, um, a little more remote, um, not in the U S but, you know, thinking more like, If you’re in New Guinea, um, might be a little different, um, list of options there.
Um, but you know, outside of that, it really depends. What are you looking for? Um, are you looking for, you know, this kind of total rewards marketplace that has, you know, everything to offer? Um, we have several partners there that, you know, we can recommend, or, you know, just a search and you can quickly name, um, a list of solutions there. Um, if you’re looking for experiential rewards, though, specifically, um, which consistently, you know, test highly in, you know, we’re passionate about this stuff for a reason. Um, you know, the mental health statistics alone, um, really do make one start to think like, is this something that. You know, could even help offset like healthcare costs, um, to, you know, employee motivation to worker output.
Um, I’ll go up when people have that work life balance, you’re able to expand your employer brand. I mean, if y’all don’t cut me off, I’m just going to keep rambling here, but you know, at the end of the day, um, there’s a reason that experiential rewards. Um, aren’t just a thing that, you know, one or two companies like at Google or a meta, uh, excuse me, alphabet or meta, I’m dating myself here, um, offer. Um, and why, why we’re seeing kind of this, um, democratization of. Offerings just crossed, you know, everything 
So it sounds like kind of the name of the game is just flexibility across the board. Right. And how people work and what you offer them and  just bringing in avenues for flexibility.  Where’s the ROI  for the employer and offering  employee rewards and travel and employee rewards. 
so what I’m really hearing is why as an employer, would I want to pay for my employees to go on vacation, uh,  sorry, I know I translate, um, sometimes, but  you know, really it’s  two or three things. Um, one,  do you value your employees? Um, you know, and I mean that not in the, you know, corporate sense, like, are they safe or they compensated, but  how are you, you know, helping the total person,  um, you know, the, kind of the, it’s unfortunate that, you know, I’m going to work at this company for 40 years and then retire with this great pension, um, is kind of something that seems to be, you know, quickly slipping away or, you know, uh, more of a artifact.
But, um, You know, there’s definitely an opportunity here to not only increase employee retention, but also increase worker productivity, um, worker satisfaction and, you know, all things equal. One of the strongest ways to accomplish your corporate goals is just keeping people happy. Um, you know, employers have like a thousand different KPIs and  I don’t know how many HR presentations I’ve sat through where, you know, these are the top five and, you know, the next person has, A completely different dataset,  but, um, one of the simplest, um, answers I’ve ever heard is keep your people happy.  You know, when you, when you solve for everything else, um,  it, 
it’s amazing how closely related that is to even performance in the market. And one of the biggest ways to have
satisfaction in your career is to have work life balance and, you know, let 
Ian be Ian or let Ian do whatever makes Ian happy, you know.
Provided it falls in the boundaries of corporate policies and the law, but, um,  you know, not to pick on you or, um, anyone else, but, you know, really, what are we doing to, you know,  take care of our people? And once you solve for that, they generally want to return or return the favor, especially with that North of 60 percent stuff.
This is a huge part of people’s identities. Um, you know, the employers take an equal role in that relationship and, you know, the sky’s the limit 
Yeah. I think that in my experience, there’s been a lot of confusion about the term employee experience. You know, I mean, what does that even? What does that look like? What does that mean?
But I, I like that you kind of simplified it in that way that it’s like, just keep people happy. And one thing that makes people happy is travel.
I mean, it’s just, it can be as simple as that. And I think there’s a lot of merit in that because, because to your point, people don’t want more stuff, you know, and there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of places out there where you can get stuff and sometimes a branded. Jacket is nice. I mean, Ian’s got one on sometimes, you know, you like those things.
You like water bottles, you like, you know, the hats and things like that. But, but for something to really capture, like, Hey, I’ve been working here for years. I’m like dedicating, you know, a third of my life of my waking hours, you know, half my waking hours to serving this brand. And I, I want to like, have a, a shared. 
Experience with them and to feel like appreciated and recognized and feel like I’m doing a good job. And to, to receive that in the form of travel, it’s like really, really powerful. I’ve seen it in my life. I’ve seen it in my coworkers lives at times. And it’s just, it’s neat. It’s a very unique way to do that, to give them a good experience.
It puts the  onus sort of on the employee, rather than me having to think up of stuff to give, you know, or just, you know, Like James said, just be kind of generic gift card or cash bonus or whatever. Um, it, it might get a little more buy in from the employee cause they’re a little more engaged in the process of picking their own reward, so to speak, of where they’re going or what they’re going to be doing. Um, that might be another helpful way to kind of increase that engagement. 
Yeah. But it’s not just vacations too. I think that was an important point that James was making that like sometimes to use a travel to go visit, you know, grandma, you know, on the other side of the country that I otherwise really wouldn’t. Be able to go get to see her that kind of idea is, is really great.
Cause it’s not like a vacation. It’s like, it’s a memory. It’s a bond with their family. Like there’s just so many ways that. An employee could use travel if they had that opportunity to create an experience that’s really unique to them and not just like a trip to Paris, which I love Paris, Paris is great, but you know, to have something that’s really unique to what makes, what’s meaningful to them.
I think it’s really cool. So
the other thing I’ll say, or just kind of like a last thought on that is. You know, it doesn’t have to be a trip to, you know, Lima, Peru, or, you know, Bora, Bora, we can, um, you know, switch flight, especially we have plenty of local events where, you know, maybe someone has an early family, a young family, and they don’t want to deal with the hassle of having a one and a half year old on a two hour flight.
I mean, there’s just local activities. If you want to do, you know, something super low key, um, you know, you can go do a food tour. You can go, you know,  check out the haunted cemetery down the street. Whatever, you know. It’s all dependent on where you are, obviously, probably not a lot of reef diving and, you know, northern Minnesota  in December.
But, um, you know, outside of just the obvious, um, the employee gets to pick what they do. And, you know, really that’s that’s part of it too, is just the aspirational or the wonderlust of. Looking forward to the trip. Um, I mean, I sure, I know we all know a nervous traveler too, but, um, at the end of the day, half, literally half the benefit from a mental health standpoint is having something to look forward to, or having those milestones. Um, so, you know, whether it’s an activity down the street or, you know, trip halfway around the world, Um, we’re really geared to let people be the hero of their own story here. Um, and I think that’s pretty cool too, that the employer is saying, you know, Hey, Brandon, you know, You’ve killed it this year, you know, happy anniversary, or, you know, we just want to give back to our employees because it was a great year. And that means you get to, you know, you get, maybe you get some extra DTO, maybe,  maybe it’s just an incentive to use DTO. Cause that’s another conversation, right? Um, this whole unlimited PTO paradox of, I give you more, potentially more time off and people take less. Um, I know even internally, there’s always a couple of people who are super dedicated and you have to be like, um, can you not show up next week?
Like you’ve been working eight straight months and you need to take a couple of days off just to, you know, be a, like, go be Ian or go be Brandon. Um, and this is another lever there too. Like there’s just so many synergies to just empowering people to You know, get away to get away.  And again, the employer gets to take the lion’s share of the credit there.
Not, not only because usually there’s some kind of subsidy or, you know, um,  you know, but let’s just be honest. The employer is helping pay for vacation, but, or inexperienced, excuse me.  But you know, like  the, the, um,  instead of just being this day trading kind of like spot, like, here’s a gift card to go to, Gork at DoorDash for a night. Um, this is something that’s going to have a much longer half life and it just be a much more rewarding experience. Um, and I pardoned the pun, please pardon the pun for reward, et cetera, but, um, it really is that just that.  
So we’ve been talking, you know, a lot that, that travels really important employees love to travel. What is a, what’s a trip that’s been standing out in your memory? As you think about, like, you’ve had this great experience, very memorable. It could be very small. I mean, it could be either, like I said, a trip, you know, to visit grandma.
It could have been like, you’re saying like a local event, or it could have been.  Uh, big trip to Paris or some, some grand vacation. What’s something that, that created that memory, man, I tell you, I love Paris. I’m a huge fan. Uh, 
No, no. Your coffee cup says Netherlands.  
that is true. I never even been,  um,  no, but yeah, what’s, what’s something that really stands out to you guys.
It’s like, uh, it just like, it just captured this, I don’t know, this memory for 
I got, I got one. Um, so I grew up  four hours away from the Grand Canyon and never went, uh, never saw it.  Uh, last Christmas though, uh, went out to see my parents who recently moved to the Phoenix area and, uh,  Me and my kids and my wife, and we decided to take a day trip up, uh, spend the night in Flagstaff and go see the Grand Canyon. And it’s one of those things that you’ve just, you’ve seen a million times on TV and postcards and everything else. And  there really is nothing like it. Like you can see it all you want on TV, but seeing it in person is just, it’s unreal. It’s like being on a different planet, you know, of, of, Just the experience of it.
So, uh, you know, and it was just one of those, like  when we had time as a kid to go somewhere, we wanted to go somewhere, you know, we didn’t want to go four hours up the road. And, uh, but taking the time to like, go do that this last Christmas was just, it was, it was incredible. I had a great time. It I’ve flown over the Grand Canyon a couple of times going to California, you know, from Texas and uh, I’ve seen it and it’s just massive, but I’ve never seen it up close and I’ve always wanted to cause it looks just incredible.
unbelievable. Like just the,  the grandness of it. 
Hmm. Hmm.  Well, I have to say Paris,  I’ve been to Europe several times. I love to travel all over, but there’s just something, um, that’s where I honeymoon. It’s where my wife and I love to go. We’ve been there three or four times.  But I love it because it teaches so much about history. And I know you’re a history buff, but when I, when I get there, I have said so many times that I’m like, of course, people revolted in the 18th century.
Like, of course they did look at these palaces. They’re insane. So just giving, you know, seeing things like that, it gives so much, uh, color and perspective to, to history and, and people that have gone before us. So I love things like that. 
Yeah, I, um, it’s funny, you know, and I apparently have the same kind of, or the same timeframe, um, for both of our stories, but Switchfly actually shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s. Um, so the employees can, you know, rest, recharge, um, you know, talking about these, you know, kind of non monetary. Type, um,  uh, rewards and for us, uh, my wife and I, we went to, um, Milwaukee, my hometown stayed in, um, one of the top 10, I forget what they call it.
Um, historic hotels, um, there, you know, have Christmas in the hotel. My family, um, got adjoining rooms, had a suite set up. So, you know. We had our hotel tree, you know, did a gift exchange there and it was just, it was just kind of a cool, fun, you know, out of the box holiday for us. But, you know, having a couple extra days, not really having to rush it where, you know, Oh shoot, we’re going to be, you know, at grandma’s for two hours.
Then we have to be here, you know, it was just, let’s go slow. There’s plenty of space. Everyone can kind of do their own thing, um, before and after. So, you know, we weren’t on top of each other and shoot, even the dogs could come. So, um, just a super cool time. You know, nothing.  Particularly like transformative about the location.
I mean, very cool. Hotel strongly recommend the Pfister if anyone’s ever passing through Milwaukee. But, um,  you know, it was just, it was one of those things. It’s like, let’s try it. Let’s do it. And it seems to be turning into a new tradition. So,  yeah.
And the best part was didn’t really have to stress because I already had the time off.
And, you know, every, you know, Like I knew that I didn’t have to worry about anything, you know,  going  bonk in the night, 
I love except for the ghosts that. are in the hotel  
no, it’s such a special moment. Like it just, there’s nothing to worry about and everybody was together and you didn’t have to rush. I mean, that’s 
or cook. 
cool way to do that. Yeah. That’s important.  I 
The other, the other trick is hotel lounges, but, um, that’s a different episode. 
man. I could talk about some lounges. Airport lounges. All  right. Well, gentlemen, this has been super helpful. Thank you. I know we mentioned at the beginning employee experience, total rewards, perks, wellness benefits. There’s so much that we could probably talk about for hours, but, um, but travel being in that space is really unique and very cool.
So I’m excited to, to get some thoughts on that. And, uh, with that, we will  📍 wrap episode five. Thank you so much.
Thank you.
right. We’ll see you.


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