Over the past few weeks, as news of the coronavirus spreading has filled headlines, sales organizations have started to wonder what they should do with their annual incentive trips as they require significant travel and commonly take place in spring or early summer. “A lot of companies are taking preventative measures to limit exposure to employees and the general public at large meetings,” said Steve Marley, ZS’s Meetings + Events practice area lead. “The Geneva Motor Show, the Game Developers Conference, and the Mobile World Conference have all been postponed or cancelled as a result of coronavirus concerns. It’s reasonable to expect that companies will similarly consider the impact of the virus on their sales incentive trips.”

Sales organizations are debating what to do with their annual sales incentive trips, like a “President’s Club” that sends top salespeople to an exotic destination. It’s a bit of a Catch-22: cancel the trip and it could demotivate the sales force, especially top performers; keep the trip, and risk negative consequences if employees are exposed to the virus as a result. Here are three options to consider:


1. Keep the trip. You likely already know the trip location and winners, so determine how the outbreak is affecting the area and whether any participants would have traveled to more heavily impacted countries and consider creating a plan to check and treat individuals who have health concerns. In the end, you don’t want the trip, which should be exciting and fun, to be a source of stress.

2. Bank the money and send winners later. Incentive trips are large expense line items that should be used wisely. Due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak, consider delaying the trip to a time (and potentially different location) when more is known, keeping in mind potential costs associated with venue and vendor cancellations. In the end, this will likely reduce stress, but it could result in additional expenses and impact future eligibility since some employees may no longer be with the company.

3. “Cash out” the winners. Pay winners a lump sum based on the equivalent value of the trip (some companies offer this as an option already). Because of the long lead time required to plan trips, this creates more certainty for winners and allows organizations to financially close out the prior performance year. While you may lose some of the motivational benefits and trip excitement, this is likely the safest and easiest option.

In the end, there’s no right answer and the decision shouldn’t be made by any single person or team. Sales operations, sales leadership, travel and meeting planning teams and your legal department should work together to find the answer that works best for the company, and consider asking the winners about which option works best for them, since they’re the ones who are most impacted by the decision.