by Lisa A. Grimaldi | September 01, 2014

High-end gifts -- watches, electronics, jewelry -- are traditional elements of many incentive travel programs. These presents often are left in guest rooms or handed out upon arrival at the venue. But many incentive professionals are elevating the art of gift-giving into high-energy events that enhance the program agenda. Following are a sampling of creative, interactive gift ideas that also serve as one-of-a-kind experiences for top performers.

Maui Jim sunglasses fittings

During Maui Jim sunglasses fittings, trained staff assist incentive winners as they select their high-end shades.

One of the simplest ways to transform gift-giving into an incentive-caliber event is to let participants loose at a custom "bar" to peruse and choose a version of the gift item that best fits their look and style.

Lahaina, Hawaii-based Maui Jim Inc. is among the pioneers of the interact gift bar concept. The company has been showcasing its high-end sunglasses at incentive events around the world for the past 15 years, according to Brett Hatch, the company's senior director of global corporate gifts.

The Maui Jim booth typically is set up early in the program to kick off a festive atmosphere -- and allow participants to wear their new shades over the ensuing days. The gift bars are staffed by stringently trained Maui Jim fitters, clad in blue shirts, who personally work with each attendee to choose a pair of premium shades that will flatter his or her face.

"We try to make it a team-building activity," says Hatch. "Winners can trade advice on what to pick and how they look. In some instances, we have the company CEO or vice president of sales manning the booth and helping with selections; what a great one-on-one experience that is for winners." The idea, Hatch adds, is to make the gift-giving process as memorable as the gift itself.

Maui Jim offers this service worldwide -- not just in beach destinations -- for groups of 15 to 4,000 participants. The key to the success of these events, Hatch points out, is to have enough staff to accommodate the group. "We don't want attendees to have to stand on lines and wait more than two or three minutes," he says.

The Blues Jean Bar experience

The Blues Jean Bar was a hit at a Volvo President's Club program, organized by Aimia. 

In a variation of the above, for its 2012 Volvo President's Club trip to California's Napa Valley, the car company wanted to gift winners with something they could wear any time during the casual program and enjoy when they went back home. Upon check-in at their hotel, winners were directed to a "denim bar" -- a custom-created outdoor boutique stocked with hundreds of pairs of jeans -- and were invited to take their pick of any pair.

"Everyone wears jeans, no matter their age, shape or size, so we thought they would appreciate the idea," says Tina Gaccetta, vice president, client services, for Minneapolis-based incentive firm Aimia, which organized the program for Volvo. The incentive firm partnered with the Blues Jean Bar, a brick-and-mortar store that was just beginning to create these events for corporate clients. "They brought displays, changing cabanas and their own 'jean-eologists,' who made sure each of the 50 winners received a perfect pair that flattered them," says Gaccetta.

The custom jeans bar was one element that contributed to Aimia winning a Site Crystal Award for Exceptional Motivational Travel Program last year.