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Incentive travel rewards are perfectly matched to the emerging needs of today's multi-generational workforce and corporate America's simultaneous move toward enterprise engagement, according to a study by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF). This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, entitled 'Rebounding the Recession: The Future of Incentive Travel 2015', highlighted several key factors that are driving this move toward enterprise engagement. For example:

  1. Shaking Off a Bad Economy
    Although the incentive travel industry was hit hard by the recession in 2009, current indicators show a thriving US$22.5 billion industry primed to grow. IRF Pulse Surveys show that, unlike the beginning of 2009 where 86% of respondents found the economy to have a decidedly negative impact on incentive travel programmes, in the fall of 2014 only 15% felt this way.
  2. Budgets Trending Up
    By the height of the recession in late 2009, Pulse Surveys showed over 80% of planners were decreasing their incentive travel budgets either moderately or significantly, with virtually zero growth from any side of the market. In the fall of 2014, IRF research showed 50% of planners increasing their budgets, with a quarter maintaining budgets of over US$4,000 per person heading into 2015.
  3. International Programmes Rebound
    At the height of the recession, IRF research saw as many as 45% of travel planners moving their programmes from international to domestic locations. Long haul and exotic locations became increasingly rare, as fewer than 10% of travel planners shifted from domestic programmes to those abroad. This trend changed in the spring of 2014, with IRF research showing (for the first time since the start of the recession) more planners taking their programmes international than bringing them back domestically.
  4. Fewer Cutbacks
    As late as the spring of 2010, IRF research showed more than half of planners were still cutting either the number of nights for their programmes or the number of requested rooms. Currently, less than 10% of planners say they would be reducing the number of nights or rooms for their programmes heading into 2015.
  5. More Emphasis on 'Self-Defining' Experiences
    Today's planners are keenly aware that incentive travel experiences go much deeper than excursions and entertaining speakers. Whether it's balancing the needs of the spa crowd with the club crowd or creating intimate dinners with an option for exuberant behind-the-scenes meet and greets with the chef, planners will be challenged to create places and spaces that create self-defining experiences for multiple demographics.
  6. An App for Everything
    The rise of event-specific mobile devices has helped planners reduce paper programmes and provide needed data-on-demand through apps that address only the details of the current event at hand. But the proliferation of travel apps has also driven attendees to take more and more control of their experience - with or without the help of planners.
  7. Wellness Winding Up
    In-room yoga, healthy menus, readily-available spa water and a nice gym may have sufficed for "wellness" a few years ago, but such offerings are now considered commonplace and expected by most planners and travelers. Differentiation in the wellness market requires more significant investments into alternative spa treatments, exotic menus and unexpected treatments.
  8. Disruption as a Constant
    Hurricanes, volcanoes, Ebola, terrorists, unpredictable currencies, political fluctuations - these would be an issue for any business, but they are exacerbated by the interconnected and multi-faceted nature of meetings and incentive travel. As the need for disaster planning becomes more essential and frequent, the IRF expects to see outsourcing and partnerships in this area take on greater importance.
  9. Recruiting, Retention and Rewards
    The foremost investment focus for most CEOs today isn't marketing or R&D, but talent. In fact, 81% of CEOs said they were concentrating on talent, an emphasis rivaled only by technology investment. This new motivational mindset meshes perfectly with the recent resurgence in noncash rewards & recognition programmes - particularly incentive travel programmes - as a primary tool in transferring best practices from top employees to up-and-comers.
  10. Engaged in What?
    Amidst the concern regarding shrinking skilled labour pools is the hope of not only attracting and retaining high performers, but also building a fully engaged workforce. Engagement as a concept was originally meant to engage a workforce in their core job role; however, in the new economy, successful organisations need their employees to perform many non-core job roles, such as trainer, brand advocate, innovator and change agent. Reward and recognition programmes are more flexible than standard compensation systems and have a long history of agile implementation driving non-core job roles.