The incentives industry has been making a post-recession comeback, according to the latest Pulse Survey from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), which noted a strong positive upward trend for each of the core elements studied, compared to the previous four survey periods (from July 2009 through to April 2014). This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

The IRF surveyed industry professionals about trends in incentive travel programmes, merchandise and non-cash incentive programmes, budgeting, and other key areas for 2014, and found that 63% of respondents felt positive about the economy's effect on their ability to plan and implement incentive travel programmes. This is the first time this indicator has remained over 60% in two consecutive survey periods since 2008 (it was 69% in November 2013).

Among the survey's key findings:

  • 48% of respondents say the economy is having a positive influence on programme planning and execution of merchandise/noncash programmes as well. The percentage of those saying it will have no impact rose from 32% a year ago to 42% currently.
  • More than half of respondents (53%) indicate they use social media tool/techniques to enhance their incentive programmes (vs. 55% a year ago), 36% indicate the use of corporate social responsibility (CSR) components (vs. 39% a year ago), and 36% use gamification techniques (vs. 26% a year ago).
  • Respondents are nearly evenly split when it comes to the involvement of procurement/purchasing with incentive travel programmes in the coming year - 47% anticipate no change in such involvement, while 48% say that the procurement/ purchasing role will increase to some degree.
  • 19% of respondents now say they expect a change from domestic to international destinations - up from just 4% two years ago. Still, 49% indicate that North America is their top choice, with Europe and the Caribbean tied for second at 41%.
  • Electronics (43%), jewellery/watches (33%), and open-loop gift cards (36%) are the most common merchandise used in reward & recognition programmes. Other popular merchandise types are golf items (32%); apparel (31%); housewares (30%); and luggage (29%).