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4 Factors that Will Be Transforming Group Travel this Year

Today's guest post is by By Lynda Baum, founder and president of Exclusive Destinations.

Did you choose this industry or did this industry choose you?

Do you pride yourself in being a trendsetter, or are you admittedly, and happily, more inclined to follow the crowd?
Either way, you want to stay on top of these trends we think you’ll be seeing everywhere in 2017.

1. Bigger budgets, better experiences

We’ve seen increasingly more requests for proposal that reflect a “where in the world” concept. These RFPs are pitched with multiple destinations now that corporations have larger bandwidth to consider emerging destinations and international locales for their programs.

We’re not seeing as much emphasis on budget and cost-savings in the RFPs as we’ve seen historically. Now the focus is experiential and content-driven, with a healthy and refreshing dose of corporate social responsibility. Corporations are creating a narrative to build and enhance their brands. This trend will bring innovation to the proposal process and, ultimately, to the event itself.


2. Incentive travel is on the rise. More companies, especially new, fast-growing companies, are investing in incentive travel and introducing incentive programs. In a September 2016 Incentive Research Foundation whitepaper, 61 percent of 190 respondents to a recent survey on trends in incentive travel said they believe the economy is having a positive impact on their ability to plan and implement incentive travel programs. During the Incentive Live show in Las Vegas in January 2017, IRF President Melissa Van Dyke told the crowd that "in 1996, 24 percent of firms were using non-cash incentives. In 2016, that number had grown to 84 percent, and there has been 17 percent growth in the past two years.”

We’re optimistic that this statistic will continue its positive trajectory because, as we know, incentive travel can be a wonderful tool for attracting and retaining engaged employees. In addition, startups or new companies who had never previously engaged in meetings or incentives are now turning to us for assistance with nontraditional programs like planning investor meetings and global off-sites for employees outside the sales force.

3. Re-emergence and reinvention of destinations. Much to our excitement, we’ve seen a complete reinvention and rebirth of popular destinations like Iceland, New Zealand, and now Cuba. These are regions where destination management companies are designing and delivering new experiences for myriad reasons. Access previously may have been limited, or infrastructure may have been enhanced and improved recently.

Restrictions on travel to Cuba will relax dramatically in 2017 as long as the new administration continues to support and normalize relations. With new commercial flights already servicing Havana, major U.S. companies/brands have and will continue to establish a presence in Cuba—including financial institutions, which will eventually pave the way for credit card use, the lack thereof being one remaining difficulty for group travel. The amendments and enhancements to the existing categories of U.S. citizens who previously were allowed to travel there will bring Cuba to the forefront of meeting, incentive, conference, and event travel. “We’re opening a new market,” said Vaya Sojourns Founder Lee Marona. “Cuba is a very exciting and interesting destination with a heavy ‘forbidden fruit’ factor.”

Iceland and New Zealand also were previously regarded as out-of-reach for incentive groups, possibly because they were viewed as being “too adventurous” or lacking the necessary infrastructure. Now both of these countries boast incredibly sophisticated, high-end activities with more mainstream soft adventure for even the most conservative traveler. Paired with hotel luxury— The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company now has launched its first New Zealand hotel in Auckland—many New Zealand properties are consistently ranked in the Top 10 lodges in the world (be sure to check out Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers). There is a new sophistication in these reinvented destinations.

4. Risk mitigation is more important than ever. Largely thanks to social media, the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet of Things, and smart technology, we have the positive, negative—and now “fake”—news delivered to us instantaneously. This reality brings world events and crises to us within seconds.  

While a destination might be popular and desirable one day, its value can plummet in a heartbeat after a humanitarian crisis or weather-related disaster. We have all seen the recent after-effects of the Zika virus and terrorism. Such incidents will send companies into a tailspin as they consider relocation—and we’ve seen a spike in relocation requests due to world events.

Due diligence, and understanding not only your own crisis contingency plans but those of the suppliers and vendors you may hire, is more important than ever. Ensure an updated communication plan is always in place, both on site and internally within your company. Rehearse the plan during a pre-con or site inspection. Take steps to modify the plan regularly to include evolving issues. Identify decision makers and ensure all parties can take action with tiered responsibilities and key roles defined. Protecting the health and safety of attendees and employees is paramount.

We, as #EventProfs and industry professionals, must keep our finger on the pulse of our ever-evolving world, and remain global citizens to support the evolution. Happy planning!

Lynda Baum is founder and president of Exclusive Destinations. The 20-year-old organization is a consortium of elite destination management companies that share a philosophy to provide the utmost in customer service while creating meaningful experiences worldwide. She also works closely with global destination partners and tourist organizations to enhance their marketing and sales activities in North America, and is the creative force behind several signature CSR events, including a partnership with The Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas during IMEX America.


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