Incentive-travel planners should finalize the destination choices for their organizations’ early 2024 events very soon, says Kevin Edmunds, CITP, president of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence and vice president of meeting and incentive sales for AIC Hotel Group.
Why would Edmunds advise that? Because, he says, there are still some 2021 incentive winners who have not yet had their programs fulfilled due to the Covid pandemic—and there’s the 2022 winners coming into hotels and resorts right behind them throughout 2023 and perhaps even into 2024. Further, destination management companies that were forced to shrink dramatically during Covid might not yet be fully staffed up and ready to handle the volume of business that’s coming to particular destinations.
With the bustling trade-show floor at the recent IMEX America as proof of the renewed demand across the entire meeting and incentive market, Edmunds took a moment away from his duties in AIC’s exhibit booth to answer a few questions from MeetingsNet about the incentive-travel landscape over the next two years.
MeetingsNet: From your perspective, how does the incentive market look different now than it did before the pandemic?
Kevin Edmunds: There is pent-up demand from every part of the travel market that we are trying to juggle. Companies know that they need to reward people with travel because it has been out of the picture for so long. And even though cash and merchandise have filled the role for rewards in the past few years, the demand for travel is as strong as I have ever seen it and the ROI for travel awards is just so strong.
The other big factor is that the wedding market and the leisure market are really hot. So, we are trying to fit in all this business over the next 18 months, and rates are going to be high because of the compression.
MeetingsNet: What are incentive hosts asking for with their programs that’s new?
Kevin Edmunds: More options outside the hotel. They are looking harder at each destination as a whole. Before the pandemic, it was mostly about the resort brand and what was the experience on property—what will get us the most bang for our buck on site, and then we’ll fill out the itinerary with highlights from around the destination. Now, it is first and foremost about the experience they can provide winners throughout the destination.
This change makes destination management companies a huge factor for incentive programs now; it puts a lot of responsibility on them. But while the DMC industry was strong before the pandemic, many of them folded or really scaled down during Covid. We are starting to see them come back, and they are really needed because they are the destination experts, not the hotel people. Of course, we hoteliers know some of the cool group experiences around our destination, but not at the level the DMCs do. Hopefully that segment of the industry comes back around quickly so incentive groups can have their expectations met.
MeetingsNet: What else are you seeing around incentive programs that might require you to adapt your offerings a bit?
Kevin Edmunds: Groups want more overall space—not more space per event, but rather more spaces for more events. They want their people to be together as much as possible during a program, because it has been two or more years since these folks have seen each other.
Also, we see the next generation of incentive winners looking more at company culture to fulfill them; when incentive experiences take that into consideration, participants are really tuned into that and appreciate it. They are still going to get some free time in the program, but the group experiences are definitely important to them. Another thing we see is that they often add extra days to their trip before or after the program. If it is a three- or four-night itinerary, they are taking two or three more nights to maybe go to another part of an island, or even to a neighboring country.