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Incentive Travel Is a Critical Tool—But Budgets Are Tight

The fourth research collaboration between FICP, IRF, and SITE looks at how the incentive-travel industry is recovering, how program design is evolving, and what’s affecting destination choice.

Four out of five respondents to the 2022 Incentive Travel Index believe incentive travel is gaining in strategic importance, and the two biggest reasons are the role it can play in retaining talented employees and in bringing together dispersed workforces.

In fact, 66 percent of the buyers who responded to the annual survey on the state of incentive travel say the “soft power” benefits of incentive programs, such as a focus on company culture, engagement, and relationships, have increased in importance.

On a webinar hosted by the Incentive Travel Index collaborators—the Incentive Research Foundation, Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals, and the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence—Lori Allen, vice president, global event operations at MetLife, expanded on those incentive program benefits. “There's a huge appetite for meaningful, personal experiences and engagement,” she said. “Everyone's just eager to resume incentives and events, and [also] competition for talent is really fierce in the post-pandemic world. With themes like ‘the great resignation’ and ‘the great reevaluation,’ we're all working in an environment where there's a war for talent. Events—especially incentives—are a competitive differentiator and a tool for retaining and attracting that top talent. Events are also a space where you reinforce messaging, connect at a human level, and see the corporate culture come to life. Those are all so important in today's workplace.”

The survey for this year’s Incentive Travel Index, conducted between May and July, saw responses from 1,417 incentive travel professionals, of which 49 percent were buyers (corporate end-users or third-party agencies) and 63 percent were from North America. The resulting 41-page report looks at how the incentive travel industry is recovering, how program design evolving, and what’s affecting destination choice. Here are some takeaways from the research.

• When asked about future challenges facing incentive-travel professionals, bottom-line issues led the list. Here are the most pressing future challenges (those cited by more than 50 percent of respondents):
—Rising costs and inflation: 80 percent
—Attracting and retaining talent: 66 percent
—New expectations regarding contract management: 64 percent
—Uncertainty and short-term planning: 63 percent
—Loss of industry knowledge due to staff departures: 62 percent
—International instability: 53 percent

• With inflation a top concern, it may be unsurprising that affordability is critical in buyers’ destination-selection process: Half ranked “value for money” as their number-one criteria when picking an incentive-program location, and another 25 percent rated it their second most important consideration.

• After affordability, safety (encompassing security, health security, and personal safety) was the next most important criteria for choosing an incentive destination, followed by a good business-events infrastructure.

• Industry professionals were asked about the keys to a successful incentive-travel program. “Relationship building” was most important across the board. However, major differences emerged between respondents from North America and those from the rest of the world. Here’s what incentive success looks like, depending broadly on where you’re from, with share of respondents in parenthesis:

North America                                   
1. Relationship building (83)  
2. Bucket-list experiences (65)                      
3. Group cultural activities (62)                     
4. Group dining (58)                                      
5. Free time (51)                                            
6. Wellness (49)                                             
7. Multiple options (47)                                 
8. Awards (47)                                   
9. Teambuilding (45)                          
10. CSR (30)

Rest of the World
1. Relationship building (63)
2. Multiple options (50)                                             
3. Award celebrations (48)
4. Meetings (47)
5. Teambuilding (47)
6. Group dining (45)
7. CSR (45)
8. Sustainability (42)
9. Field trips (41)
10. Bucket-list experiences (38)

“Program design continues to evolve, and we can clearly see shifting preferences impacting program inclusions as qualifiers come from a more diverse workforce. For example, we saw wellness emerge as a key program activity,” said Incentive Research Foundation President Stephanie Harris. “While activities that promote relationships was the top choice across the industry, we see some interesting differences across regions. A key difference is that sustainability and CSR opportunities were considered more important by industry professionals outside of North America.”


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