While the study sees market volatility and “opposing forces at work in the economy,” the strength of the market overall, IRF researchers believe, will lead to continuing activity for mergers and acquisitions in the meetings, hospitality, and incentive house markets.
The Security Question
From weather-related disruptions to terror threats, incentive planners have risk management and duty of care top of mind. The IRF sees Meeting Professionals International and other industry organizations stepping up with new educational offerings. MeetingsNet will hold its second Risk360 event in March. The study also points to data security as an ongoing vulnerability and a new area of responsibility for meeting professionals, with the European Union's 2018 implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation and California’s Data Privacy Law (set to go into effect in January 2020).
Managing Company Culture
While sales are always an important goal for incentive travel, the IRF sees more employers recognizing the importance of incentive travel rewards for building relationships, encouraging inclusion and knowledge-sharing, and promoting engagement.
Predictive Analytics and Artificial Intelligence
The IRF report sees the “blistering pace” of development in the artificial intelligence realm changing the way reward program designers work. Already, it says, AI is being used to personalize rewards, to understand who is drawn to which types of rewards, and to encourage greater participation.
Incentive Travel on the Rise
Expanded budgets, increased participant eligibility, and improved internal and public perceptions all point to the growth of incentive travel programs.
Gift Spending Trending Up
According to IRF research, spending on merchandise rewards is going up, particularly among corporate audiences, with the top-two choices being logo items and electronics. Event gifting is also going strong, with 33 percent of corporate buyers saying that budgets are increasing.
Positive Outlook for Gift Cards
Half of large enterprises and 58 percent of medium-size organizations use e-gift cards. The average gift card value is $100.
The IRF study points to three trends detracting from the growth of incentive travel and merchandise rewards:
• a push for cost containment
• concerns over terrorism
• the political climate, which includes the regulatory environment and trade restrictions that could restrict the supply chain.
Authenticity and Deeper Meaning
Attendees desire for transformational travel—which incorporates concepts of wellness, community, and personal fulfillment—will continue to push the development of the experience economy.
Program designers will need to adopt the “test-often, fail-fast,” customer-centric nature of design thinking to keep pace with ever-changing technology and content expectations.