Five hundred incentive executives and suppliers came
together — many for their first in-person event since the pandemic began — for the Incentive Research Foundation’s
Education Invitational, held June 2-4 at the JW Marriott
Marco Island Beach Resort in Florida.
The event marked one of the first industry gatherings where
the majority of fully vaccinated participants (89 percent) could leave off their
masks for indoor and outdoor events, as the IRF updated its safety protocols in
accordance with new CDC guidelines that were released days before the event kicked off. Safety
protocols were still followed: Attendees were required to undergo daily health
and temperature checks, administered by Vital Circle, and wore lanyards that
tracked their whereabouts. As a “softer” precaution, attendees were given
color-coded buttons to show their social comfort with physical distancing and
contact during the event; it was a virtual sea of green dots, which signified
the most comfort, and resulted in an enthusiastic show of elbow bumps, fist bumps
and side hugs.
The robust educational offerings included two inspiring
speakers, artist Phil Hansen
and musician Jade Simmons,
who overcame hurdles to become stars in their respective fields. Also on the agenda was an update on duty-of-care advice for incentive programs from Dr. Jonathan Spero and attorney Joshua L. Grimes, as well as breakout sessions
that addressed of-the-moment topics relevant to incentive professionals.
One panel session (pictured above), which was helmed by the IRF’s chief
research officer Rick Garlick,
provided a preview of the much-anticipated “Impact of Destination Choice on Motivation” study,
which incorporates IRF research, plus sourcing and booking
data for incentive trips planned for the immediate future from such providers as Cvent.
The study reveals that Hawaii,
the Caribbean, the Western U.S, Western Europe, Alaska and the Southern U.S.
were most appealing to incentive participants. Destinations of least interest
were Africa, the Middle East and the Midwest.
Panelist Trevor Hanks, managing partner of 360 Destination Group,
recommended that planners who can’t find popular resort areas for their
upcoming programs should consider big cities like New York and San Francisco, which
have a lot of availability now.
finding was that the majority of participants (52 percent)
considered six to nine days the ideal length of an incentive trip, when the majority of programs last five
The full study is expected to be released later in 2021.
Other sessions included insights about why companies like Nationwide
Insurance, FedEx and T-Mobile
value incentive travel and their incentive partners.
Reflecting on the event, IRF
president Stephanie Harris shared that “overall [attendee] impressions were how much pure energy
there was from being together again, which speaks to the value of live events,
and the levels of engagement with our education session.”
The highlight of the conference for many, including
Harris, was the JW Marriott Marco Island's celebratory staff parade held during
the final day’s brunch. “So many people noted that they were incredibly moved
by seeing all of the associates who were back after furlough and so
enthusiastic to be doing what they love to do again,” noted Harris.
As per tradition, the venue and dates for the next Education
Invitational were revealed at the conclusion of the program. The next IRF Education Invitational will be held at the Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana and the Hyatt Zilara Cap Cana in the Dominican
Republic, June 1-4, 2022.