According to Northstar Meetings Group’s latest Incentive PULSE Survey, conducted in late October 2021, incentive travel programs are being sourced, researched and booked at much the same pace they were in May, when we last surveyed the industry. The effect of the Delta variant is one reason the pace hasn't picked up, according to several respondents. "It is an anchor around the neck of recovery of MICE events," said one planner.
Nearly 80 percent of the 122 incentive planners polled will hold their next incentive trip in 2022, but there’s decidedly less optimism for the long term. Only one in three expect their travel programs to return to prepandemic norms by 2025, a sharp drop from the 50 percent who answered that way in the Q2 survey.
Two thirds of respondents believe incentive travel will become even more desirable in the next three years, down from 80 percent who said the same mid-year.
Following are other key highlights and trends from our Q4 survey.
More Alternative Rewards Will Be Offered
Alternative rewards have increased in popularity since the second quarter of 2021, when just 22 percent of respondents planned to offer nontravel rewards. Our Q4 poll shows that number has jumped to 33 percent.
Trips Are Being Planned… and Happening Soon
Nineteen percent of those polled are rescheduling or rebooking programs that were postponed. Thirty percent of respondents are researching potential new programs or itineraries but aren’t yet ready to issue an RFP or lead, while 27 percent are actively sourcing for new programs. Eighteen percent of incentive professionals polled are booking new programs.
Groups Are Still Staying Close to Home
U.S. and Mexico are top travel destinations. Domestic destinations remain strong, according to 56 percent of respondents who’ve booked travel programs in the U.S., while Mexico (17 percent) is the top international destination, edging out the Caribbean (14 percent), which was the top non-U.S. destination in our Q1 and Q2 surveys. Europe made slight gains, with six percent planning programs there, up from 2 percent in our Q2 polls.
Health, Safety Remain Top Priorities
A company’s health-safety policy is the most important factor in planners’ decision to hold incentive trips, according to 80 percent of respondents, while 66 percent of those queried said a hotel or venue’s strict safety protocols were of utmost importance.
Fifty-one percent of respondents
said trip participants must be vaccinated, while 37 percent require travelers to have proof of a negative Covid test.
Travel Costs Are a Concern
Higher rates for all aspects of travel are a top planner concern, according to 64 percent of those polled. Other major challenges include liability (52 percent), and hotel availability and hotel staffing shortages (each cited by 41 percent of respondents).
Gift Cards Are a Top Alternative Reward
Gift cards, along with gifts, are now the most popular alternative rewards. Both rewards categories were offered by 61 percent of respondents who use alternative awards. While gifts have been the top nontravel reward since our earlier PULSE Surveys this year, gift-card use has increased greatly since then, most likely due to current supply-chain issues that economists predict will last into 2022.
Fewer Indoor Activities and Meals Are Planned
Fewer indoor activities and meals are included in programs now: Forty-three percent of planners will make indoor dining on their incentive trip agendas; that’s a drop from our mid-year survey, when 61 percent of planners revealed they would include indoor meals. Indoor activities have also become less popular, with 31 percent of planners polled including them, compared to 45 percent of Q2 survey respondents.