These Issues Are Shaping Buyers' Incentive-Travel Decisions Now

Labor shortages at hotels and safety compliance by suppliers are factors cited by incentive planners in a new IRF report.

The report is based on discussions the IRF held with incentive executives (pictured) in mid-April in Palm Beach, Fla.

A new report from the Incentive Research Foundation reveals that hotel labor shortages and competition from leisure  travelers are among the issues incentive professionals consider when organizing reward travel programs now. The Buyer Decision Driver report is based on a series of in-person discussions the IRF held with a dozen top incentive executives in mid-April in Palm Beach, Fla.

The report noted that while many hotels and venues are reopening, talent and staffing in the hospitality industry remains a challenge. Those interviewed indicated that a major decision-driver is the level of staffing at host properties and off-site venues. “Labor impacts the quality of the experience for the attendee,” noted one of the participants. “Being honest with partners about what has changed in terms of levels of service and compliance to policies on site is more important than ever.”

Some incentive professionals expressed concern about whether the stated protocols and service levels would be in place during a program. To this end, the planners said they are conducting more unannounced visits to hotels and venues to audit the staff for compliance.

Incentive professionals also are worried about staff-retention processes and are particularly concerned about whether new workers have had enough time and training to deliver to the standards necessary to for an incentive program. The group acknowledged the rising labor costs and training investment could impact hotel rates, but they agreed they were necessary to deliver the expected experience.

The report also indicated that buyers are booking incentive programs on real-time information regarding restrictions, border closures and quarantines. As a result, more programs are being held in the United States, the Caribbean and Mexico.

There was strong acknowledgement that while leisure travel is up, hotels are still eager to book future group business. There is an awareness that leisure travel will level out as people “get it out of their system, making up for lost travel time.” The report concludes that hotels need the balance of group and leisure business, and in some segments and locations there are still good rates to be found.  

Overall, the report concludes that once 2021 ends, there will be a return to "business as usual" relative to rates and availability.