How Incentives and Events are Adapting to the Pandemic and Other Disruptors

A new IRF report looks at where the industry stands now and offers advice for recovery.


A new report by the Incentive Research Foundation, COVID-19 and Disruption in the Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events Industry:  Adaptation  and Recovery, looks at how the pandemic and other disruptors — weather, travel hazards, politics  and economic downturns — threaten incentive programs. The findings are based on panel discussions with 36 industry leaders and the results of two recent polls; the report also offers advice and recovery strategies for programs. 

Key Findings

  • People are beginning to anticipate and crave travel, with a focus on new experiences at safe destinations within driving distance or that involve shorter flights. 
  • International travel, especially in large groups, might not return to previous norms until a vaccine and/or an effective treatment for COVID-19 is developed and made widely available. 
  • Program owners who postponed incentive travel programs expressed a strong need to continue recognizing and rewarding outstanding employees. When the programs were cancelled, they were often replaced by points, merchandise and/or gift cards. 
  • Assuming a vaccine is available next year, the industry could plan for a return to pre-COVID-19 revenues by late 2022 or early 2023.  


Recovery Strategies

  • Cooperation and relationships with hotels and venues are critical to recovery -- and to the opportunity to do business in the future. Play the long game by postponing -- not cancelling -- travel, based on participants' comfort level. And offer solutions for alternate forms of recognition, including merchandise, gift cards and points.
  • Planners and managers should be ready to respond to their program participants’ new needs. Start building an inventory of local, safe, outdoor and experiential destinations that you can discuss with clients. Look at resort buy-outs, ground transportation, charter flights, new room set ups and virtual options.
  • Safety concerns prevail: Emphasize cleaning, social distancing, health assessments and scans, and the presence of physicians at meetings and events. Work with partners, including DMCs, that have relationships with restaurants, entertainment venues, suppliers, local government, police, health care and emergency response at the destination. Identify virtual- and hybrid-event technology providers.

“As we plan for recovery and a return to in-person meetings and travel, safety concerns prevail,” said IRF president Stephanie Harris. “This study provides actionable advice from industry leaders on how to rebuild incentive programs through strategic collaborations with clients, participants, hotels and resorts, DMCs and partners.”