. The Future of Incentive Travel Rewards | Northstar Meetings Group

The Future of Incentive Travel Rewards

Research on what's in store for participants, planners and suppliers in the new year and beyond.

Budgets are expanding for incentive programs, and companies are appreciating the "soft-power" objectives programs deliver -- aiming, for instance, to build engagement and retain employees -- as well as the traditional goal of meeting and exceeding sales targets. Those positive findings are among the key takeaways from the 2019 Incentive Travel Industry Index, a collaboration between Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, the Incentive Research Foundation, and Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals.

The second annual study from Oxford Economics queried 2,600 incentive travel professionals from 100 countries. The following are highlights from this leading industry indicator. All charts sourced from Incentive Travel Industry Index.

Leading ways incentive programs benefit companies

Increased sales and/or profits for the company80%
Improved engagement by employees or channel partners 74%
Increased individual productivity 71%
Better relationship-building between employees and management 68%
Improved retention of employees or channel partners 67%
Better relationship-building between employees  64%
Enhanced customer satisfaction 60% 
Increased mindshare in competitive market 49%
Enhanced ability to recruit new employees or channel partners  39%
Enhanced training or knowledge 39%


Top factors driving site-selection decisions

Infrastructure, such as quality hotels for handling incentive programs 83%
Overall participant safety 82%
Appeal of destination to participants 81%
Value for money 77%
Presence of a good destination management company 63%
Access from qualifiers’ home cities 60%
Executive mandate 43%
Presence of good destination marketing organization 31% 
Availability of financial support 19%


Out and about

Group cultural or sightseeing experiences were considered the most important program inclusion by 52 percent of those polled.

Dining experiences were a close second (50 percent), followed by team-building activities (42 percent), luxury experiences/bucket-list inclusions (35 percent) and CSR activities (33 percent).

Spend to rise

Per-person expenditures are expected to increase slightly over the next three years, according to the study. In 2019, respondents spent 1 percent more than in 2018. Planners believe year-over-year spend will continue to rise, by a projected 1.67 percent in 2020, 2.2 percent in 2021 and 2.6 percent in 2022.

Security measures to be implemented in 2020-'21

Emergency-preparedness plan66%
Mobile event app to communicate risk-management issues61%
Social media policy53%
Compliance requirements51% 
Extra physical security 47%
Extra IT security44%
Vendor security audits39%
Extra medical personnel34%


Budgets and spend will rise

More than half of respondents (53 percent) reported that their incentive travel budgets will increase next year.

That's a jump from 2019, when 43 percent said their budgets would grow; and from 2018, when 37 percent reported an increase

Likewise, per-person spend increased in 2019 for 42 percent of those polled. Next year, per-person spend will grow for more than 47 percent of the respondents. 

What will drive higher per-person spend? Rising hotel costs were cited by 63 percent of those polled, followed by higher airfare (56 percent), food-and-beverage costs (54 percent) and overall destination expenses (44 percent).

Activities winners will want in 2020-’21

A selection of flexible activities for individuals or small groups of qualifiers  65%
Activities promoting wellness 64%
Activities in support of a CSR or other sustainability objective 61%
Learning and development options unique to the destination 61%
Team-building or networking events 59%
Inclusion of spouse/partner in the program 59%
Learning and development options relevant to sponsor company's business 40%
Activities that all participants are mandated or expected to attend 34%
Golf or other competitive individual or team sports 26%


How buyers learn about incentive destinations

Educational (fam) trip to the destination 82%
Face-to-face meetings or sales presentations in planners' workplace 77%
Face-to-face meetings or sales presentations at a trade show 69%
Face-to-face meetings or sales presentations at boutique marketplace events 66%
Pre-site video of destination's incentive offerings coupled with face-to-face meetings 63%
Video calls or webcasts 37%
Marketing and promotions from the destination 26%


Average program time to be spent in meetings

More than 6 hours a day  5%
4-6 hours a day 14%
2-4 hours a day 29%
Less than 2 hours a day 37%
None 13%
Don’t know 2%