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New Study Shows Trends in Budgets, Strategies for Incentive Travel

Major new study says budgets are up but costs remain a concern.

A major study of today’s incentive travel industry says that budgets are up, buyers are keeping an eye on costs, and “wellness is the new golf.” The results come from research released this week at IMEX America from the Incentive Research Foundation, Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, and Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals.

Conducted in association with J.D. Power, the study is a wide-ranging analysis of business conditions, attitudes and expectations impacting the incentive travel and motivational events industry worldwide. With more than 1,000 respondents from 80 countries, it is the largest survey ever conducted of senior players in the incentive travel industry, doubling responses from past individual efforts and netting new insights based on combined questioning, the sponsors said.

Survey respondents were balanced between incentive travel buyers and suppliers, with buyers representing incentive agencies and corporate users, while more than half of the sellers are DMCs. [See the 14th Annual Special Events "25 Top DMCs" here.] The majority are tenured industry professionals with an average of 17.3 years of experience; approximately half are located in the U.S. with the other half outside the U.S. 

While the survey findings show that incentive travel is on the rise, growth isn’t going unchecked. For instance, costs to operate an incentive travel program are going up. “Although the findings show that incentive travel is growing, the reality is that there are counter-currents such as rising costs that may temper growth,” said IRF president Melissa Van Dyke. “Over two-thirds of planners are taking steps to contain costs, such as less expensive destinations or less expensive amenities. Fortunately, the nature of incentive travel programs allows companies to adjust them to reflect concerns with costs.”

Key highlights from the study include:

  • Over half (54 percent) of buyers report an increase in budgets year over year with the median per-person spend remaining stable at $4,000. Corporate users report a higher median spend ($4,550) versus incentive agencies ($3,500).
  • Sixty-five percent of buyers are increasing the number of incentive program qualifiers, fueled by company growth and optimism in the economy. 
  • Sales and profitability remain the top reasons to run an incentive program, but more importance is being given to building relationships between management and employees, increasing productivity and employee engagement.
  • Almost 70 percent of buyers say their programs are effective at achieving business objectives. However, only a quarter always measure ROI/ROO, with more than 50 percent saying such measurements are not required.
  • All-inclusive destinations are on the rise particularly for incentive agencies as, for the fourth year in succession, buyers continue to seek cost reductions. Sellers are looking to add value through creativity, innovation and partnerships. 
  • North America, the Caribbean and Western Europe remain the most popular destinations for incentive travel, with destination appeal being the top criteria for selecting one destination over another, followed by overall safety and value for money.
  • Fam trips and hosted buyer meetings are the primary sources buyers use to learn about a destination
  • Wellness, including yoga, is now a top inclusion for incentive planners as CSR initiatives drop slightly in popularity.
  • More than two-thirds of corporate users include meetings in their incentive programs (heavily weighted towards finance sector); less than a third of incentive agencies do.

To view the full study, click here.

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