IRF Survey: Dispersed Workforce, Retention Needs Drive Incentive Travel Growth
Incentive travel is gaining in strategic importance, agree most respondents to this annual survey of incentive travel buyers and sellers conducted by Oxford Economics for the Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals, Incentive Research Foundation, and the Society of Incentive Travel Excellence.
Most agree that incentive travel is gaining strategic importance. “When asked to rate senior management perceptions of incentive travel on a scale of 1 to 100, in which 0 would indicate a view of it as a cost center, and 100 would indicate a view of it as a profit driver or source of competitive advantage, the average response was 69.2 for North America respondents and 63.1 for respondents from the rest of the world.
Ninety-one percent agree that, with a dispersed workforce, incentive travel will have an even more important role building engagement and company culture. Most respondents (80%) agree that the strategic role of incentive travel is increasing, 67% attributing it to the need to retain employees, followed by the need to bring together a more dispersed workforce (49%). Also, the increasing value placed on travel as a reward is driving the importance of incentive travel, say 40% of respondents.
The survey finds that most North American buyers (67%) have already resumed incentive travel programs in international locations, with the rest of the world remaining more cautious. Only 50% elsewhere report resumption of international programs.
In addition to greater use of motivational events, buyers plan to emphasize more on-site meals and activities and shift moderately toward programs with fewer nights.
Buyers are generally upbeat on spending estimates, with 61% expecting incentive travel activity to recover above, or significantly above, 2019 levels by 2024. Nearly two-thirds of buyers expect spending per person will recover above, or significantly above, 2019 levels by 2024. Elsewhere in the world, only 37% expect a recovery to 2019 levels by 2023.
Key challenges facing these survey respondents that could affect their planning:
- Inflation (80%)
- Attracting and retaining talent (66%)
- New expectations regarding contract management, postponements, and cancellations (64%) Uncertainties regarding short-term planning (63%)
- Loss of industry knowledge due to staff departures (62%)
- International instability (53%).
Even with these types of adjustments, fully 91% of buyers see use of traditional, qualification-based incentives continuing or increasing.
Half of respondents see the presence of a good DMC (destination management company) as an increasingly important part of a program plan.
Fostering lower carbon footprints and supporting more minority business are increasing in importance, but still trail in the shadow of health and safety, the study finds. A follow-up question was asked of buyers who ranked ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) as important when selecting a destination. Among these buyers, political environment was rated as a top factor, by both North American buyers (64%) and buyers in the rest of the world (49%). Diversity, equity, and inclusion is an issue for 30% of US respondents, and 26% elsewhere.
- Destination management organizations (DMOs) consider the high value per person generated by incentive travel as the top reason for its strategic importance, reporting, though, that it generally accounts for less than 25% of group travel.
Editors note: Exemplifying the magnitude of some incentive travel programs, Central Holidays Group Travel Experiences recently organized a “Supertrip” that brought almost 4,000 salespeople and families of World System Builder (WSB), a California-based financial services marketing company, to Spain and Portugal, according to an article in Travel Daily News.
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