“As we enter 2022, Covid-19 and uncertainty continue to impact every aspect of incentives” says the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) in the opening lines of a new report, published in late January. “Adaptation, flexibility, and communication will continue to be key as companies weigh their options about bringing employees together, whether it’s opening the office or travelling on an incentive trip.”
We’ve broken down the latest IRF findings, with a focus on key report insights that are especially relevant for incentive travel professionals.
Incentives increasingly important, with budgets to match
From the IRF: Given the importance of recruitment, retention, and engagement, incentive programs will be more important than ever. Dramatic hiring shifts are driving companies to examine how to be even more competitive in the job market, and a robust incentive program is an important part of a company’s full benefits package. According to the IRF’s Industry Outlook for 2022, overall incentive budgets are expected to increase by 34% in 2022, with the per-person spend increasing to $806 from $764 the prior year – although these budgets will need to accommodate price increases resulting from workforce, inventory, and supply chain challenges.
Our extra inSITE: Also more important than ever is communication and successful cooperation between MICE buyers and suppliers. Nailing your communications and strategically working together to fully understand issues and arrive at robust, innovative solutions will help all of us navigate workforce, inventories, and supply chain challenges.
Do more, to reach more?
From the IRF: As companies strive to retain and hire talent during “The Great Resignation,” incentive programs are expanding their reach to motivate the maximum number of employees and partners … While many incentive programs have traditionally focused on top performers and senior team members, incentive program owners are [also] now working to close the gap between what tenured members of leadership teams value in terms of culture and what their employees value.
Our extra inSITE: Don’t lose your COVID-driven creativity! COVID-19 pushed many of us to get original, personal, and uber insightful when it came to identifying what is motivational and moving for top performers. Tap into those solutions still now, even with travel back on the table. Creativity will be key for building inclusive reward structures and can prompt new, insightful ways of making sure the travel programs we create, run, and manage reflect both leadership and qualifier expectations.
Hybrid is here to stay
From the IRF: Hybrid events are being used to broaden participation and boost motivation. While companies launched virtual recognition and reward events out of necessity during the pandemic, as live events return, many incentive event professionals have continued to include hybrid elements to share the experience with a broader audience. Not only is this an opportunity for an incentive trip to reach more people, seeing what happens at the live event is a strong motivator for employees who could qualify for the event. Previewing this top reward motivates employees to reach the highest performance level so they can attend in person the next year
Our extra inSITE: It’s going to be about finding balance — how do you strategically use your resources, especially your team’s time and talents, to pique interest and promote a sense of “FOMO” using virtual tools, while still committing to an unforgettable in-person experience for qualifiers enjoying activities onsite? Also consider: what actually translates best online versus what should be left as a once-in-a-lifetime tangible, in-person program element.
More personal than ever before
From the IRF: Personalization will be infused into incentive travel programs – whether providing choice through itineraries or gifting experiences, or by giving participants additional free time during the trip … Personalization will include more flexibility and options regarding the agenda, breaks, and spacing as critical elements in achieving attendees’ peace of mind and delivering a memorable experience.
Our extra inSITE: This is one we want to hear from all of you on. Share with us, as we return to a year filled with more in-person travel and start venturing further afield. What are your attendees asking for? What do you find yourself seeking out at industry events? We’ve got a few ideas in the works for our own events but also want to practice that which we advise, and warmly welcome feedback from all of you.
Still feeling the market and logistics side effects of COVID-19, too
From the IRF: The labor shortage is impacting the full incentive travel experience, including availability of flights, fleets, restaurants, local activities, and housekeeping. Reductions in labor are compounded by the increased need for space, such as fewer people in a vehicle or more spacing in a restaurant or conference room … Incentive program owners are looking at restaurant buy-outs, bringing additional staff, and partnering with DMCs to maintain incentive-level experiences … Incentive travel program budgets are absorbing rate increases from hotels and partners to cover their cost increases, increased health & safety measures (Covid testing pre-and onsite), and supplemental staffing and local partners.
Our extra inSITE: It’s back to basics as we all re-learn and re-adjust our travel habits. Go over those final few details with those staffing a program to be sure everyone understands what’s expected — but also be patient, be kind, and be forgiving. Let’s continue creating memorable, unforgettable experiences above all else, even if it takes a bit more time, endurance, and energy in a world that is very much still recovering.
Curious about anything above, or want to dig in deeper to the IRF’s research? Read the full report here. Be sure to check out page three of the report PDF for much more on incentive travel especially!