The 2022 Incentive Travel Index (ITI) launched at Smart Monday during IMEX America last month, with a follow-up webinar sparking additional insights about what this year’s survey reveals.
For those who were unable to catch the in-person Smart Monday session or our mid-October webinar, have no fear. We’ve distilled some of the top takes from our expert panelists here, representing sectorwide perspectives on key emerging trends in incentive travel.
Both conversations focused on four main themes emerging from this year’s data set:
- Recovery and resumption patterns
- Evolutions in incentive program design
- Destination selection trends
- Geographical and sector variances
Here’s what our industry experts had to say about this year’s Index.
Are we in the era of “revenge travel” for incentives, too?
It’s no secret, with virtually everyone in our industry dealing with its many related realities: travel, including incentive travel, is back with a vengeance.
Meenaz Diamond, Senior VP of Global Sales for Accor, stressed that clients want to ensure they’re getting their “first choice” of destination when planning future incentive programs. That’s partially what’s driving long lead times, she says. Clients aren’t necessarily signing contracts, but demand is definitely there.
Craig Dooley, President of SDI Meetings & Incentives, also said part of what’s driving business is a notable increase in the number of clients looking to interweave business travel with more luxury elements.
We might be familiar by now with “bleisure” travel, Dooley said, but noted that his company is also seeing an uptick in the number of groups interested in combining more business-driven meetings with the experience of staying somewhere a bit more luxurious, and tapping into or including more incentive friendly elements to round out their agendas.
Bring the new, make it personal, and ensure it will WOW
Our panelists agreed — people want something new that strongly delivers a “wow” factor. Personalization is also big, stressed Dooley. Clients are now looking for a mix of activities, small group options, and a portfolio-like program design. Clients are happiest, he said, when presented with a “menu” of options they can then personalize their experience from.
Jennifer Attersall, Director of Incentive Travel for Destination Canada, also shared that corporate incentive trips are shifting to incorporate more team members beyond sales staff. It’s not just about rewarding sales growth, Attersall explained. Corporations are also expanding their use of incentive travel to focus on team-building, with the aim of retaining and attracting top talent. This leads to clients viewing destinations through a different lens, Attersall continued, to understand what’s truly “bucket list” worthy for different types of qualifiers.
New ≠ an entirely new destination
Most companies are at least two years out of their travel cycles, Dooley called out — meaning there’s plenty of new destinations for planners to consider, but also lots of new neighborhoods, hotel properties, and other new offerings that have sprung up since 2020, even in familiar areas.
Variance is also still exists, Dooley said, with how far clients are comfortable venturing. There’s still very much an appetite for locations that are convenient to get to from people’s home locations, not too expensive, and offer some degree of safety and familiarity.
Diamond agreed, pointing to a desire by most people to continue traveling while being increasingly open to different ways of getting there and different activities to explore in an otherwise familiar locale. It’s about identifying what will feel unique and special to your specific group, she suggested, reiterating that people are interested in what’s “new” without having to travel somewhere “far-flung.”
It also comes down to availability, added Craig Carron, Senior VP of Sales at 360 Destination Group. Space is tight in major, tier one cities — requiring us to get more creative as an industry and re-visit cities or experiences we might be less familiar with, or be flexible in how and what is booked.
Availability for 2023 is already tough, Carron said. But we’ll help each other work through it, he added, and will still create once-in-a-lifetime experiences for our attendees, just with a new spin with some uniquely creative twists.
Sustainability stands out when exploring regional attitudes
Sustainability stands out as something that’s seemingly much more of a priority for survey-takers outside of North America.
Tackling the “why” behind this discrepancy and how we can go about closing attitude gaps, suggested Carron, will require organizations to examine their core values and get smart about how all parts of the incentive travel industry are using data collected throughout the industry’s value chain. We have the data, he said, but need analytics to put that data to good practical use.
A good way to do this, advised Diamond, is to think about program contributions vs. compensations. It’s often easier to “compensate” for actions, she argued, through activities like carbon offsetting. But it’s often more meaningful to explore how we can truly contribute to the communities we place incentive business in, and use our programs to develop and elevate worthy local causes and populations that stand to benefit.
We also need to remember that sustainability goes beyond environmental impacts and carbon metrics, cautioned Attersall. She stressed the importance of keeping people a central part of sustainability strategies, and exploring cultural experiences and the social impact incentive travel programs can create. This requires (and also helps build) enhanced trust between vendors, planners, and destination partners — and makes the importance of strong local relationships all the more important to a successful incentive trip.
For full insights and more details about who participated in this year’s ITI survey, you can find all of this year’s results at incentiveindex.com