INSIGHTS

Incentive Travel Index 2023: five initial inSITEs

A staple of Smart Monday at each year’s IMEX America trade show, SITE Foundation and the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) debuted findings from this year’s Incentive Travel Index to a packed room in mid-October.

Both organizations then picked up the conversation from where it left off in Las Vegas during an October 27 webinar featuring voices from across the incentive travel industry.

Here are five findings that emerged from this year’s survey, rooted in responses from a record-number of incentive travel professionals.

Trends in growth, budgets, and spend favor suppliers right now

Panelists called out several trends related to the hard dollars powering incentive travel, including an increasing gap between the numbers of qualifiers and the budgets companies are sticking to for operating programs — a story for an entirely different webinar, as the IRF’s Stephanie Harris put it.

Much of the good news is found on the supplier side of the equation, Kim Napolitano (an Executive Director at Hilton) elaborated. Suppliers, especially hotels, are more likely to project and predict robust growth, Kim said, due to the mix of group business they attract and their ability to spread that business across all seasons. 

Looking at results by buyer vertical and industries’ expected incentive travel spend also revealed interesting trends. Direct selling is a bit of an outlier here, Stephanie Harris noted — chalking up some of their hard dollar stats to operational differences and contracting practices when compared to sectors.

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Room for improvement with working relationships

A new area of study reintroduced into the Index this year involved looking at how incentive professionals view current buyer/supplier relationships. Perhaps alarming to some was a finding that 41 percent of respondents classify these relationships as “challenging,” “difficult,” “uncertain,” or “weakened.”

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Natalie Fulton from Tourism New Zealand said that this is where DMOs like hers shine, when they step in as an “honest broker” that can help both sides navigate challenges and build positive working relationships.

Igniting the chat box during this section of the webinar too were audience debates about whether people are simply less willing to pick up the phone and have to smooth some of these relationship challenges.

Industry talent shifts can admittedly make this tricky (but finding the right person to speak with is another task DMOs can help with, added Natalie!) though different generations might have completely different workplace communication preferences to consider, too.

Savvy professionals prove the value of incentive travel through data-driven storytelling

Panelists agreed: the best incentive travel professionals, no matter what side of the buyer/supplier equation they’re on, demonstrate their value best through strong stories backed by credible data (likely why you’re reading this post or watching the webinar recap, we imagine!)

The shared experiences incentive travel creates for participants are more valuable than ever for employee retention and shaping company culture, Stephanie stressed. When you’re able to position this by bringing the right data points into the conversation, the experiences practically sell themselves.

Kim agreed, arguing it’s all about the data and how you convey the significance and impact of the numbers themselves and the stories they represent through a compelling narrative.

Natalie rounded out the conversation, agreeing that when you can present the latest trends in both qualitative and quantitative form, you add value by bringing an educated and informed perspective that’s interesting and equally valued by your stakeholders.

Politics and AI are two specific uncertainties impacting incentive travel

New challenges mean new reasons for caution and possible new guidelines, as panelists discussed in another part of the webinar.

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It’s an incredibly challenging world right now and a heart-breaking one at times, said Stephanie. Where companies used to focus on physical health challenges as a limiting factor when selecting incentive travel destinations, people are now making choices based on duty of care obligations tied to political constraints.

For organizations with certain constituencies, she said, they’ll need to make choices about whether to avoid destinations with legislation that could actively harm or threaten qualifiers.

Kim added interesting context around the use of AI at Hilton, her employer. Hilton has guidelines in place on how to use AI tools, Kim said, and cautioned those on the session to make sure their own AI usage falls in line with whatever regulations their own companies might have around new technology. Kim also highlighted the importance of double-checking and verify information AI software produces.

Destination selection

The webinar ended with a few final thoughts on destination selection. Notable this year was a commitment to exploring places that organizations hadn’t been to or considered before — especially good news for second and third-tier destinations, SITE’s CMO and webinar moderator Pádraic Gilligan noted.

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Canada is also rising in prominence, especially for North American buyers, Stephanie pointed out. She says it makes total sense with the trend of wanting somewhere a bit different that might feel more “exotic” — and has a favorable exchange rate between those markets, which ticks the right boxes on budget.

Explore more of this year’s Incentive Travel Index results via our webinar replay (free for SITE members!) or at incentiveindex.com

Written by

SITE Staff

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