What incentive travel is (still) missing about millennials

SITE is spending much of 2024 talking about “building and bridging cultures,” a mantra the association has adopted to guide its activities for the remainder of this year.

I like this theme for many reasons, in part because it reflects conversations I constantly have with friends and colleagues about bridging generational gaps, as we face the (sometimes hard) truth that our paths are increasingly different than those of our parents, past bosses, and other adults we respect.

This bridging theme came up several times on SITE’s April 5 webinar on millennial management trends, a session I highly enjoyed and give full props to the moderator and panel for leading.

But the piece of the argument that still feels like it’s missing, not just from this webinar but from MICE conversations the world over, is just how different millennial (and Gen Z) realities are from those of past generations — and the serious impacts this has for incentive travel rewards.

Let’s start with who’s likely to be attending your incentive program.

We need to drop the framing that guests joining programs are “spouses” and making casual use or reference to “gifts for the wife” when talking about marketing deliverables designed to incentivize participants in the run-up to qualifying for a reward. It’s 2024. It’s way beyond tiring to continue expecting women to primarily be the ones picking up the slack at home while their hubby brings home the bacon.  

But jumping back to the “spouses” take. Leaving aside the fact that many millennials are getting married later than previous generations — or are less interested in marriage, period (me very much included!) — this language, and the thinking it belies, is dated, sexist, and just plain wrong.

Tell me to invite my siblings, my BFF, heck, let me bring my dog! But don’t assume my husband will be dutifully tagging along behind me. Leave that for the romcom novels that fall into the “fake dating” trope.  

We can also jump ahead to what happens onsite

Please, please, PLEASE start by bringing me to a destination that respects my rights (all of them!); doesn’t discriminate against colleagues who are more likely to be out in the workplace than what past generations would’ve experienced; and will keep me safe, physically and mentally.

Or we can zoom out and think about how to position incentive travel as a whole

Competition seems steeper than ever with rewards that signal more immediate economic returns or benefits.

With the housing market no joke right now, funds from a bigger bonus or other cash reward that I could save and put toward staggering rent costs or a (seemingly impossible) deposit and future mortgage is tempting for me and for many of my peers wearing similar shoes.

I know for a fact that I’m in good company, with millennials and Gen Z citing the cost of living crisis and work-life balance as their top sources of stress last year.

It seems clear, then, that we need a collective rethink — about what is going to motivate this age group, and what behaviors managers can push for and reward exactly, if we’re already a cohort that’s feeling overwhelmed.

The world of incentive travel “as it was” is not going to work for me — or for younger colleagues coming up after me either

Life has changed and we need leadership that gets it: leaders who can keep up and keep their fingers equally on the pulse. 

This is why I’m inspired by the people I meet at SITE Young Leader events, who are doing the work to bring about real, meaningful change; who are looking to have conversations like this, and who are pushing the boundaries and challenging all of us.

For those looking to do more or bring this kind of energy: let’s talk! What gets me most excited about SITE, and my role on its marketing & communications team, is the chance to shape the future we want, together.

So whether it’s on the IMEX Frankfurt show floor next month, at a future industry event, or via Zoom — let’s continue this conversation. Because it’s one I care deeply about, and hope everyone is ready to sit up and pay (more) attention to, too.

Written by

Sydney Nolan

Sydney Nolan


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