Every year, the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) conducts a survey in conjunction with MeetingsNet to help keep its pulse on the latest trends in incentive group travel. This year's survey gathered the opinions of 182 incentive travel planners, and highlights a few significant industry-wide trends such as growing budgets, a spike in popularity for unconventional destinations, and tailored program apps. As incentive travel planners continue to look for ways to meet participants' demands for "authentic, unique, personalized experiences," it seems that the industry's resurgence is offering numerous ways of achieving this.
The biggest news about incentive travel budgets is that they have now nearly returned to pre-recession levels, with per-person spending at around $3,165. Compare this to the industry's low point in 2014 of $2,397, and the nearly 33% increase would certainly seem to signal that program investment is back on the rise. And since budgets are up, what should incentive travel planners do with that extra money? The survey offers a nice list of strategies for ways to maximize program value.
Nearly 80% of incentive travel planners still choose domestic destinations for their programs. At the same time, planners are also choosing long-haul trips to culturally exotic locations in Africa and Asia that were previously prohibitive due to safety concerns/logistics. Combined with the current Zika scare occurring throughout Central and South America, it's not hard to imagine this trend continuing into 2017 and beyond. However, Cuba has definitely become an exciting new incentive travel destination. In the survey, incentive travel planners voted Cuba the #1 emerging destination.
"Does an incentive program need an app?" Increasingly, the survey found the answer to this question to be "yes," with nearly 56% of incentive travel programs utilizing this mobile capability. What's more, program developers aren't just incorporating apps more frequently into their programs, they're also using these apps in more dyanmic ways. Some of these various functions include displaying onsite agendas, sending messages to attendees, providing sponsor recognition, and offering geo-location features. Somewhat surprisingly, however, gamification elements remain at the bottom of this list, with only 16% of incentive travel planners citing it as a functionality of their program app, down 1% from the previous year.
These are just a few of the valuable nuggets gleaned from the IRF's latest survey, and there are certainly many more. But overall, the message seems to be a positive one, suggesting that group incentive travel is still seen as a valuable investment for companies. And so long as program budgets continue to follow their upward trajectory, businesses will continue to look for new and innovative ways to satisfy the demands of their participants.