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What is the ROI of Incentive Travel?

Does incentive travel motivate? What is the ROI (return on investment)? Do you have any case studies? Statistics?

Business executives ask these questions when contemplating an incentive travel program. Their country club friend told them about their unforgettable president club trip to Hawaii and the benefits to morale and revenues. Now, they are doing their homework on ROI, sales lift, employee engagement, and trip costs.

A fantastic resource for research, statistics, and trends exists at the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF). Several years ago, the IRF published the Top 7 Incentive Travel Facts, which are preserved here,  and this timeless “greatest hits” collection is expanded with recent research.

Best Incentive Travel ROI Statistics

46% of U.S. businesses use incentive travel
Incentive Federation

What are companies doing? Lots and lots of incentive travel. Running with this herd of companies must be wise business. With ½ of all employers being small and medium businesses with small sales teams, 80%+ of large enterprise companies are likely using group incentive trips.

U.S. Businesses spend $22.5 Billion annually on incentive travel
Incentive Federation

Public and private businesses are voting with their checkbooks on the importance of motivating and recognizing their top sales reps, channel partners, and customers. It’s a simple ROI test. If it did not work, companies would slash their investment next year.

Companies using non-cash rewards, including incentive travel, have 3X higher revenue increases
Aberdeen Research

Aberdeen did serious, scholarly research on this one. Cash rewards have a definite place in base compensation, bonuses, and commissions. But, incentive research from IRF and universities consistently shows that while cash is the most requested reward, it is not the most effective at driving incremental performance. Aberdeen reinforces that again here. IRF’s more recent Top Performing Companies studies, including the vertical industries of financial servicestechnology, and manufacturing, repeat similar findings.

100% of Best-in-Class companies offer incentive travel to recognize sales success
Aberdeen Research

Maybe the lead-in questions should be rephrased: “What are best-in-class companies doing? Do you want to be the best too?” The IRF/Aberdeen Best Practices Study thoroughly analyzed best-in-class companies, defined as those with the highest customer retention and sales growth.  The study provides hard, objective measurements of ROI. If the CFO wants ROI proof, this is your study! Or, the IRF Top Performer studies in #3 are equally positive.

Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel - Actual Brightspot Travel Incentive Program Destination.

Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel; a trending incentive destination in the South of France.

Incentive travel is not just for sales. 53% use incentive travel to reward sales. 43% to reward employees. 33% for channel partners. And 27% to appreciate customer loyalty
Incentive Federation

Interesting. The use of incentive travel to motivate sales teams is a widely-held belief. Surprisingly, customer loyalty travel was high too. ROI for many different purposes, target audiences, and go-to-market strategies.

Properly designed incentive travel programs increase sales productivity by 18% and produce an ROI of 112%
Incentive Research Foundation

This is the single, best case study proving an ROI for incentive travel! Notice the keywords “properly designed” and “executed” are essential phrases. Allow us one quick sales pitch. Incentive travel agencies, like Brightspot, are fantastic at design and execution! Many competitors are travel people; they like to travel. They are charming people and can be good at logistics (if they are not having too much fun themselves). The Brightspot travel team are business professionals who know how to motivate and reward real people delivering real ROI results with superb attention-to-detail execution. As evidence, see our comprehensive methodology on “properly designing” incentive travel programs at or the how-to guide, How to Start an Incentive Travel Program.

Incentive travel budgets are now up to an average of $6,000 per person
Multiple Sources

This benchmark budget is helpful. It gives the VP of Sales a number to request. Of course, this budget amount moves every year. The best benchmark is the annual Incentive Travel Index study jointly produced by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), Society of Incentive Travel (SITE), and Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP). The web link included here is updated regularly to combine research from multiple sources. Budget estimates will grow for trips that are longer (more nights), farther (Europe, South America, Asia), or more luxurious (5-star resorts in elite destinations).

Soft benefits exceed hard benefits
Incentive Travel Index

In recent years, the Incentive Travel Index study from IRF, SITE, and FICP has commented, “Buyers are shifting programs toward a greater focus on “soft power” benefits, such as company culture, engagement, relationships, and retention. While hard power benefits, such as increased sales, remain key, 66% of buyers report they are shifting future programs toward a greater focus on soft power benefits.” With Fortune 1000 CEOs increasingly ranking “talent” as their top business concern, the CEO’s voice will drive decisions more than the CFO’s quest for financial ROI documentation.

Sales rep feelings show ROI
Site Participant Viewpoint Research

SITE and the Incentive Travel Council of the Incentive Marketing Association took an interesting approach by examining sales reps’ viewpoints, both winners and non-qualifiers, to show “ROE” – return on experience. Incentive Travel: The Participant’s Viewpoint is a 4-part study examining what makes travel contests meaningful, motivational, and memorable. The psychology and engagement of the target audience determine if their extra effort will produce a positive ROI.

    • 96% of trip earners said they were motivated by the opportunity, which everyone would expect. Unexpectedly, 91% of non-earners were similarly motivated too.
    • 89% of those who earned the travel reward felt appreciated by the host company.
    • 73% reported an increased feeling of loyalty.
    • 77% had increased feelings of being part of the company.
    • 53% found connecting with senior management to be a positive benefit.
    • Connecting with the hearts and heads of sales reps shows that the soft benefits of motivation, recognition, loyalty, retention, and relationship-building will lead to hard-dollar benefits of increased ROI.

Case Studies for Incentive Travel
For more detail into these points and more, the IRF website has two robust and deep-dive case studies on incentive travel programs and their ROI results; Channel Incentive Travel: A Case Study and Anatomy Of a Successful Incentive Travel Program.

Visitors can also explore Brightspot’s Incentive Travel Services page, offering specialized support to optimize your incentive strategies.

Are You Ready to Start Planning?
Discover more about the exceptional services we provide or get in touch with us today to begin planning your extraordinary incentive program! Our team of experienced professionals is ready to assist you in seamlessly coordinating all the logistics and will create a corporate trip that your group will never forget. At Brightspot, we are committed to providing exceptional consultation to our clients to make their club trips stand out. Our teams do the research and background work so you can sit back and focus on the high-level decisions. Brightspot can be your helping hand every step of the way.

Mike May

Author Mike May

Mike is a wearer of many hats. President of Brightspot, author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program, past Chairman of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. His expertise includes bucket-list incentive trips, motivational incentive program design, matching event goals with the perfect destination & hotel, cost savings strategies, global channel reward programs, and targeted communications. Mike maintains his certifications in many specialties including Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), Certified Incentive Travel Professional (CITP), and Incentive Professional (IP).

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