Skip to main content

A New Incentive Travel Study

Last week*, IRF (Incentive Research Foundation), SITE (Society for Incentive Travel Excellence), and FICP (Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals) collaborated to release the largest survey ever of the global incentive travel market.  The joint study garnered twice the responses of any association’s previous individual surveys, adding more significant input, insight, and validity.

For 2018 and 2019, I serve as the Chairman of IRF’s Board of Trustees.  We make a concerted effort to challenge our researchers to move beyond statistics and share extra commentary and actionable advice to assist the incentive marketplace.

*NOTE: This study was published in 2018, but we believe it is equally relevant today with timeless recommendations. 

IRF Incentive Travel Top Recommendations

The IRF report shares these top five takeaways:

1. Incentive trip budgets are up
2. More qualifiers than ever
3. Incentives are a builder of workplace culture
4. Increase in use of all-inclusive destinations
5. Wellness is the new golf

Extra Tips & Advice

I was invited to represent IRF on an incentive travel panel discussion at the SITE Classic annual conference.  Presenting to a peer group of 200+ incentive executives motivated me to do extra homework to share more in-depth insights.  Here are additional tips and advice for incentive trips of all types (president club sales recognition, broker trips, and customer trips).

Incentive Trip Budgets

• 54% of all incentive planners report increasing budgets
• Per person “median” average is $4,000 which was the same as last year (but remember b-school definition that median is the center of the bell curve)
• Mean average for corporate buyers is $8,151 (which is a bit high due to substantial insurance & financial industry respondents which conduct many high-end broker trips)
• The mean average for incentive travel agencies is $5,193 (the best norm in my opinion)

TIP: tell the CFO to find more incentive budget!

Incentive Trip Winners

• 4-year trend of 50%+ increase in winners
• 65% of all buyers are increasing the number of qualifiers
• Driven by company growth and M&A

TIP: Ensure your trip qualifier opportunities keeps pace with headcount growth

Managing Incentive Cost

• While budgets increase overall, buyers feel pressure to reduce costs
• 82% report actions to manage costs
• Top action steps are using all-inclusives, less expensive destinations, and shorter programs

TIP: make a pie chart of your trip budget to evaluate if budget is prioritized in the right places

Positive Factors for Incentive Trips

• Executive management perception (subjective)
• Company financial forecast (objective)
• Optimism about the world and national economy keeps growing

TIP: keep senior management informed with success stories

Negative Factors for Incentive Trips

• Threat of terrorism
• Airline costs
• International political relationships

TIP: pray for peace!Incentives Build Company Culture

• Increased sales and profitability remain #1 reason for sales incentive trips
• But, many “soft” benefits are ranked as necessary (See Padraic Gilligan’s superb blog on The Search for Higher Purpose for more insights on soft benefits.  Great read.)
• Better relationship building, improved employee engagement, and peer networking scored high

TIP: include excellent networking opportunities

ROI & ROO Trends

• Few buyers (only 25%) are mathematically tracking return on investment or return on objectives
• Reasons: management does not require, and an incentive trip is entrenched in the sales culture

TIP: any marketing ROI makes lots of assumptions, but it’s still a good idea to track key sales metrics and successes

Top Trip Inclusions

• Wellness is growing (yoga, healthy meals)
• CSR (corporate social responsibility) is shrinking
• Mobile apps are growing

TIP: add an event app; Brightspot’s new EventHQ app makes it faster and cheaper

Incentive Trends 2018Including Meetings with Incentives

• Corporate Users (64%) and Incentive Companies (30%) diverge on including a meeting
• Business-driven reasons are a top cause
• Tax laws & regulatory are high too (check out our corresponding page on tax implications)

TIP: balance recognition reward versus business content meetings

Considerations on Destination Selection

• Appeal to the target audience
• Overall safety
• Value for the dollar
TIP: Remember, the target audience is not the CEO, Sales VPs, or event planner – think like the audience you are trying to motivate!


• Budgets are increasing
• Attention to reducing costs
• Increase in winners
• Perceived effectiveness is still high
• Incentive travel remains a strong motivator
• CSR decreases a bit
• Infrastructure is critical in selecting a destination

If your team is looking for more info on incentive travel best practices and trends, head over to our incentive travel page.

New call-to-action

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).

More posts by Mike May