New SITE Research Finds Overwhelming Commitment to Incentive Travel Post-Pandemic

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Incentive travel is poised for a comeback — new research from the SITE Foundation found that almost 94% of the 50 companies surveyed in April 2021 said their leadership was 100% committed to incentive travel as a key component of their reward and recognition programs. “Corporate Insites: The Changing Face of Incentive Travel” found just 6% saying they were somewhat supportive, and none reported that their leadership was not supporting travel rewards moving forward.

This is welcome news to incentive planners, who in research last fall for the Incentive Travel Industry Index (ITII) reported that live incentives were down as much as 80%, with predictions that recovery to 2019 levels wouldn’t happen until 2023. Now 82% say they already are actively planning in-person travel incentives for 2022 and beyond, which indicates that those surveyed in April are forecasting a faster recovery than they believed when surveyed for the ITII report from last September/October.

While 71% of the Incentive Travel Industry Index respondents last fall said they replaced their 2020 travel incentive with another type of reward, apparently virtual recognition dinner boxes and online ceremonies just weren’t enough to accomplish their recognition goals. In fact, virtual incentives were projected to have the biggest decrease (34%) over the next three years, and just 31% said they planned to repeat their 2020-style incentive substitutions this year.

“The experience of virtual events cannot compare to the experience of in-person events,” the report quotes one respondent as saying.

Most reported they planned to continue holding their traditional pure incentive trips (no meetings) over the next three years — and 18% said they planned to hold even more of these reward trips. Incentives that included a meeting component also held steady, with 60% saying they expected no change and about 12% planning to add more. The biggest winner, however, was the hybrid category, which respondents expected to grow by 32% over the next several years.

“What we’re seeing here is the equivalent of an unexpected knock-out blow that floors the fighter, only to see him rise on the 8th count, regain stability and resume, a little chastened and with lessons learned,” the report said.

More Key Incentive Travel Insights

  • More than 80% said they will hold their first post-pandemic domestic meetings/events in the second half of 2021.
  • About 55% said they were planning to hold their first domestic incentive in 2021.
  • International incentive planning is outpacing that of meetings/events, with 35% of U.S. companies saying their first in-person incentive travel experience was being planned for late 2021.
  • Top priorities for incentive travel planners post-pandemic are, not surprisingly, contracts and risk management, and destination selection, with improved analytics in third place.
  • Criteria for destination selection moving forward also are heavily weighted toward safety and destination appeal, followed by infrastructure and accessibility. COVID issues came in fourth on the list.

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