Incentive travel trends are bending along the arc of the economy and social issues everyone is facing more than two years since COVID first hit. But even with ever-shrinking lead times, cost constraints, staffing issues, supply chain snafus and the rest, the top trend is that incentive travel is still the preferred way to motivate, attract and retain employees.
Incentive travel trends can be tough to track. During a recent webinar hosted by SITE Global, some top incentive industry professionals talked about some of the top trends in the fast-moving incentive travel industry.
Moderated by Jennifer Attersall, Director, Incentive Travel, Destination Canada, the panelists included Anne DiGregory, Vice President, Global Sales, Auberge Resorts Collection; Patty Karsten, VP, Industry Relations, BI Worldwide; and Ellie MacPherson, SVP, Customer Experience and Insights, Canada at Creative Group, Inc. Here are seven of the top trends and insights they shared:
Incentive Travel Trend 1: Lead times are still short — so short that the term “drinking from a firehose” is fast becoming the newest pandemic-era cliche. As Karsten said, “lead urgency has probably gotten more urgent, if anything.” The difficulty on the supplier side is that it can be hard to predict when a supply chain snarl will happen.
Incentive Travel Trend 2: We’re all in this together. The panelists agreed that we’re all in this boat together, suppliers, agencies and clients alike, and we need to have understanding and compassion for those suffering from supply chain snafus. Conversations need to be direct and to-the-point — it’s OK to ask if a supplier is having staffing issues —but be collaborative and understanding and solutions-oriented because ultimately, it’s up to the whole team to pull the program off. “We’re all in the trenches together,” said DiGregory.
This means agencies and DMCs may end up having to spend more time consulting with clients to manage expectations. As Karsten said, “Too many are expecting that a switch has been thrown and life will be like it was in 2019 — nothing could be further from the truth.”
Incentive Travel Trend 3: Travel still is the ultimate motivator. Attersall pointed to research that shows that, while there are shifts in where people are going and what they want to do when they get there, travel is still the ultimate incentive. Particularly for the younger segment of the workforce, ease of access to the destination and sustainability are key factors. And, while it’s still vital to provide an amazing experience, clients and participants may be a bit more understanding of pinch points now that they’re experiencing pain at the gas pump and at the grocery store themselves.
Incentive Travel Trend 4: But travel incentives may look a bit different moving forward. Program design also is shifting from traditional reward programs to corporate incentives that focus on rebuilding corporate culture. This means that some traditional incentive trips may be augmented with company get togethers as companies try to pull their work-from-home teams together as well as motivating people.
Some companies are making their incentives more exclusive and increasing spend per head. Some companies may plan their incentives to be closer to home than in the past.
But those changes may not be happening across the board. MacPherson said that, at least in Canada, if anything they’re seeing requests to increase room blocks — and they still are happy to travel to somewhere warm and sunny for those fall and winter incentives.
“The trend, at least for us, is that there are no trends,” said Karsten. “We’re not seeing any one thing, which keeps things interesting, but it also can be tough to anticipate what’s coming.”
Incentive Travel Trend 5: Changes in country testing requirements may be game changers for international incentives. While it’s still a bit too soon to tell, the U.S. and other countries dropping COVID testing requirements for entry might cause an upsurge in international incentives. The desire for international travel is still strong, but people have been cautious in their planning up to now. “I do think now that the restrictions have lifted, we’ll start to see a shift,” Karsten said.
Incentive Travel Trend 6: Expect everything to cost more for the near future. The luxury travel market is on fire, despite the current recessionary state, and that elephant is not likely to stay in the corner of the room, the panelists said. When holding conversations about future incentives, some clients may find that their Saturday and Sunday patterns might not be affordable; they may have to look at midweek now that the leisure market is willing to pay whatever it costs to get out of the house. Food and beverage costs also are through the roof, so it’s more important now than ever to let the chef know your budget up front rather than try to cut corners from a set menu.
Incentive Travel Trend 7: Clients still understand the value a professional brings to the table. With costs continuing to rise, some surveys have indicated that clients may want to bypass using a DMC or agency. While there is that temptation, panelists said that isn’t something they have seen come to fruition. In fact, said Karsten, “We’re seeing customers need agencies more because they have fewer resources internally, or the same resources are being stretched further.” She added that they try to underscore what DMCs bring to the party. “We need boots on the ground in the destination to manage the unpredictable situation of what’s open, what’s not … that’s critical.”
And there are too many changes across the industry for clients to keep up with on their own, said MacPherson. “Whether it’s airline, hotel, DMC, vendors … they’re terribly reliant on us to gather all that information and distill it for them.”
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