Changes Afoot for Incentive Travel Programs

A full recovery is expected at some point, but the look of group travel may be forever changed

Safety is the priority for incentive travel program sponsors as they consider their options for reviving these effective efforts for driving performance. According to the Incentive Travel Industry Index (ITII), an annual survey of incentive travel buyers (end users and agencies) and sellers, buyers are shifting to match traveler sentiment.

“Sanitation and health security have joined emergency preparedness as top risk management strategies, while location preferences have shifted temporarily away from more dense, urban locations, cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts, and toward destinations perceived as safe,” the report states. Prior trends favored novel destinations farther afield. However, in a post-COVID future, buyers plan to shift toward using destinations in their own region.

The survey is a joint effort of The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and the Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals. It was conducted last Septem­ber and October, and there were 2,356 total survey respondents.

A rebound is imminent, as 83% of buyers report senior management and other stakeholders remain committed to incentive travel. However, many also believe that incentive travel will need to fundamentally change to reduce risks.

Buyers hope that increased activity in the latter half of the year can help incentive travel to recover to 59% of 2019 levels. Most respondents (66%) expect a one- to two-
year recovery of incentive travel once the virus is contained and post-COVID conditions are reached.

About 23% of respondents expect travel to be fundamentally different in a post-COVID world. About 65% expect it will be moderately changed, and the rest see it remaining similar to pre-COVID.

The report states that buyers plan to make large shifts toward wellness and flexible activities for individuals, as well as toward corporate social responsibility. In a continuation of shifts that first showed up in the 2019 survey, there will be more focus on what will delight travelers and less focus on group dining and team building.

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