Stay on top of incentive travel trends

Paul Nolan

Successful incentive travel programs are the result of planning far in advance, incorporating the most important trends into the event, and maybe even throwing in some emerging trends. Here are some notable trends to keep in mind as you develop your next incentive travel program.

Transformational travel

“Incentive travel is moving beyond just experiences to life-changing experiences that change a participant’s outlook on life,” states a SITE 2018 trend-watching report. It encourages program sponsors to shoot for self-defining experiences focused on the unusual, unattainable or exciting.

“Delegates are starting to demand much more than simply a luxurious holiday, and instead are looking to create positive memories that last beyond the duration of the trip,” Holly Mills, head of incentives at Penguins, told the British publication Conference & Incentive Travel (C&IT). “We are seeing a move away from the traditional beach destinations. Instead the demand is for more culturally connected and experience-driven trips. These do not have to be big ticket items; they could be as simple as a game of beach football with the local kids or a traditional welcome, but authenticity is key.”

Make it personal

Paying attention to small details makes a big difference. SITE’s recommendations include gathering food and beverage preferences during the registration process so that meals are customized with participants’ favorites. Also, use technology to poll participants once the trip has started and be ready to change plans on the fly to tailor it to participants’ preferences.

Be mindful of wellness

It’s not new for 2018, but it continues to grow in importance. According to the Incentive Research Foundation, 38 percent of planners are focused on wellness. Many planners expect wellness options as a basic part of their event — and that’s more than a nice gym and healthy meals.

People are shaping their lives around healthy eating and lifestyle choices. That doesn’t change when they are on the road, whether it’s for business or fun.

Some place you haven’t been

SITE calls it “the rise of second-tier destinations.” Demand is high for bucket list and off-the-radar destinations, providing participants with experiences they have not had on their own. Destinations once considered “second-tier” are now becoming “first-choice,” the SITE trends report states. Added bonus: these type of destinations offer unique experiences, even for well-traveled participants, and often at a better value.

Meet uniquely

Planners are seeking non-traditional venues and lodging that offers multiple options to create self-defining experiences that appeal to multiple generations. “Pop-up” spaces created exclusively for clients are becoming popular, SITE reports. The typical meeting/ballroom is still prevalent, but groups are taking advantage of other areas such as penthouses, indoor/outdoor living, etc.

The how and who of incentives is broadening

Trips are not just for the sales team anymore. Demand is increasing for programs for a larger audience based upon alternative metrics. Expect to see organizations taking a more company-wide approach with tiered incentives and rewards. A focus on new talent strategies will be a strong opportunity for incentives and recognition program providers to provide value at the highest organizational level.

Disruption as a common state

As important as new experiences and off-the-beaten-track destinations are, safety is always the priority. SITE reports that managing security and risk will continue to comprise a larger percentage of the incentive travel budget. Finding new and creative ways to mitigate risks will lead to new tools, processes and partnership dynamics. And partnerships with destination management companies (DMCs) has never been more important. They function as key allies on the ground when weather or political disruption hits.