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The Meeting Professional – Incentive Programs are Different Now

Today’s incentive travel programs reflect renewed economic confidence, but no one is partying like it’s 2006.

Program Content is less lavish and more purposeful than it was before recession and perception issues clouded the landscape.

The good news is that optimism among planners is clearly on the upswing, according to the Incentive Research Foundation’s (IRF) Spring Pulse Survey 2013. In that report, 56 percent of respondents- all from North America- said the economy was having a positive impact on their ability to plan and implement incentive travel programs, up from 43 percent in September 2012.

While this rising economic confidence indicates that more programs are going forward, most companies are cautious about how their incentive dollars are spent. The result is stronger business content during many incentives, says Jeff Broudy.

It’s a shift that Adam Lawhorne, CITE, CEO of Chicago-based Meeting Incentive Experts, sees as well, noting that companies are more likely to combine a meeting and an incentive than they were prior to the recession.

“For example, a recent program for 1,300 in the Riviera Maya was structured as a meeting for one day and an incentive for two days,” he says.

“[The client] figured that they could save money over two separate meetings and still get the same results. Plus, in Mexico there is a tax advantage for an incentive that includes a meeting component.”

And, luckily, the inclusion of business sessions in a program that is supposed to be a reward for high achievement doesn’t appear to cause resentment among attendees, according to Broudy.

“The participants understand the need to include meetings in the incentives-they know that competitively they need to maintain their edge, ” he says.” You see this especially among the millennial generation. They view learning as a type of currency.”

The Value of Choice

One of the biggest trend regarding incentive program content is more choice. With incentive travel participants representing as many as four different generations, planners are mindful to provide a variety of activities to suit various fitness levels and individual preferences.

The emergence of younger attendees means that planners need to put a creative new spin on activities and events, according to Lawhorne. “Younger attendees are looking for more extreme activities, something with a real ‘wow’ factor that you can’t get on your own vacation,” he say. They don’t want the basic catamaran cruise or a city tour, but something that is really different.”

And that’s in line with findings from the white paper Incentive Travel: The Participant’s Viewpoint Part II: Motivational Value of Incentive Travel, released by the SITE International Foundation and the Incentive Travel Council. The study found that 70.7 percent of participants valued the opportunity to experience something they could not do on their own.

CSR: Not a Fad

While it first gained momentum as a incentive activity in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, CSR has proven to be more than a passing fad. In the IRF Spring Pulse 2013 Survey, 39 percent of incentive planners indicated the use of CSR elements, up from 31 percent in 2012. In the best cases, such activities are socially beneficial team building.

Lawhorne is also seeing increased interest among clients for CSR components, particularly those in Mexico called Feet First in whichattendees bring a new pair of children’s shoes with them to the incentive location.

“There’s a nice breakfast at the hotel where the kids and attendees get together and the kids get a backpack with the shoes,” Lawhorne says. ” In some cases, the kids have never been to a hotel before.”

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