Tina Weede, CRP, is President, USMotivation and Vice President, Research and Education, SITE Foundation. Tina has an extensive background in performance improvement and recognition in both business-to-business and consumer marketing. She has designed, implemented and managed incentive programs of all sizes, providing wisdom through measurable results. Tina’s background is in advertising, where she began her career at J. Walter Thompson. In 1990, she moved to the communications department at USMotivation. She later served as Divisional Vice President of Major Accounts, where she was instrumental in helping clients align incentives with their business objectives. In 2010, Tina was promoted to President of USMotivation. She currently serves as Vice President of Research and Education for the SITE Foundation and President of Recognition Professionals International (RPI) Board of Directors.
Last year was one of the best years ever for the incentive travel industry, not just in North America, but also around the globe. And, 2016 is projected to be another banner year, according to the 2015 Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Index Benchmark Study, an annual analysis and forecast of the incentive travel industry.
In an effort to provide more meaningful and actionable information to incentive travel professionals, the SITE Foundation partnered with IMEX Group to utilize its database, and engaged leading global research firm J.D. Power to manage the survey and reporting. Survey participants were given the opportunity to identify themselves as an incentive travel buyer, seller or interested industry observer, enhancing the relevance of the questions and allowing for buyer/seller comparisons. The report reveals a number of positive and potentially challenging trends.
Overall, both buyers and sellers report a slight increase in incentive travel budgets over the past year, and many companies are planning to increase their budgets and the number of eligible participants in the next 12 months. While budgets may be increasing, nearly three-quarters of buyers are managing costs through a variety of ways such as planning shorter programs, having fewer inclusions and selecting less expensive destinations.
“The focus is not bigger and better, but unique, authentic, memorable and meaningful experiences.”
For our clients, not only in the financial and insurance verticals, but with most, the focus and differentiator is not bigger and better, but unique, authentic, memorable and meaningful experiences. In order to design these types of experiences, buyers and sellers must understand and align with clients’ needs and desires and participants’ demographic preferences. Clients are continually looking for creative ideas that increase market share, brand awareness and loyalty (in some cases down to the actual consumer) and, of course, drive greater performance.
Although operational excellence remains a key focus, creativity is an even greater focus today. This holds true not only in the destination selection, planned functions, branding and promotions, but also in budget utilization and negotiation of concessions, which is a must. In most cases, sensibility has replaced the opulence of the past. Clients are asking for new and exciting experiences each time and not necessarily just trying to outdo the previous trip.
For sellers of incentive travel services, the market is likely to become even more competitive with customers’ expectations going well beyond acquisition of a travel package. And, participants are seeking more personalized and memorable experiences indigenous to the program destination, as well as activities that allow them to give back to the communities they visit.
One way to create a memorable experience for the multi-generational mix is to provide more choice and ability to choose: Instead of providing room gifts every night, offer a shopping experience for the attendee and guest. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities also should provide choices that not only represent the client’s brand but each individual, providing participants the opportunity to give back in their company’s name, but also individually.
With customers’ standards becoming even higher, sellers of incentive travel services cannot afford to remain complacent about creating value through greater creativity and innovative event design. If they do, they are very likely to fall behind the competition.
Despite a positive outlook for the incentive travel market, caution signs do exist. Among buyers and sellers, there is a fairly strong perception that domestic and world events — specifically airline costs, the world economy and the threat of terrorism — have the potential to negatively impact the incentive travel industry. However, an even greater challenge to the industry’s health is how a majority of companies assess the effectiveness of their incentive travel programs — more on faith and belief than on metrics.
Although a large majority of both buyers and sellers believe that incentive travel programs are strong motivators of performance, only 28 percent report that they always/almost always track the ROI or ROE of programs. The lack of supporting metrics could make incentive travel programs especially vulnerable during financially challenging times. A well-designed program should demonstrate a quantifiable link between the reward and performance, which demands cooperative efforts among buyers who can identify and communicate the business goals, and skilled sellers who can design a program to achieve the desired results.
During the planning process, we must never lose sight of the purpose for the incentive program and what it took for the participants to earn the reward. Make the recognition portion of the incentive meaningful and tailored to the participants. Winners want to be recognized by their peers and leadership in front of their guests and hear that they are valued contributors to the company’s success.
Buyers and sellers of incentive travel will benefit greatly from reviewing the SITE Index report (www.siteglobal.com/page/site-index), applying the findings and implementing strategies based on information relevant to their business. While times are good, it is vitally important that both buyers and sellers stay on top of prevailing trends and prepare for the future to ensure that their businesses and the global incentive travel industry remain strong for years to come. I&FMM