Trends in Incentive Travel: What This Year’s Numbers are Saying

by | Nov 5, 2018 | Blog

Industries evolve. They grow, shrink, and adapt in the face of changing times. They learn to incorporate new technologies and changing demographics.

Just look at group incentive travel, a particularly reactive part of the incentive industry. The state of incentive travel serves as a reflection of the current cultural and economic landscape: consumer preferences and spending behavior, national and global economies, concerns over airline costs.

It’s a lot to keep up with.

Fortunately, there are places like the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence(SITE) and the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) which conduct research every year to discover and examine changes in the incentive travel industry.

We’ve discussed this before, of course: every year brings new insights. What’s got us interested right now is the Incentive Travel Industry Index, a new piece of research released in August. Let’s take a look at the findings.

The Study

The Incentive Travel Industry Index is the first of its kind, a joint effort by SITE, IRF, and Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP). It’s also the largest survey this industry has ever had.

SITE, of which HMI is a proud member, has been conducting a similar survey each year since 2015. But with the combined efforts and resources of the three organizations, and in association with JD Power, this year saw nearly twice as many respondents: 1,016 in all, from over 80 countries.

Two primary groups of people were surveyed: sellers of travel services (such as destination management companies, cruise lines, and hoteliers) and buyers.

The buyers group was comprised of incentive houses—companies like HMI which design incentive programs—and corporate “end-users,” the companies that end up using incentive travel services for their employees or customers.

Their Thoughts

From the data they collected, the researchers drew five key conclusions about buyers:

  1. Budgets are up: 54% of buyers of incentive travel services reported increasing their budgets for travel programs this year. In the past two years, end-users’ average spending per person has skyrocketed compared with earlier years, going from around $4,000 in 2015 and 2016 to around $9,000 more recently.
  2. More qualifiers: 71% of incentive houses said they plan to increase the number of people who can qualify for travel programs. That’s up from 54% in 2017.
  3. Workplace culture is the new key objective: in all four years the survey was conducted, the number-one objective of end-users has been the same: increasing sales and profitability for the company. However, the other top five most popular objectives are oriented toward improving workplace culture and employee relations.
  4. It’s all about all-inclusive: despite the increased budgets, more and more buyers are actually taking steps to manage costs, possibly because of the increase in qualifiers we mentioned earlier. Buyers’ top strategy for cost management? Using “all-inclusive” destinations, which offer more efficient pricing.
  5. CSR is out, wellness is in: one of the top items incorporated by travel programs were wellness opportunities like yoga or healthy meals. 86% of all buyers reported wellness as one of their inclusions, compared with 74% for corporate social responsibility (CSR). It seems that CSR has also decreased as an inclusion from the previous year: while 73% of end-users included CSR in their programs in 2018, that’s down from 94% in 2017.

Our Thoughts

SITE and its partners have captured some really interesting insights from this survey about incentive travel around the world. It’s great to read about the ways the industry is growing, and we’re curious to see where the some of these trends – like the increased use of all-inclusive trips—take us.

Of course, we might draw different conclusions from the data they’ve gathered. Take that last bullet point, for example: it’s true that end-users’ inclusion of CSR decreased from 94% in 2017 to 73% in 2018. But that’s still nearly 20 percentage points over 2015, when only 57% of end-users included CSR. So whether inclusion of CSR is increasing, decreasing, or just fluctuating back and forth is something that we’re not quite sure of yet.

(Also, we at HMI value CSR very highly, and the suggestion that it’s falling out of favor hurts our feelings.)

But even with this in mind, we’re excited. As the largest incentive travel survey conducted to date, it represents a real milestone for the industry. Furthermore, many of its findings point to growing strengths, like bigger budgets and more qualifiers.


We don’t know everything yet, to be sure. But what we do know is this: more respondents mean more information, especially as the survey continues to grow. We hope that SITE, IRF, and FICP keep up the collaboration in the future and are able to bring in even more respondents. We can’t wait to see how the trends already spotted by the researchers play out in the years to come.

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

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