Report Forecasts Major Incentive Trends

A report recently released by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) has found that businesses will focus on unique, upscale and individualized experiences in its employee motivation efforts this year. The 2016 Trends in Incentive Travel, Rewards and Recognition report provides a collation of the major incentive trends found through multiple surveys the IRF conducted in 2015.

“This study reinforces that we live in a time of extraordinary personalization,” said Melissa Van Dyke, president of IRF, in an official statement on the report’s release. “Every business needs to keep up with a fast pace and deliver on its brand promise if it wants to retain the best people – and keep them happy, productive and motivated.”

In IRF’s Pulse Survey, released in October 2015, up to 65% of companies with reward and recognition programs reported that they plan on increasing the budgets for those programs in 2016.

A majority of respondents in the IRF’s 2015 Landmark Survey, released in November 2015, also reported that, when offered a choice between cash and a reward that aligns closely with personal preferences, employees tend to choose the latter. The study found that the most preferred large award is travel, particularly when presented by executives and communicated to the recipient via a public announcement at the company, while employees further appreciate being given the opportunity for networking during travel.

The IRF also found that 67% of program planners will slightly increase incentive travel budgets up to 10% this year, which allows for more travel destination options. This year, for the first time in IRF’s survey history, the Caribbean tied with the U.S. as the leading incentive travel destination, with 50% of respondents saying they planned to offer trips to the island region. Trip planners are now increasing lead-times to book travel to the most desirable destinations: While 41% of respondents report booking seven to 12 months out, a slightly higher percentage (45%) book more than a year out.

Travel planners are also meeting employees’ growing demand for realistic travel experiences by planning opportunities for recipients to experience authentic cuisine, cultural performances and excursions that spotlight local practices and customs.

While unique travel experiences seem to be gaining in popularity for motivation programs, smaller awards are still appreciated. Top merchandise rewards include electronics, named by 31% of respondents, followed by open-loop gift cards (28%), luggage (24%) and jewelry/watches (23%). The same survey also found that only 6% of reward planners stated the economy has a negative impact on their ability to plan and implement merchandise and gift card programs.

The IRF also found that there are multiple factors that make up a motivational award experience. For smaller daily awards, the way in which the award is presented and the professional impact of receiving it determine about 40% of an employee’s preference for a given experience. For larger awards, that number jumps to more than 50%. Furthermore, these numbers show little change across demographics; one exception is that Baby Boomers were slightly more likely to place more emphasis on how the award is communicated.

The 2016 trends report was created through analysis of existing proprietary IRF research, solicitation of hundreds of industry professionals and review of incentive industry and business publications.