by Leo Jakobson | March 07, 2017
In its new industry trends study, the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) has created a new metric designed to provide a clear and simple look at the economic outlook in the incentive industry.

The IRF 2017 Outlook Study, which polled nearly 250 suppliers, corporate end users, and incentive house representatives, looks at a number of key industry metrics but the key is the new Net Optimism Score, according to Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF.

The score boils down to how many more respondents had a positive outlook for 2017 than had a negative one. For 2017, the score is 26 percent.

By looking back at its nearly 10 years of industry trend studies to obtain their Net Optimism Scores, the IRF is able to put "this year's findings in a historical and cyclical context, so we can deliver a big-picture view of the industry," Van Dyke says.

One of the most notable finding from that decade of data is that the Net Optimism Score within the incentive travel industry closely tracks the overall U.S. economic performance. In fact, it often acts as a leading indicator, the IRF found. The study gives the example of 2011, when the Net Optimism Score within the incentive travel industry showed a "dramatic dip" ahead of the broader U.S. economic downturn that began soon after.

The 2017 Net Optimism Score of 26 percent is far better than the extreme dips of 2009 and 2011, but still down from the high of more than 50 percent in 2013.

The Outlook Study breaks trends down in a number of ways, including by award category. Incentive travel programs had a strongly positive outlook for budget increases, but more than half of those respondents noted that costs -- notably room rates and food and beverage costs -- are rising faster than budgets.

Incentive programs using merchandise and gift card awards programs are still enjoying positive benefits from the economy, but the percent with a positive outlook has decreased over the past year.

Another research project is the IRF's 2017 Trends Study, which was released in January at the inaugural Incentive Live show in Las Vegas, which is produced by Northstar Meetings Group, Incentive's parent company.  

Coverage of that study, including the IRF's Top 10 Trends for Incentive Travel, Rewards and Recognition Programs in 2017, can be found here.