by Alex Palmer | December 02, 2014
Incentive travel budgets will continue rising while wellness and talent retention will be more important than ever. Those are a few of the 10 trends for incentive travel predicted by the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) for 2015. In its new report, "Rebounding the Recession: 10 Trends Paint A Picture of the Future of Incentive Travel 2015," the IRF pulls together data from its Pulse Surveys, research papers, input from board members, and other sources to set out the 10 main trends that planners can expect to see in incentive travel next year.

The healing economy and growing budgets are playing a major role in several of the trends identified by the IRF. The top three are:

1) Positive Impacts On Incentive Travel Program Design -- 67 percent of respondents in the most recent (Fall 2014) Pulse Survey believe the economy will have a "Somewhat Positive" or "Strongly Positive" impact on incentive programs, compared to just 15 percent who saw a negative impact.

3) Incentive Travel Budgets Are Trending Up
 -- the Fall 2014 Pulse survey saw nearly 50 percent of respondents planning to increase per-person budgets, compared to about 10 percent planning for cuts. Compare that to 44 percent planning increases vs 24 percent planning cuts in the Fall 2010 Pulse Survey at the beginning of the economic turnaround.

3) International Programs On the Rebound
 -- the number of planners planning to move from international incentive travel destinations from domestic ones is now 50 percent greater than those shifting from international to domestic destinations, according to the latest Pulse survey.

"It's nice to see the data telling a good story -- so much more positive than when I started here," say Melissa Van Dyke, president of the Incentive Research Foundation. 

While the recent Pulse Surveys have shown a consistent uptick in incentive travel spending, Van Dyke emphasizes that the industry is growing to expect the unexpected, or as anther trend puts it, "Disruption is a Constant State." With risks coming from every direction, whether Ebola, political fluctuations, economic crises, or extreme weather, planners have gotten savvier at managing these risks and taking a more flexible approach to their programs. 

"Businesses are required to be more agile," says Van Dyke. "Planners are looking for partners that can assist them in managing risks, while incentive houses are required to be much more astute about the risk of the industries their clients are working in."

Other trends the IRF pointed to include the rise of wellness and the use of apps in every element of incentive trips, which can help attendees to "really shape their own experiences," according to Van Dyke, in addition to providing the planner with valuable data and post-event responses. 

The IRF also expects organizations to more clearly define the roles in which rewards and recognition will be used to engage workers. 

"In the new economy, we don't just need people to be invested in their core jobs -- they also have to be innovators, trainers, and brand or customer advocates," said Van Dyke. "Rewards and recognition are great tools for getting people invested in these non-core job roles," she added, but emphasized that it will become of greater importance for organizations to define what -- whether core or non-core roles -- they are incentivizing.

Here are the full top ten:

1. Positive Impacts On Incentive Travel Program Design
2. Incentive Travel Budgets Are Trending Up
3. International Programs On The Rebound 
4. Planners Invest In More Robust Experiences
5. "Self-Defining Experiences"
6. An App For Everything
7. Wellness
8. Disruption As A Constant State
9. CEO's Need to Attract and Retain Talent
10. Answering "Engaged In What?"