by Leo Jakobson | October 08, 2015
Earlier this year, the Harvard Business Review reported that when it asked 24 CEOs of major companies like AT&T, General Mills, and McDonalds about their major concerns -- the issues that keep them up at night -- finding and managing employees was far and away the number one issue. 

That concern was reflected in Incentive's 2015 Travel IQ Survey, with one-third (34 percent) of respondents saying that recruiting and retaining employees was one of the primary benefits of their company associates with its incentive travel programs, up from about one fifth (21.9 percent) the year before. 

And while the top benefit was of course increasing sales (61.1 percent), recognizing performance came in second (55.0 percent) and building morale came in third (51.9 percent). Both were up slightly over 2014, and were the only other benefits to go above 50 percent. Improve employee loyalty was fourth (37.8 percent), up four percent from 2014. 

Number two on The Conference Board's list of challenges this year was "customer relationships" and indeed, several factors that would affect this gained importance in this year's Travel IQ survey. "Increase Market share" climbed from 21.5 percent last year to 27.1 percent this year, while "create new markets" rose from 21.9 percent in 2014 to 26.3 percent in 2015. And "build customer loyalty" jumped from 31.1 percent to 36.6 percent. 

Incentive planners also refocused on client/customer programs, with 43.1 percent running programs that included this group in 2015, up from 35.7 percent in 2014. 

As for activities on those trips, golf and spa are still considered important by more than half of the respondents, with golf (54.2 percent) edging out spa (53.1 percent). But both are down from 2014, when spa (63.1 percent) edged out golf (62.0 percent).

A rapidly growing trend in incentive travel programs is the use of brand name merchandise awards like a camera, sunglasses, watches, or even electronics instead of (and sometimes in addition to) typical nightly room gifts like sunscreen or logoed apparel. In 2015, nearly one in four respondents (38.2 percent) said they included this type of award in their programs, and one in five (19.5 percent) said they offered attendees a "merchandise bar" offering a selection of brand name awards to choose from. 

Another growing trend over the past few years has been the use of individual incentive travel. In 2015, nearly half (44.7 percent) of our respondents said they use both group and individual incentive travel programs, nearly double the amount that use only group travel (22.9 percent). Nearly one in five (19.9 percent) respondents said they replaced some group travel programs with individual travel, and nearly one eighth (12.6 percent) switched totally to individual travel.

View the full results here.