September 22, 2016

New technology, shifting economic concerns and changing demographics are just a few of the factors driving change in today's incentive industry, according to recent reports from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF). And savvy planners are reaping the benefits of staying on top of these trends, according to Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF.

Incentive spending budgets have risen in the past few years from $75 billion to $90 billion.
 On the positive side, Van Dyke reports that budgets are up for incentives. "The incentive market overall is a $90 billion market, up from just $75 billion a couple of years ago," she said. Corporate suppliers like Links Unlimited are reaping the benefit. "Products and brands like Amazon Echo, Tile, Beats, and Sonos have had tremendous success within the last couple of years to fuel our company's growth," said Corey Wolfe, Director of Sales at Links Unlimited.

"Specifically, we now know that about 84 percent of U.S. businesses use non-cash rewards for recognition in some manner, and likewise, the incidence of use of incentive travel is up as well," she said. "Almost 40 percent of businesses now use incentive travel in some manner to reward and recognize their key staff, whether it's sales [staff] or employees."

The Millennial generation looks for authenticity and uniqueness in merchandise and travel experiences.
 Planning time has extended, according to IRF research, partly due to limited inventory. "Lead times are growing, but supply is not necessarily there," said Van Dyke. "People are planning further and further out, not only because they have the ability to do so based on their budgets, but also because the hotels that were so readily available inexpensively in the downturn are no longer available, so they know if they want that certain property they have to book sometimes two to three years out to get the dates they want."

IRF research also points to the increasing importance of providing "authentic and unique" experiences for incentive groups, according to Van Dyke - especially for the Millennial generation. "Authenticity and uniqueness are akin to luxury in the minds of many millennials," she explained, "and we're seeing that reflected in travel experience as well, where both hoteliers and planners are doing a great job of pulling what is available in the local community into the property but also getting people out to those experiences as well."

In addition to unique travel experiences, thoughtful and useful event take-aways are being given more recognition by attendees. "Corporate event gifting programs are ever increasing in popularity, not just with the corporations themselves but also with the manufacturer's desire to offer event gifting. We have invested heavily in personnel, booth designs and inventory to deliver the best corporate gifting experiences for brands such as Beats, Oakley and Ray-Ban," added Corey Wolfe, Links Unlimited.

As incentive patterns and preferences shift, "planners have gotten much wiser about using the HR data that's available to them on the demographics of their attendees," Van Dyke added.

Among the pressing areas of study now for the IRF, according to Van Dyke is risk management. "The things we're working on right now are focusing on the management of risk, and how planners maintain
really engaging programs while balancing the risks that come with doing really authentic and unique programs."

For more information on event incentive ideas, visit Links Unlimited at