by Mike May | February 11, 2019
From our volunteer leadership with the Incentive Research Foundation and the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, here are some "greatest hits" of research insights that stood out -- and recommended actions to take in 2019.
 
Incentive travel budgets are up. Fifty-four percent of buyers are reporting increased budgets in the IRF, SITE and Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals joint incentive travel study, which means more funds for destinations, amenities and winners.
 
To do: Use this research to get more budget from the CFO and then play around with "what-if" scenarios with our budget calculator to enhance attendee experience.
 
More qualifiers than ever. The same study reported that trip-attendee counts are increasing due to sales head-count growth from acquisitions and organic sales growth.
 
To do: We suggest making sure your audience maintains an equal shot at winning the trip. If your sales team grows, your trip should too. More qualifiers also means more administration. See the 10 benefits of hiring an incentive travel company.

Incentives build workplace culture. Increased sales and profits are always good for morale, but CEOs believe incentives also create better relationships between employees and management, according to the Incentive Marketplace Estimate Research Study and the IRF-SITE-FICP joint incentive travel study.
 
To do: Select motivational rewards to help keep morale high.
 
Wellness is the new golf. Healthy meals and yoga are just a small part of updating your program for modern audiences. Authentic experiences, and even transformative experiences, continue to grow in popularity.
 
To do:Here are fresh ideas to improve your incentive trips for 2019 and beyond.
 
Gift cards grow, but better processes are needed. Gift cards, including Amazon, Starbucks, retailers and restaurants, continue as popular options in reward and recognition programs, according to the Industry Outlook Study 2019: Gift Cards. The study finds that 69 percent of companies go directly to grocery and drug stores, e.g., someone travels there, to buy gift cards.
 
To do: This indicates a corporate need for more efficient delivery (like Brightspot digital gift cards), sourcing processes, internal controls and reporting.
 
Merchandise rewards are projected to increase.
 Marketplace optimism in the noncash reward and recognition market reached a record high in 2018, as measured by the IRF's proprietary Net Optimism Score of 43 percent.
 
To do: While gift cards are still quite popular in the U.S., Brightspot sees increased demand for merchandise rewards in global channel reward programs. Find out more in our comprehensive channel rewards guide.
 
Physical and data security grow. Multiple IRF surveys report that terrorism, safety and disruptions of all kinds continue to be top concerns for meetings planners and sales operations. Risk management has grown to also include keeping participant data protected.
 
To do: See the advice of Jason Neal, Brightspot director of IT, in 16 Ways to Keep Data Safe.
 
Mike May is president at Brightspot Incentives & Events. Learn more insight from Mike at this year's Incentive Industry Roundtable, where he will be one of seven experts discussing trends and opportunities in the incentive industry. It will take place on Monday, March 4, this year as part of Incentive Live in Chicago.
 
This article originally appeared on Brightspot's blog.