by Matt Alderton | September 18, 2019
Despite rising travel costs and significant political and economic headwinds, including Brexit and the U.S.-China trade war, the meetings and events industry is poised for continued growth in 2020 with an expected 8 percent expansion in the year ahead. So predicts CWT Meetings & Events, which this week published its 2020 Future Trends Report, in which it forecasts the near-term future of conferences and other gatherings, including incentives.

Thanks to the rise of new venues, destinations and activities, the latter are "flourishing," CWT M&E observes in its report, which describes 2020 as being "a fulfilling time for event managers and those high achievers who secure a spot."

CWT M&E's top-line incentive finding, however, is that companies are beginning to appreciate incentives not only for what they can add in the way of profits, but also for what they can inspire in the way of performance. 

"Beyond improving sales and profitability, there is a growing focus on company culture and developing robust relationships between employees and senior leaders, building a deep sense of engagement and strong morale, and creating trust," notes CWT M&E, which emphasizes that "incentives are still about driving business success."

What companies will illustrate more in 2020, the report suggests, is a realization that business success is a function of employee satisfaction. With that in mind, companies sponsoring incentives in 2020 increasingly will expand their aperture to include three growing priorities:

• Genuine life-changing experiences: Incentive travel isn't just about rewarding employees; increasingly, it's also about earning their loyalty, suggests CWT M&E, which has observed a spike in experiential travel as companies seek to create memories that will leave lasting impressions on incentive recipients. "As the drive for genuinely life-changing experiences accelerates, incentives have become all about a mix of the unusual with the perennial favorites," the report notes. "Off-the-beaten-track destinations are growing in popularity, alongside tried-and-tested [destinations] such as Paris, New York, Dubai, the Caribbean and South Africa. Destinations such as Nepal, Namibia, Costa Rica, Cambodia and Montenegro are on the radar for 2020."

• Personalized experiences: As companies seek to deepen their relationships with employees, there's a recognition that incentive travel is about not only where recipients go, but also what they do when they get there. Personalized itineraries are therefore becoming more common, according to CWT M&E. "While incentives remain an important way for those who qualify to spend time with senior leadership, as well as bonding with each other, there is an emerging trend toward offering attendees a more personalized experience," it observes, citing as an example a trip for 45 beverage-company employees who spent opening and closing ceremonies together, but could choose from a range of activities in between, based on their unique interests.

• Socially responsible incentives: The interest in corporate social responsibility will continue to grow in 2020, predicts CWT M&E, which says environmental programs are especially important to young incentive recipients for whom climate change is a serious concern. "Socially responsible incentives are top of the agenda for 2020, with team-building activities -- including carrying out work in hospitals, schools or with community groups -- becoming an important way for companies and their incentive guests to leave a legacy in the destination," the report says. "This means that, as the next decade unfolds, incentive trips will benefit from a ripple effect that comes from doing some social good, alongside the ability to empower, retain and inspire the next generation of workforce talent."

Underlying each of its predictions is a generational shift in values toward authenticity, according to CWT M&E. "Authenticity is trending across events from training to incentive travel," it concludes.

The full 2020 Future Trends Report is available for complimentary download from CWT M&E's website.