by Leo Jakobson | June 01, 2018
The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) kicked off its 25th anniversary Annual Education Invitational by attracting more than 500 sponsors, incentive buyers, and hosts to The Grand at Moon Palace Cancun, a luxury all-inclusive property.

The IRF's silver anniversary event, which runs from May 29 to June 1, was attended by about 200 buyers from incentive houses and Fortune 1000 companies -- with 72 percent at the vice president level or above. Nearly one third are first-time attendees. 

"In the past 10 years alone, the IRF has spent $2 million on research and education," said Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF. "The IRF Education Invitational is the IRF's most important annual fundraising activity for research surrounding motivation and incentives."

The event's theme, "Building a Grand New Future," recognizes the organization is celebrating its 25th year not by looking backwards, but forward, Van Dyke said. That means building relationships with more than 10 networking events, building the organization's future through fundraising, and building knowledge at the education day, which offers four hours of CMP and SHRM certified education, including two keynotes and eight breakout sessions. 

It also means continuing work on the IRF's Vision 2020 plan to "lead the global incentive and recognition industry with actionable research and education." The emphasis on "actionable" refers to making sure white papers translate the organization's longer studies into easy-to-digest information usable in incentive program planners' and owners' day-to-day jobs, helping them build the business case for their programs.

Another IRF goal is to work with universities, with an eye to getting incentive education into schools' curriculums as well as providing the core research for the industry. The IRF is currently working with universities including Harvard University, Northwestern University, Monmouth University, and the University of Pittsburgh. In the fall, an incentive certificate program will be instituted in partnership with the University of South Carolina

This year, the IRF is also partnering with the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and the Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP) for a new joint incentive industry index.

During Education Day on May 31, topics included using IRF research to create better incentive and reward programs, building a better digital experience, and looking at ways to understand and improve attendees' airline experience.

Of course, a major purpose of the Invitational is to raise money for the IRF through a live and a silent auction. The live auction, on the evening of May 31, was a record-setting success as attendees bid on luxury travel packages such as a South African safari and passes to The Masters at Augusta National golf course.

A New Destination

The IRF's host hotel, The Grand at Moon Palace Cancun is a new build, with $450 million poured into creating an AAA Four Diamond property with 1,316 rooms within the larger Moon Palace Cancun resort, which has about 1,800 additional rooms.

Located just 10 minutes from Cancun International Airport, The Grand has 14 restaurants, a 73,000-square-foot spa with 64 treatment rooms, and 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature golf. It also offers 140,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, including a 32,000-square-foot ballroom that can seat 2,400 for dinner, and a theater seating more than 1,000 attendees.

The Grand's spacious rooms offer amenities like private terraces and marble-encased sunken double whirlpool tubs in the living area. 

The spa is enormous, as the treatment-room count suggests, and it is also an incredible facility, made with what appears to be an entire quarry of marble. It features large relaxation spaces and a mixed sensation pool, as well as offerings including aromatherapy, light therapy, and an ice room as well as steam, sauna and a huge fitness center.