by Lisa A. Grimaldi | January 23, 2019

A new study by the Incentive Research Foundation reveals key trends and current events that will affect organizations, their products and services, and the workforce in 2019. "The IRF 2019 Trends Study reports very positive trends for incentive travel, merchandise and gift cards, and also highlights areas of concern," said IRF president Melissa Van Dyke. "As economic and technological changes continue to accelerate, the IRF is tracking shifts in the industry and providing insights into how to anticipate and respond to these changes to gain a competitive edge."

Following are the top 10 trends for incentive professionals to keep abreast of in 2019:

1. The economy: A strong economy and robust pace of mergers and acquisitions in the hospitality and incentive markets will impact how the industry conducts business and runs programs.

2. Physical and data security: Both physical and data security remain top concerns for incentive travel and motivational meetings, as well as for gift-card, merchandise and points programs.

3. Shifting C-suite goals: Executives' goals are shifting to focus on rewards aimed directly at building relationships, encouraging inclusion and knowledge-sharing, and promoting engagement.

4. Predictive analytics and artificial intelligence: AI already is being used to understand who is drawn to certain types of rewards, to personalize rewards and encourage greater participation; it is expected to continue to develop at a blistering pace.

5. Incentive travel growth: Expanding budgets, increased participant eligibility, and improved internal and public perceptions all point to growth of incentive travel programs in 2019.

6. More merchandise spending: Market optimism in the non-cash reward and recognition market continued its climb in 2018, with the IRF's net optimism score reaching a peak 43 percent (a score previously seen only in 2013).

7. Gift-card boom: Gift cards continue to be a popular option, both open-loop and brand-specific cards. Restricted-use cards, vouchers and e-gift cards continue to gain momentum.

8. Mitigating factors of incentive program growth: An increasing need for cost containment, concerns over terrorism, high transportation costs and trade restrictions will impact incentive travel and merchandise programs.

9. Transformational experiences: Transformational travel, which incorporates concepts of wellness, community and personal fulfillment, will continue to push and extend the experience economy even further.

10. Design flexibility: Program designers will need to adopt the test-often, fail-fast, customer-centric nature of design thinking to keep pace with ever-changing technology and content expectations.

View or download the full study here.