Incentive travel update: Incentive cravings

With travel becoming the forbidden fruit for many, the value of incentive trips has sky rocketed over the past two years, observes Aoife Delaney, president for the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence.

What does recovery look like for the global incentive travel sector for 2022?
Following the initial positive traction in early 2021 with the advent of the vaccine, we’ve been knocked off course again with the onset of new variants. Programmes planned for late 2021 have now been pushed into 2022, causing even more congestion there.

As of late November in Europe, we’re in a precarious situation filled with uncertainty, with a stop/start momentum once again dominant. Many corporations have extended their work from home edict well into 2022, and this will definitely impact resumption of corporate travel and incentive trips.

Assuming case numbers stabilise as booster jabs are more widely administered, some programmes will certainly operate in 2022 but we’ll continue to see business events recover first locally, then nationally, then regionally. International travel will only revert to pre-pandemic levels in 2023/2024.

Meetings, incentives and events are already taking place in domestic contexts around the world, and this will continue with restrictions and interruptions likely for as long as variants persist.

Singapore, in particular, has played a leading role in allowing events to continue with Covid-19, providing realistic, workable guidelines to ensure stakeholder and delegate safety. In many ways, this is the way forward – managing and living with Covid – and Asian countries have shown great global leadership in demonstrating how this can be done.

How much has the pandemic changed the value organisations and travellers attach to incentive travel?
Scarcity drives value, and the value and appreciation of a travel reward has undoubtedly sky rocketed as a result of its scarcity.

As humans, being denied something makes us want it even more and travel, for most of us, has not been possible for 20 months or more, meaning that since we want it desperately, we yearn for it.

Travel has always been prized as part of a corporate reward and recognition programme, but it’s more prized than ever now and will play an even more effective role for corporations in ensuring that their associates are engaged and motivated.

What trends do you foresee in the incentive travel industry in the next few years?
As expected, there will be a focus on safety, and massive attention will be paid to travel risk management. There is also a rise in reluctance to commit and sign contracts due to the uncertainty of travel rules and restrictions that constantly change.

Domestic incentives, or motivation travel experiences in one’s own backyard, will still remain as top choice, alongside smaller groups of participants per trip, and the increased use of individual incentives.

There will also be preference for rural over urban, resorts over city hotels, and the great outdoors over metropolises.

What keeps you awake at night in relation to the pandemic, and its impact on incentive travel?
The biggest challenge is uncertainty. It was almost easier to deal with outright lockdowns, as you knew there was nothing you could do for a given amount of time. Uncertainty means you need to have a number of backup options available at any given moment.

I’m also concerned about building back better. I believe the pandemic has given us an opportunity to reset and I hope we take this opportunity to do so, guided by a clear vision for how things should be.

What is SITE doing to rebuild the incentive travel sector?
For the past 20 months our focus has been 
entirely on our members. We’ve worked hard to keep them engaged and implemented initiatives to help fund their ongoing participation in the association.

Through SITE Foundation, we’ve extended our research docket significantly in the belief that data is vitally important for resumption. We’re in the midst of a serial piece entitled Corporate inSITEs, and have just embarked on a joint research project with Southern Methodist University in the US called Leadership inSITEs. Both of these will also contribute to getting the incentive travel engine started again.

We will continue to run association events, obviously respecting the protocols of the destinations where they take place, but also asking for additional measures to ensure the safety of all participants.

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