IRF Releases 2017 Outlook StudyIntroduces “Net Optimism Score”

Washington, DC (February 22, 2017): The Incentive Research Foundation is pleased to announce the release of the IRF 2017 Outlook Study, an analysis of how incentive, rewards, and recognition programs are being designed and budgeted for 2017. The study includes a detailed look at key industry metrics. With the release of the IRF 2017 Outlook Study, the IRF launches its Net Optimism Score, a new simplified metric to track the economic outlook for the incentives industry.

Executed in the fall of 2016, nearly 250 industry representatives including suppliers, corporate end users, and incentive house representatives gave their feedback on the outlook for U.S.  incentive travel and reward programs in 2017. 

“The IRF has tracked the vitality and variability in the incentive, rewards, and recognition market for almost ten years,” said IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. “The IRF 2017 Outlook Study not only provides up-to-date industry data, it also puts this year’s findings in a historical and cyclical context,  so we can deliver a big-picture view of the industry.”

The IRF 2017 Outlook Study introduces the IRF’s new simplified metric to track the economic outlook for the incentives industry. The Net Optimism Score is the percentage of people providing a positive rating, less the percent giving a negative rating. A higher positive score indicates optimism in the industry. The Net Optimism Score is similar to the Net Promoter Score management tool used to gauge the loyalty of a firm’s customer relationships. Analysis shows that the Net Optimism Score within the incentive travel industry tracks closely with overall U.S. economic performance, often acting as a leading indicator.  For example, in late 2011, the industry Net Optimism Score showed a dramatic dip – likely in anticipation of the economic decline that began shortly after.  

Additional insights from the IRF 2017 Outlook Study include:

  • The Economic Net Optimism Score for fall 2016 is 26%, reflecting the incentive travel industry’s moderate optimism about the economy and its impact on the industry. This is down from a recent high trend surpassing 50% that began fall 2013, but continues to outperform the extreme dips seen in 2009 and 2011.
  • There is a strong positive outlook for budget increases in incentive travel programs – overall and for F&B and rooms. More than half of respondents agree that costs are increasing more than budgets – placing all stakeholders in a difficult position.
  • The most commonly-selected destinations for incentive group travel are the USA, Caribbean, Mexico, and Europe.
  • Incentive merchandise and gift card programs are expected to continue enjoying positive benefits from the economy, but the degree of optimism has diminished over the past year. 
  • Electronics are the most prevalent rewards with third party service providers, while clothing/apparel is most common with the corporate audience. 
  • Three-quarters of U.S. based merchandise and gift card programs include international participants in the non-cash rewards programs they operate.


About the IRF:
The Incentive Research Foundation ( funds and promotes research to advance the science and enhance the awareness and appropriate application of motivation and incentives in business and industry globally. The goal is to increase the understanding, effective use, and resultant benefits of incentives to businesses that currently use incentives and others interested in improved performance.


Andy Schwarz
IRF Media Relations