Research / Academic Research in Action: Enhancing Incentive Travel and Event Experiences with AI-Driven Personalization

Artificial Intelligence

Academic Research in Action: Enhancing Incentive Travel and Event Experiences with AI-Driven Personalization

by Allan Schweyer, Chief Academic Advisor, IRF

This fictional case study illustrates the many ways AI is currently being used in incentive and event planning.

Acme Incentives, a DC-based incentive design firm, recently undertook the ambitious task of executing an incentive travel program infused with an array of meetings and events, each promising a personalized and memorable experience for attendees. Central to this effort was the use of artificial intelligence (AI). The designers sought to tailor the program – to the extent possible – to the individual preferences and expectations of the participants. This case study delineates the process Acme Incentives employed, the challenges faced, and the outcomes of integrating AI into their incentive programs.


Of late, Acme’s leadership has recognized that to stay competitive and fulfill its corporate clients’ evolving requirements and expectations, it must adopt technologies that can provide personalized experiences at scale. This has meant leveraging AI’s analytical capabilities to understand employee behaviors, streamline event planning, and customize rewards.

In the case of the client project described in this fictional study, Acme’s objective was to design an incentive program that not only met but exceeded the expectations of every incentive group travel reward attendee, fostering a deeper sense of appreciation and loyalty toward their organization (Acme’s client). By doing so, Acme aimed to showcase the potential of AI in enhancing recognition and creating transformative event experiences.

Acme Incentives integrated various AI tools across the planning and execution phases:

  • Pre-Event Tailoring: Utilized AI to analyze past behavior and stated preferences of attendees to curate a list of potential destinations, accommodations, and activities.
  • Content Customization: Deployed AI algorithms to customize the event content, from educational sessions to entertainment, aligning with the interests of each participant.
  • Operational Efficiency: Automated mundane tasks such as email correspondence and agenda management, allowing staff to focus on more strategic and creative tasks.
  • Personalized Merchandise: Partnered with AI-driven vendors to create personalized merchandise based on the individual profiles of the attendees.

During the execution phase, AI played several critical roles:

  • Dynamic Itinerary Adjustments: AI was used to adjust travel plans in real-time, based on unforeseen events or changes in participant preferences.
  • On-Site Personalization: Leveraged facial recognition and sentiment analysis to assess engagement levels and adjust the event flow accordingly. Using AI technologies such as RFID for tracking and biometric identification, Acme tailored travel experiences down to the finest detail. At hotels, for example, Acme’s AI anticipated guest preferences, optimized room environment settings, and even adjusted housekeeping schedules to the guest’s routine, making every stay uniquely personal and seamless.
  • Customized Merchandise Distribution: Used smart recommendation systems to match attendees with unique merchandise rewards that reflected their personal tastes and interests.

However, implementing AI-driven personalization came with a set of challenges:

  • Data Privacy: Ensuring the privacy and security of participants’ data was paramount, requiring a robust AI governance framework. The client and participants needed reassurances around the use of facial recognition, for example, and the use and storage of data collected.
  • Technology Integration: Seamless integration of multiple AI systems without disrupting the event flow was critical.
  • Staff Training: Upskilling the staff to work alongside AI tools and interpret their outputs was essential for the human-AI collaborative model.

The use of AI led to several positive outcomes:

  • Increased Engagement: Attendees reported higher levels of satisfaction due to the personalized nature of the travel and event experiences.
  • Operational Efficiency: Reduction in the time spent on routine tasks enabled the team to focus on creative and strategic initiatives.
  • Positive Feedback: The unique merchandise rewards, including room drops, were tailored to individual preferences. These were received with enthusiasm and much discussion among participants as to what they received and why. This reinforced the sense of personal recognition.


The strategic implementation of AI in Acme Incentives’ travel program underscored the transformative potential of technology in personalizing incentive experiences. While AI’s role was fundamentally augmentative, it catalyzed a shift towards more meaningful, human-centric events and rewards, validating the vision that the future of incentive group travel lies in the balance between high-tech personalization and high-touch human engagement. Moving forward, Acme plans to continue refining its AI applications, ensuring that each incentive program is not just a journey, but a tailored adventure in appreciation.

Advanced Personalization through AI Integration

Acme Incentives leveraged AI’s data analysis prowess to deepen the personalization of rewards, ensuring alignment with individual preferences. Using platforms like Qualtrics EmployeeXM and Lattice, the company analyzed feedback and performance data to tailor experiences. Additionally, the use of Betterworks and Visier provided insights into performance management and people analytics, further refining the reward offerings.

The designers also had the flexibility to develop custom AI solutions using platforms such as Google Cloud AI, IBM Watson, or Microsoft Azure AI. By analyzing large datasets, these tools provided predictive analytics and actionable insights, crucial for enhancing employee engagement.

Mitigating Unintended Consequences

The predictive modeling and simulation capabilities of advanced AI allowed Acme to anticipate and mitigate potential negative impacts of new incentive programs. Historical data analysis on employee behavior and responses to past incentives informed the design process, averting unintended outcomes.

Research Supports in Design

AI tools like Microsoft Co-pilot and Consensus played significant roles in supporting the research aspect of program design. For instance, when tasked with drafting an exclusive 5-night travel program in Italy for high-end financial advisors, generative AI models like ChatGPT could suggest unique experiences, venues, and activities that align with the target demographic’s expectations of luxury and novelty.

Events Design and Management

Acme leveraged Spark, an end-to-end event management platform. This sophisticated system assisted designers with everything from ideation to execution and monitoring. Planners

used AI algorithms to recommend optimal venues and layouts tailored to event specifics, ensuring maximum comfort and interaction. Real-time adjustments to event schedules, facilitated by AI, catered to dynamic on-the-day needs, preventing scheduling conflicts and maximizing attendee engagement. Acme’s use of AI for registration streamlined attendee reception. Acme also considered the following tools and systems, deploying some and measuring their success.

  • Check-in: Tools like Zenus and Kairos leverage facial recognition to expedite check-in, while platforms like Chatfuel offer AI-powered chatbots for pre-registration interactions, easing attendee arrival and enhancing first impressions.
  • Dynamic ‘Day-of’ Adjustments: Event management platforms like Bizzabo utilize AI for real-time schedule adjustments, reflecting speaker availability and audience preferences. AI chatbots, powered by solutions like Chatfuel and Dialogflow, offer on-demand support to attendees, enriching the day’s experience.
  • Participant Engagement & Safety: Robots like SoftBank’s ‘Pepper’ equipped with AI, elevate attendee interaction with personalized information and assistance. In matters of safety, AI systems from companies like Evolv Technology and CrowdVision ensure crowd management and surveillance, maintaining a secure environment without disrupting the natural flow of the event.
  • Post-Event Analysis: After events, AI’s role continues as it analyzes feedback and engagement. Tools like SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics harness AI to discern attendee sentiment, guiding future event enhancements and maintaining a cycle of improvement.

Incorporating Gamification

AI facilitated the incorporation of sophisticated gamification elements into the incentive programs, enhancing the engagement and interactive aspects. By customizing game mechanics to individual actions, Acme Incentives ensured sustained interest and motivation throughout the event. 

Predictive Modeling Techniques

Acme Incentives utilized a variety of AI algorithms for predictive modeling:

  • Collaborative and Content-Based Filtering to predict preferences based on collective or individual past behaviors.
  • Decision Trees and Random Forests to classify and predict engagement outcomes.
  • SVMs and Hierarchical Clustering for identifying distinct segments within the workforce.
  • Neural Networks and Deep Learning models to discern complex patterns and predict future behaviors.
  • Sentiment Analysis and Text Classification to understand and categorize employee feedback regarding different reward types.

Ethical Considerations and Data Privacy

In deploying these AI-driven initiatives, Acme Incentives adhered strictly to ethical guidelines and privacy laws to protect employee data. The creation of an AI governance framework ensured the security and integrity of all operations.


Acme Incentives’ application of AI in incentive program design highlighted the transformative impact of technology on service offerings. By utilizing AI for personalization, predictive modeling, research assistance, gamification, and algorithmic analysis, the company not only boosted operational efficiency and client satisfaction but also redefined the standard for employee recognition and reward programs. This case study serves as potential guide to the future of incentive program design, where AI’s predictive and personalization capabilities are leveraged to deliver highly engaging, individualized experiences.

Building upon its successes in the case study above, Acme next incorporated aspects of AI-driven recognition platforms, peer-to-peer recognition, personalized learning paths, internal mobility and talent marketplaces, and AI-enhanced wellness programs.

Acme Incentives incorporated AI systems to enhance recognition platforms, ensuring that achievements – whether individual or team-based – were acknowledged in near real time. This dynamic recognition, powered by platforms that could analyze work outputs and peer feedback, played a pivotal role in cultivating a culture of appreciation for clients. Advanced analytics capabilities provided by these AI tools allowed Acme Incentives to tailor the recognition programs precisely to the organization’s needs, aligning with performance management, engagement, and business intelligence (BI) systems.

Peer-to-Peer Recognition Platforms

The company harnessed peer-to-peer recognition platforms to create a sustainable motivation ecosystem. Utilizing AI tools like Microsoft Power BI and Qlik Sense, Acme Incentives compared and contrasted various platforms to identify the ones that best matched their clients’ requirements. This approach facilitated an open recognition system where employees and managers could award each other points, thus promoting a more cohesive and engaged workforce.

Personalized Learning Paths

AI was leveraged to design personalized learning and development opportunities. This initiative allowed employees to embark on tailored learning journeys, enhancing their skills in alignment with personal career aspirations and organizational needs. Tools such as IBM’s Watson and Google’s Cloud Natural Language aided in curating individualized content that drove personal growth while supporting the strategic objectives of the company.

Internal Mobility and Talent Marketplaces

To encourage internal mobility, Acme employed AI to analyze data on employees’ skills and preferences, suggesting internal job opportunities that provided a better fit. This strategy not only boosted job satisfaction but also optimized resource allocation within the organization, fostering a more dynamic and adaptable workforce.

AI-Enhanced Wellness Programs

Recognizing the importance of wellness in employee engagement and retention, Acme offered AI-powered wellness programs. AI personal trainers, meditation and mindfulness apps, and mental health support platforms like Woebot, provided tailored recommendations to improve physical and mental well-being. The integration of wearable tech from brands like Fitbit and Garmin provided personalized health insights, encouraging a holistic approach to wellness in the workplace. Acme was quick to point out to its clients that these tools were no substitute for a human-centric well-being approach, particularly around mental health where it recommended the use of employee assistance programs and licensed counsellors.

    Related Posts

    Artificial Intelligence
    AI: Uses and Possibilities for Incentives Professionals 

    AI: Uses and Possibilities for Incentives Professionals 

    This report explores how incentives professionals are using AI both in the travel and non-travel incentive arenas, information about the tools and programs they find most valuable relative to incentive programs, and the gains and impacts they’re experiencing as a result.

    Artificial Intelligence
    The AI Revolution: A Technical Review of AI Capabilities for Corporate Events, Rewards & Incentives 

    The AI Revolution: A Technical Review of AI Capabilities for Corporate Events, Rewards & Incentives 

    Take a deep dive into AI capabilities, platform options, technical explanations, and a look at what lies ahead for the sophisticated use of this technology to enhance incentive and recognition programs.