The newly released 2022 Incentive Travel Index (ITI) reports that, overall, the incentive travel industry is strong....
Research / Attendee Preferences for Incentive Travel
by Incentive Research Foundation
The selection of an incentive destination is an important part of designing an incentive travel program that will motivate the audience and satisfy business requirements. Past destinations, infrastructure, cost, senior leadership recommendations, and more can all come into play. Attendee Preferences for Incentive Travel explores the impact of destinations on motivation and value perception among the participants themselves. It also looks at the key factors influencing selection of various destinations and the differences between attendee destination preferences and what is being sourced by buyers.
Top destinations indicated by employees were close to home: Hawaii, the Western United States, the Caribbean, the Eastern United States, and Southwest United States. Employees also reported which destinations they previously visited and would recommend returning to for an incentive trip, with the Caribbean, Las Vegas, Western Europe, Hawaii, and Southern Florida being the top recommendations. Actual booking data from Cvent shows that Mexico is still a top incentive destination, with four Mexican destinations in the top five most booked destinations for incentive trips.
Incentive trip program design is key to providing participants with a memorable and rewarding experience. Employees want time to relax, individualized experiences, and flexibility in their schedules. Beaches, sunshine, and adventure travel were the top destination experiences, with a growing interest in cruising. Enthusiasm for incentive travel remains high, as does excitement for the destination. In fact, 66% of recent winners indicated that they extended their North American incentive trips and 70% extended their international incentive trips.
The survey was conducted March of 2023, and builds on the 2022 and 2021 Incentive Travel Destination Preferences studies. The 2023 study sample included 400 survey respondents who are presently employed full-time in a sales role. All participants were 21 years or older and could not be self-employed, temporary employees, or independent contractors. Respondents had to be eligible for an incentive travel award within the past three years. Forty-three percent of the sample won an incentive travel award during this period.
This year, the study evolved to include more data on experience design to complement the focus on destinations. The current survey also included questions directed toward participants who previously visited a popular destination to assess their interest in returning and recommending the destination as an incentive award trip.
The motivational appeal of group incentive travel continues to be exceptionally strong, with 91% of respondents describing a group incentive travel experience as ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ motivating. This is consistent with findings from the previous two years. A particularly encouraging sign is that 64% of Gen Z (21-26 years of age) and Millennials (27-42 years) find group travel awards to be ‘extremely motivating,’ which is an even more positive response than is seen in older generations.
Figure 1: Incentive Travel Is Highly Motivating
Assuming a group travel experience was designed and planned to a destination to which you’d find appealing,how motivating of a reward is an opportunity for an incentive travel experience?
While the appeal of group travel is exceptionally strong, the appeal of individual incentive travel is even stronger. 94% of respondents describe individual travel as ‘very’ or extremely’ motivating, with less than 1% saying it is ‘not motivating at all.’ In the case of individual travel awards, the motivational appeal of these awards is consistent across generational groups.
Overall, 99% see ‘some’ or ‘a great deal of value’ associated with an incentive travel award. However, people no longer prefer ‘one size fits all’ experiences where incentive trips have too much structure and a requirement that everyone be together for the duration of the trip. Participants seem to be seeking a middle ground to experience the benefits that are associated with both individual and group travel experiences. They still appreciate the guidance of group travel coordinators as well as the security group travel personnel provided in navigating an unfamiliar destination. Group incentive trip planners should build flexibility around how people spend their time, as well as provide ample opportunities for people to find privacy amid being with their larger group.
The most important thing participants want in an incentive trip is to be given ample time to relax. Attendees do not want to be overscheduled with group activities. Giving people time to ‘do their own thing’ has emerged as one of the most important trends over the past two years. Additional participant preferences include:
Figure 2: Most Important Drivers of Positive Incentive Trip Experiences
Response of “Extremely Important” or “Somewhat Important” for each incentive trip driver.
Respondents were also asked to rate various incentive trip features as being ‘somewhat’ or ‘extremely’ appealing. This set of attributes included such incentive travel considerations as accommodations and activities that may be included in an incentive trip. Highlights include:
Figure 3: Most Appealing Features of Incentive Trips
Response of “Extremely Appealing” or “Somewhat Appealing” for each incentive trip feature.
When it comes to North American incentive trips, the survey participants were closely divided on the ideal length of an incentive trip with 45% saying the ideal length is 4-6 days and another 41% indicating 7-10 days is the ideal length. For international trips, there is much more of a consensus, with 54% saying 7-10 days represents an ideal length. Additionally, 66% of recent winners indicated that they extended their North American incentive trips, while 70% extended their international incentive trips.
Figure 4: Preferred Length of Incentive Trip
Data from Cvent, however, shows that 79% of incentive trips are planned for 4-6 days. Perhaps this is why such a large number extend their events beyond the official window of the event. Even though the typical incentive trip may not be as long as some people like, the percentage of trips planned for only 1-3 days has declined from 21% in 2019 to 11% in 2023.
Figure 5: Actual Length of Incentive Trips
Beach & sunshine and adventure travel destinations were the top destination experiences, consistent with the past two years’ data. Interest in cruises is increasing, placing cruise experiences third overall as their preferred type of destination experience. Two years ago, cruise experiences were ranked last, showing how far attitudes toward cruising have come. ‘Large metropolitan areas’ and ‘smaller cities’ were rated lowest in destination experience rankings suggesting the type of destination experience is more important than the geographic location itself.
Figure 6: Top Destination Experience Features
As noted in the previous section, interest in cruises for incentive travel groups is on the rise. Over 70% of respondents agreed that an ocean cruise would be extremely motivating as an incentive award. Similarly, 71% indicated that a cruise ship provides all the comforts of a luxury hotel. More importantly, 68% agree that cruise ships provide a safe and secure environment, with only 15% disagreeing.
Figure 7: Attitudes Toward Cruising
Response of “Strongly Agree” or “Somewhat Agree” for each statement about cruising.
Booking numbers provided by 3-D Cruise Partners show a dramatic increase in incentive trip activity. Quotes were up by 76% in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic rates in 2019, and RFP activity continues to be strong in early 2023. The Caribbean remains the top cruising destination, accounting for 45% of RFPs to date in 2023 and 42% of incentive cruise RFPs in 2022.
Figure 8: Interest in Incentive Cruises is Increasing
A new section was added to the 2023 in which participants were asked about their previous experience with popular incentive destinations. In addition to being asked whether they had visited the destination previously, previous visitors were asked how interested they were in returning and whether they would recommend the destination as an incentive travel award trip. Among the key findings:
Interest in Returning for Leisure
Recommend for an Incentive Trip
Figure 9: Top Incentive Destinations Recommendations Based on Previous Experience
Based on your experiences traveling to…how likely would you be to recommend …as an incentive travel award destination?
The survey asked about the destinations that incentive award participants would find least/most motivating. Overall, the five most popular destinations are Hawaii, the Western United States, the Caribbean, the Eastern United States, and the Southwest United States. It’s noteworthy that for United States based incentive award participants, many of the most popular destinations are U.S.-based. Asian and African destinations are the least motivating, along with Emerging Europe (e.g., Hungary, Romania, etc.).
Each person was asked to name their top three, along with their next four destination preferences, e.g., the destinations they would find most motivating if offered as an incentive trip award. Each was also asked to select their bottom seven preferences. ‘Preference share’ is referred to as the net total of the percentage who selected the destination as ‘Top 7’ choice, subtracting the percentage who selected the destination as a ‘Bottom 7’ choice.
Figure 10: Top Incentive Destination Preferences
“Preference share” is the net total of the percentage who selected the destination as ‘Top 7’ choice,subtracting the percentage who selected the destination as a ‘Bottom 7’ choice.
Figure 11: Additional Incentive Destination Preferences
Preference share’ is the net total of the percentage who selected the destination as ‘Top 7’ choice, subtracting the percentage who selected the destination as a ‘Bottom 7’ choice.
Cvent booking data suggest destination preferences and actual planned trips may not be as aligned as in the past. Mexico has high booking rates, with four Mexican destinations in the top five most booked destinations for incentives. Some of the biggest ‘risers’ on the top twenty destinations are in Mexico, including Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun. While the survey revealed that large numbers of eligible award participants have already been to Mexico and are less enthused about returning than going to other destinations, Mexico has never been hotter as an incentive trip.
The Caribbean remains a popular destination, both for participants and planners. Caribbean destinations occupy nine of the top twenty top booked destination positions. Two Puerto Rican destinations, San Juan and Rio Grande have also moved into the top ten most booked destinations for 2023.
Fewer participants are realizing their desire to go to the perennial destination favorite Hawaii. Far fewer Hawaiian destinations are being booked than in the past. In 2021, Maui was the fifth most booked destination. In 2023, it now ranks at eighteen. Bookings at other popular destinations such as Honolulu and the Kohala Coast have also dropped off significantly, as neither ranks within the top twenty booked destinations in 2023. Cost and availability have certainly been too great a challenge for many incentive trip planners to overcome.
Figure 12: Top Booked Incentive Destinations for 2023
Incentive travel continues to thrive as a motivational reward. Although the preferred structure and activities of the experiences continues to evolve, companies can be assured that offering incentive travel experiences is a great way to get the best possible sales performance from their employees.
Survey Respondent Overview
400 survey respondents
The latest views on the future of incentive travel from over 580 professional incentive travel buyers – 71% represented incentive travel agencies and 29% were end-users.
While the pandemic put incentive trips on hold, interest in incentive travel as a motivating sales reward has never been higher. In addition, many of the long-established practices associated with these trips are gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels.