Incentive travel is changing, but how? Stephanie Harris, president of Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), tells us exactly that in the Smart Chat Live! webinar, “2022 Incentive Trends Explained.” In the webinar, she explains findings in IRF’s recently released Annual Incentive Travel Index, in partnership with SITE Foundation and FICP.

Watch the webinar for the full scoop.

Pulling from a respondent base of incentive travel agencies, suppliers, DMOs, DMCs and end users from North America and abroad (in India, the United Kingdom, Turkey, China, Brazil and Germany), Harris shared the trends observed in the research, including the rate of recovery across industries, the battle between leisure and corporate travel, and more.

Not All Recoveries Are Built the Same

It’s kind of typical that finance and insurance industries are seeing very strong growth and moving forward quickly, Harris said, they tended to try to continue to operate throughout the pandemic due to the fact that they’re dealing with a disaggregated workforce.

“You’ve got those finance and insurance independent brokers that are out there working on their own,” she said. “So, you have a need to continue to bring them together.” Pharmaceuticals, auto and direct selling had static or even negative growth. Despite direct selling being similar to finance and insurance in terms of structure, they’re not coming back at that same pace.

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While many have embraced virtual, the reality is, Harris said, there is no shortage of activity happening and many hotels are at capacity and finding space is a challenge. “I had a couple of conversations during IMEX (you can read Smart Meetings’ IMEX recap here) where people were saying, ‘We’re sending out a lot of RFPs, 80 to 90% are coming back saying, “We don’t have space.”’”

Harris said there is also a lot of short-term demand, which is putting even more pressure on the market. “The reality is, we’re back, and we’re back in a really, really big way.”

Motivating Programs

“When you’re expanding who you’re trying to motivate, I think there are a couple of differences in the way the program is realized,” Harris said. You know that the sales team may have a set of goals and you know what typically it is that appeals to them.”

She said when you start to add other groups, you need to stop and talk to them and get to know them. “Have a conversation, find out what they value, because there’s room within our incentives to operate in a couple of different ways, and give people different paths to deliver the experience they want.”

According to the research, in North America and beyond, relationship-building opportunities are the the No. 1 thing workforces asked for.

“I can’t say it enough, this hybrid disaggregated workforce is driving a change” Harris said. “The need to network [and] the need to connect is one that almost supersedes everything else.”

Read MoreIncentive Hyperdrive

Harris said one common desire across all respondents was authentic cultural activities, whether through CSR, sustainability activities or experiencing a destination differently. And there are a lot of ways to deliver.

She provided an example: IRF’s board of directors took a trip to Scotland and did a walking tour that went deeper than normal. The tour was done via a piloted program called Invisible Cities.

“One of the things that they did for us was a walking tour of Edinburgh, and in the course of that walking tour, our guides were former homeless individuals…” she said. “You take the tour through their eyes. So, you can take the tour with someone who used to be a construction worker and he talks about architecture, how the city was built and constructed, and in the old versus the new.”

Harris’ tour guide chose the theme of crime and punishment. “So, you toured the city through his eyes and what he saw and lived. It makes for this incredibly authentic experience. This just really wonderful connection and you have the CSR, sustainability side of it in play because this is a true sustainable program that they’ve put together that is getting people off the street, putting them in homes, giving them jobs.

It’s a long-term solution. There are loads of creative ways you can do things like that for your attendees that will bring them that authenticity.”

The full Incentive Travel Index is available at