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IRF Study: Trend to Individualization of Incentive Travel Continues

This survey of incentive travel recipients reinforces earlier research finding an increasing interest in authentic experiences in travel, whether group or individual, and that people increasingly value free time to relax and explore.

Individual and “Individualized” Group Travel Have Almost Universal Appeal to This Audience
A Desire for More Freedom
Group incentive travel and especially individual incentive travel built into group program design are appealing to almost everyone who has an opportunity to earn such rewards. This is the key finding of the Incentive Research Foundation report, “Attendee Preferences for Incentive Travel” based on a survey conducted in March 2023 of 400 people who have been eligible for an incentive trip over the last three years and of whom nearly half have earned a travel award.
Individual incentive travel is the top travel motivator, the survey finds: 94% of respondents describe it as ‘very’ or extremely’ motivating, with less than 1% saying it is ‘not motivating at all.’ The appeal of these awards is consistent across generational groups. 

Individual and “Individualized” Group Travel Have Almost Universal Appeal to This Audience

“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,” the report finds. “This is consistent with findings from the previous two years. A particularly encouraging sign is that 64% of GenZ (21-26 years of age) and Millennials (27-42 years old) find group travel awards to be ‘extremely motivating,’ which is an even more positive response than is seen in older generations.”
The survey was conducted March of 2023, and is based on the 2022 and 2021 Incentive Travel Destination Preferences studies. The 2023 study sample included 400 survey respondents presently employed full-time in a sales role and at least 21 years or older. Respondents had to be eligible for an incentive travel award within the past three years; 43% had earned a travel award.
“Prior to the pandemic, there was a growing trend toward incentive travel participants wanting more individualization in their experiences,” the report states. “This trend has continued to grow as participants no longer want a ‘one-size-fits-all’ experience in which they spend their entire trip in the company of large groups of people. They now prefer a program that provides them with greater privacy and flexibility, even while participating in a group travel environment.”

A Desire for More Freedom

Consistent with the desire for more personal freedom, “providing ample free time to relax was ranked as the most important priority for an incentive trip. Also consistent with the previous waves of the study is a strong desire to bring along a guest and for the trip to cover out-of-pocket expenses. Providing luxury accommodations also remains a high priority.” People also like to extend their trips at their own expense. “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.”
Cruising is back, the survey finds. “Cruising has shown a very strong recovery. Cruising went from being bottom ranked as a destination experience in 2021, to being ranked only behind beach/sunshine and adventure travel in 2023 as preferred destination experiences. Millennials showed particular interest in cruising as an incentive experience.” 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.
Based on the survey, top destinations are: Hawaii, the Western United States, the Caribbean, the Eastern United States, and Southwest United States. Destinations most recommended by those who had visited them were: Caribbean, Las Vegas, Western Europe, Hawaii, and Southern Florida. 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, the report states.
Data from Cvent shows that 79% of incentive trips are planned for four to six days. Perhaps this is why such a large number extend their events beyond the official window of the event, the report suggests. Even though the typical incentive trip may not be as long as some people would like, the percentage of trips planned for only one to three days has declined from 21% in 2019 to 11% in 2023. 

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