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February 2017

What Are the Top Trends for Incentive Rewards, Recognition & Travel in 2017?

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The Incentive Research Foundation announced the release of its highly anticipated 2017 Trends Study, which highlights 10 key trends that will affect organizations, their products and services, and the workforce in 2017. From growth areas to consolidation to globalization, the study identifies key areas of change and their implications to workforce engagement, incentive travel and recognition.

"At a time when the pace of economic change continues to accelerate, the IRF is tracking some essential shifts in the industry," said IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. "The 2017 Trends Study also provides actionable suggestions so that businesses can leverage these trends to gain a competitive edge in a rapidly changing business landscape."

The top 10 trends are:

  1. Increasing demand for non-cash rewards and recognition. The number of all U.S. businesses using non-cash rewards has risen from 26 percent in 1996 to 84 percent in 2016.
  2. Mastering the changing and challenging regulatory environment. Almost 60 percent of respondents in the latest IRF Pulse Study said they agree or strongly agree that government regulations are making it more difficult to design reward and recognition programs.
  3. Growth and challenges in the incentive travel market. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. businesses now use incentive travel in some manner to reward and recognize top-performing employees, salespeople and channel partners.
  4. Merchandise and gift card expansion. Merchandise and gift card programs continue to expand in the United States, with 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of all U.S. businesses using these reward types in some manner.
  5. Shifts in safety perceptions and more frequent disruptions. Zika. Terrorism. Hurricanes. Almost 60 percent of planners have experienced some form of disruption in their events, estimating that almost a quarter of their event have been affected in some way.
  6. The emerging 'next level' of experience—individualized experiences and the importance of emotion. Tapping emotional engagement through a strategic choice of rewards and incentives is a powerful way for businesses to motivate their stakeholders.
  7. Technology changes. Almost 90 percent of large businesses report having some sort of technology in place to support their incentives and reward programs. Technology trends include a drive toward social, wearable, predictive and view-altering technologies.
  8. The evolving design of reward and recognition programs. The Incentive Federation measures more than 12 different reasons organizations are running employee reward and recognition programs, and nine different objectives for sales programs.
  9. Industry consolidation. The incentives and rewards industry continues to consolidate, not only on the supplier side, but also among incentive houses and meeting service providers.
  10. Globalization. Once thought of as only affecting the incentive travel side of the market, globalization now influences all types of reward and recognition programs—merchandise and gift cards included.

To view or download a copy of the full study, visit