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February 2019

IRF Announces 2019 Incentive Trends

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The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) announced the release of its signature study, "The IRF 2019 Trends Study." The study highlights 10 key trends that will affect organizations, their products and services, and the workforce in 2019.

"'The IRF 2019 Trends Study' reports very positive trends for incentive travel, merchandise and gift cards—and also highlights areas of concern," said IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. "As economic and technological changes continue to accelerate, the IRF is tracking shifts in the industry and providing insights into how to anticipate and respond to these changes to gain a competitive edge."

The top 10 trends for 2019 include:

  1. The Economy and Merger & Acquisition Activity: A strong economy and robust merger and acquisition in the hospitality and incentive house markets will have an impact on how the incentive industry conducts business and runs programs.
  2. Physical and Data Security Are Still Paramount: Both physical and data security remain a top concern, not only when planning incentive travel and motivational meetings, but also when administering gift card, merchandise and points programs.
  3. C-Suite Is Creating a Talent Culture: Executives' goals are shifting to focus on rewards aimed directly at building relationships, encouraging inclusion and knowledge-sharing, and promoting engagement.
  4. Predictive Analytics & Artificial Intelligence: AI is already being used to understand who is drawn to which types of rewards, personalize rewards and encourage greater particiaption, and AI continues to develop at a blistering pace.
  5. Incentive Travel Is On the Rise: Expanding budgets, increased participant eligibility, and improved internal and public perceptions all point to growth of incentive travel programs.
  6. Merchandise Spending Projected to Increase: Market optimism in the non-cash reward and recognition market continued to climb in 2018, with the IRF's net optimism score reaching a peak 43 percent—a score only previously see in 2013.
  7. Positive Outlook for Gift Cards: Gift cards continue to be a popular option, with high utilization for open-loop cards and brand-specific cards. Restricted-use cards, vouchers and e-gift cards continue to gain momentum.
  8. Countercurrents to Incentive Travel, Merchandise and Gift Card Growth: An increasing need for cost containment, concerns over terrorism, high transportation costs and trade restrictions will have an impact on incentive travel and merchandise programs.
  9. Transformational Experiences: Transformational travel—which incorporates concepts of wellness, community and personal fulfillment—will continue to push and extend the experience economy even further.
  10. Agility, Experiences & the Design Imperative: Program designers will need to adopt the test-often, fail-fast, customer-centric nature of design thinking to keep pace with ever-changing technology and content expectations.

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