Incentive Industry 'Cautiously Optimistic' About 2010, Reports IRF

As it was for most other industries, 2009 was a challenging year for the incentive industry, but there is evidence that the turnaround already has begun, and brighter days are ahead this year. So hope, say, and believe the industry professionals who took part in a recent Pulse survey by the Incentive Research Foundation.

IRF asked incentive travel providers, corporate incentive travel buyers, suppliers, and other industry professionals questions on trends with regard to incentive travel programs, merchandise/non-cash programs, and budget changes forecast for 2010. Respondents' answers indicated a mostly brightening outlook, the foundation said.

"Cautiously optimistic is the term I would use to describe the overall message in the data from the survey," said Mark Peterman, Chairman of the IRF Research Committee. "Our sense is that companies may have been sitting on budgets for the past 10 months or so waiting to see how things were going to play out and whether there was going to be more pushback from the media and community regarding incentives."

Some highlights from the Incentive Industry Trends 2010 study:

  • Respondents appeared to be more optimistic and consider the economy as having a more positive impact on their ability to plan and implement incentive travel programs when compared with pulse survey results from July and March 2009 -- 33 percent versus 24 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
  • 44 percent of respondents anticipated no change with regard to incentive travel program destinations in 2010, while 47 percent anticipated a switch from international to domestic destinations.
  • 41 percent of respondents anticipated no change with regard to sponsored non-meal-related components for Incentive Travel Programs in 2010, while 7 percent indicated that sponsored non-meal-related components will moderately increase in 2010.
  • A combined 16 percent of respondents indicated that they expect budgets for incentive travel programs in 2010 to increase, while 30 percent said they expect budgets to remain unchanged.
  • While 36 percent of respondents anticipated no change with regard to involvement of procurement and purchasing for incentive travel programs in 2010, 56 percent agreed that their involvement will increase by some degree.
  • 32 percent of respondents said that budgets for merchandise/non-cash incentive programs in 2010 will increase (either moderately or slightly), while 34 percent anticipated that budgets will remain unchanged.
  • Planners still pointed to the economic downturn as having a negative impact on their ability to plan and implement merchandise/non-cash incentive programs. However, while 34 percent reported a negative impact, this was an improvement over the almost 50 percent reporting a negative impact a year ago (October 2008).
  • When asked "What changes, if any, will be made in 2010 with award selections?" 27 percent of respondents said they will include individual travel as an option in 2010; 22 percent indicated that the use of debit/gift cards will be increased; and 18 percent said they will add merchandise. IRF noted that 30 percent of respondents indicated there will be a decrease in merchandise award value for 2010 programs.

Data collection was conducted October 19 through November 17, 2009. For more information about the study, visit www.theirf.org. For a complete copy of the survey results, contact Lois Russo at lrusso@sellingcommunications.com or (212) 736-0797.

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