New In Events investigates incentive travel

New in Events is a new podcast by IBTM, which brings you new episodes every fortnight. For episode three, hosts Mike Fletcher and Paul Cook go stateside to discuss incentive travel with IRF President, Stephanie Harris. 

Short for time? Scroll to the bottom to discover the key takeaways.

Why do organisations have incentive travel programmes? According to the fifth annual study from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) and the Society of Incentive Travel Executives (SITE), 90% of global companies use ‘none cash’ incentives to retain talent, 83% deploy programmes to reward high performance, and 79% see incentive travel as a means to bring together more disparate workforces. 

Stephanie Harris, President of the IRF is our headline guest for episode three of New In Events - a podcast by IBTM. She starts by explaining some of the different roles that people enjoy when working in the incentive travel sector, before going on to talk about the findings of the annual Index - a global survey of almost 2,500 incentive travel professionals. 

When explaining how the reasons for running incentive travel programmes have evolved, Stephanie talks about the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power benefits. 

Hard power benefits, such as driving sales and market share are still the most cited reason for using incentive travel. However, 30% of respondents to the latest Index now say that softer power benefits such as instilling company culture or developing employee relationships are equally important. 

By region, Asia-Pacific still prioritises the hard power benefits of incentive travel programmes, whereas Western Europe, North America and the rest of the world have seen more of a shift toward the softer benefits of rewarding teams with organised travel. 

In an era where workplace inclusivity, talent retention, and company culture are so important, 53% of senior leadership at end-user companies told the Index that incentive travel was now a ‘need to have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ (19%) or even a ‘necessary evil’ (21%). 

As a result, 59% of organisations said they’d spend more on incentive travel this year and 64% said they’d spend more in 2025. 

However, with greater need often comes increased challenges and as Stephanie points out on the podcast, even increased budgets are getting eaten up by inflation. The cost of everything right now is the biggest pain point for 76% of incentive travel planners. 

Stephanie believes though that this provides opportunities for ‘second tier’ cities and other destinations as companies look to reduce the cost of expensive air travel while still having unique, authentic experiences in places closer to home.   

Other widespread future challenges faced by the incentive travel sector include being able to attract and retain talent (as cited by 55%) and the loss of expertise and specialist destination knowledge due to staff departures (as cited by 47%). 

This makes incentive travel a global MICE discipline crying out for exceptional talent. As Stephanie describes, whether you’re working for an agency, in-house, for a Destination Management Company (DMC) or a Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO), it’s one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of the events industry to work. 

I want people to want to work in incentive travel more than anything. There’s a defined lack of awareness about incentive travel as a career path and we’re working on some initiatives that will help to address that,

she tells us.

Season One of New in Events also features bonus interviews from the show floor at IBTM World 2023 in Barcelona. For this episode, I interview Darren Green from the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board who explains why LA is an exciting destination for both incentives and events. 

Darren shares what’s happening to LAX Airport, how the city is gearing up for the 2028 Olympics, and how to access the back lots of Hollywood movie studios to stage your next event.  

So give us a listen! New in Events is available to download wherever you get your podcasts from. 

Be sure to subscribe so that you never miss an episode and if you’re enjoying what you hear, why not share the pod with other events professionals or anyone looking to forge a career in this exciting industry?


Key takeaways from Episode Three of New in Events 

  • Incentive travel programmes are increasingly seen as a crucial tool for talent retention, with 90% of global companies leveraging 'non-cash' incentives.

  • While hard power benefits of such programs, including driving sales and market share, remain key, softer benefits like fostering company culture and employee relationships have gained importance.

  • 59% of organisations plan to increase their spending on incentive travel programmes, indicating its growing importance for workforce management.

  • Due to increased budgets, inflation and other challenges, companies are looking to explore more cost-effective alternatives like 'second-tier' cities for authentic, local experiences. 

  • Why you should consider Los Angeles as a destination for your next meeting, event or incentive. 


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