Current and future trends in incentive travel – Takeaways from SITE event

Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) is a global society for incentive travel professionals to strengthen and support the industry, getting everyone together, raising awareness and recognising the economic impact and importance of this industry. Their latest event in London took place on 12th May at Church House and senior event professionals met to discuss the current and future landscape of incentive travel.

Incentive travel as we know it, gives high achievers an experience of a lifetime, one that money can’t buy. Incentives is a high net worth industry and where companies see the potential for – by motivating employees – making more money and improving brand image. Individuals come back from incentive trip more energised and motivated.

Among many, incentives still have the old fashion perception of running around a fiend, doing teambuilding games but that has obviously changed and has a more global approach – talking about objectives, ROI, partnerships with suppliers, brand image and more. Is it important to raise the importance of the sector within the industry as a whole.

The panel was moderated by Martin Lewis MD M & IT and included Chetan Shah, Head of Operations at The Black Tomato Agency, Richard Foulkes, Creative events and Experiential Consultant, Rebecca Duncan, Partnership Development Manager, MICE and Groups at Virgin Atlantic Airways and Barbara Jamison, Head of Business Development – Europe at London & Partners.

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Recession, Bribery Act and budget cuts put incentive travel on hold for many companies but now the global landscape is picking up.

In the current environment, Chetan suggested that there is an increasing move towards personalisation based on individual demands. During the trip companies allocate more free time and suggest optional activities.

Rebecca, talking from an airline perspective, suggested that it is important to give the possibility of seat selection, changing travel time, upgrade and taking additional pieces of luggage, such as golf clubs – thus offering the same flexibility as for leisure travellers.

From a destination point of view, Barbara suggested that suppliers need to look both for geographical and political environment of the organisation. Some companies, even being market leader might not be able to “show off” because the political environment doesn’t allow it.

Another trend is the “me generation” – sharing experience with the whole company and not only with friends and family. Companies want also a business element to the incentive, such as on the way to a destination stopping at another destination to meet clients. Incentives can be seen as a business opportunity.

Is incentive market picking up?

According to Rebecca, incentive travel focused on the US and the Caribbean and other long haul destination is picking up in the last 18 months. Chetan added that inquiries and conversions are high again and lead time is longer because companies are confident that the budget will be there. They can also see that clients that have been dormant for several years start booking again.

Richard observes two fundamental changes. First one, as previously mentioned is personalisation and secondly is that before incentive travel was under “sales” – based on a campaign and run quickly. Now, on the other hand, it is under marketing – a very thought trough and longer campaign around company objectives.

How suppliers are responding to this changing environment?

Rebecca suggested that customers want more for their money and their success is thanks to strong partnerships with other suppliers, hotels, DMCs and tourism boards who are active in the marketplace.

Airlines today are part of the whole experience and not only the means to get to destination. Chetan added that airports are also looking at how to better appeal to incentive groups and how to personalise experience for groups, such as Gatwick.

Comment from the audience was that companies are able to better personalise the experience thanks to data available about customers.


First trend, mainly seen in the US is towards including family and partners participating in incentives. People won’t go if there is no one to take care of the kids. Hotels can see such opportunities for extended stays.

Secondly, co-creation, engaging the participants to co-create – incentive need to be relevant to the business and the destination and business objectives need to be aligned with the communication strategy.

Last but not least is technology, but here it is not a “one size fit all” as we know from conferences. Chetan suggested that you can’t “package it” for an incentive because you need to work around the brief. Technology is very commoditised and hard to adjust to an incentive trip, that makes it hard to personalise.

Future of incentives?

This question was addressed to chapter’s Young Leaders. They suggested that currently companies want to see ROI, participants are seeing the benefits of incorporating well-being into the incentive. The future lies in activities that can stimulate participants but one has the answer yet.

What can we expect of incentive travel, where is it going? If you have the answer, please share below.

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