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New Incentive Research Foundation Study on Attendee Preferences for Incentive Travel

Released last May 18, Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) came out with a study on Attendee Preferences for Incentive Travel: How the Right Destinations and Good Program Design Boost Employee Motivation.

Rick Garlick, former Chief Research Advisor to the IRF, who was involved in the research, shared some key highlights with MarketID.

  • Incentive travel has rebounded nicely coming out of the pandemic. In a marketing sizing study conducted last year by the Incentive Federation Inc., 61% said they were spending ‘somewhat’ or ‘much’ more on travel awards to incentivize sales in 2022 than the previous year.
  • While Hawaii remains the overwhelming first preference of incentive participants, Hawaiian bookings have continued to decline in 2022 and 2023. The reason for the decline in Hawaiian bookings is largely due to cost and availability.
  • Cruising has made a VERY strong comeback. Data provided by 3-D Cruise partners shows that quotes were up by 76% in 2022 compared to 2019—prior to the pandemic.
  • Despite the recession of the pandemic, incentive travel participants have a strong preference for activities that provide open spaces—beaches, adventure travel destinations, and mountains.
  • Conversely, large city destinations have become less appealing.
  • Incentive travel bookings (US based) have trended toward Mexico and the Caribbean in 2022-23. Based on current CVENT data, four of the five top booked destinations are in Mexico.
  • The challenge is that while Mexico is a top destination for planners, a fairly significant number of people have been to Mexico and its novelty may be wearing off as many want an incentive trip to a destination to which they have not been before.
  • Nine of the Top 20 most booked 2023 destinations are located in the Caribbean, led by Nassau in the Bahamas.
  • Having the opportunity to experience a unique culture is a high priority for most incentive travel participants.
  • Given all the dynamics previously mentioned (e.g., desire for new destinations, having the opportunity to experience a unique culture, avoiding overcrowding, etc.), there is an opportunity for emerging destinations to claim market share from the more ‘traditional’ incentive destinations.

Read the full report here.

Rick Garlick, Ph.D. is the founder and principal consultant for Richard Garlick and Associates, a consultancy and market research firm that does a significant amount of work in both the travel and hospitality industry and the incentives industry. He has previously served in research leadership roles for the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI).

For additional information, Rick Garlick can be reached at