A report from the Incentive Research Federation (IRF) lays out threats to running an incentive program in the present environment, including COVID-19, weather, travel hazards, politics and economic downturns, and provides strategies for business survival and recovery.

“As we plan for recovery and a return to in-person meetings and travel, safety concerns prevail,” says Stephanie Harris, president of the IRF. “This study provides actionable advice from industry leaders on how to rebuild incentive programs through strategic collaborations with clients, participants, hotels and resorts, DMCs and partners.”

“COVID-19 and Disruption in the Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events Industry” is based on panel discussions with 36 industry leaders, poll results from 250 more and survey findings from 791 respondents from around the world.

The study found that the top concerns about participating in work- or reward-related travel were the threat of an epidemic/pandemic at 33 percent, closely followed by severe weather at 29 percent. However, people are beginning to anticipate and crave travel, with a focus on new experiences at safe destinations within driving distance or that involve shorter flights. Program owners who postponed incentive travel programs still had a strong need to continue recognizing and rewarding outstanding employees, and when incentive travel programs were cancelled, they were often replaced by points, merchandise and/or gift cards.

IRF’s research also suggests that international travel, especially in large groups, may not return to previous norms until a vaccine and/or an effective treatment for COVID-19 is developed and made widely available. Using 9/11 and the Great Recession as reference points, and assuming a vaccine is available next year, the IRF expects that the industry might plan for a return to pre-COVID-19 revenues by late 2022 or early 2023.

To view the full study, visit the IRF’s COVID-19 and Disruption study webpage.