The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) has identified 10 key trends in its IRF 2018 Trends Study that will affect organizations, their products and services, and the workforce.

The trends are as follows:

1. Non-cash awards are expected to grow as the focus on brand, culture and innovation becomes more critical to business success.

2. The incentive travel industry’s net optimism score for the economy is up almost 20 points from 2017, and average annual per-person spend of $3,915 reflects a four percent increase.

3. More than 70 percent of respondents to the IRF’s earlier Regulations Study said that they had made changes to their programs’ design, communications, rewards and/or reporting in response to regulations.

4. Although incentive travel budgets were up again in 2017, 60 percent of respondents said costs are rising faster than budgets.

5. With issues like data security compliance in the payment card industry, and the European Union’s general data protection regulations factoring into business planning, ensuring program participant data is secure and appropriately used sits as a central concern for all types of non-cash award programs.

6. Predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality capabilities will be a fundamental requirement for the effective incentive, rewards and events business partner.

7. Expectations for wellness options are growing, with the IRF reporting that the largest number of net increases (38 percent) reported by IRF trend respondents was the inclusion of wellness/well-being components focused on fitness, food and comfort, in their programs.

8. Planners are interested in new and unique destinations. As an example, the IRF notes that while Rome may have been the primary consideration in the past, Puglia, Italy, is becoming an attractive option.

9. IRF’s research has found planners are choosing more meaning over more choice, and looking for products that make an impact through local sourcing, organic production, greater personalization and customization.

10. Gift cards are gaining momentum, with mid-size firms now spending on average almost half a million dollars annually on gift cards across all programs, while the largest firms spend over $1 million annually.

“The IRF 2018 Trends Study clearly demonstrates that professionals in the non-cash rewards industry continue to experience a tremendous amount of change,” says IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. “From culture shifts to technological advances to regulatory pressure, the IRF is tracking some essential shifts in the industry and discussing how to anticipate and respond to these trends.”

To view or download a copy of the full study, click here.