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New IRF Disruption Study Reports Incentives Industry’s Challenges, Optimism for Recovery from Impact of COVID-19

The Incentive Research Foundation announces the release of COVID-19 and Disruption in the Incentive Travel, Meetings and Events Industry:?Adaptation?and Recovery. The report reviews threats to running incentive programs, including COVID-19, weather, travel hazards, politics, economic downturns. With a focus on the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, the report provides strategies for business survival and recovery.

“As we plan for recovery and a return to in-person meetings and travel, safety concerns prevail,” said Stephanie Harris, President, 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. Key findings include:

  • According to an April 2020 IRF survey, the top concerns about participating in work or reward-related travel were the threat of an epidemic/pandemic at 33%, closely followed by severe weather at 29%.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Program owners who postponed incentive travel programs expressed a strong need to continue recognizing and rewarding outstanding employees. When incentive travel programs were cancelled, they were often replaced by points, merchandise and/or gift cards.
  • Using 9/11 and the Great Recession as reference points, and assuming a vaccine is available next year, the industry might expect and plan for a return to pre-COVID-19 revenues by late 2022 or early 2023.

Despite challenges, postponements, and program changes, study participants consistently emphasized the importance of incentives. “We know that travel incentives are among the most cherished rewards. This will only be heightened. The pandemic has reminded people of their vulnerability, it will give them a sense of living; that life is precious, and they must get out from behind the desk to appreciate it,” said an incentive reward program designer during an interview for the study.

To download a copy of the full study, please visit the IRF's COVID-19 and Disruption Report webpage.

About the IRF:
The Incentive Research Foundation ( funds and promotes research to advance the science and enhance the awareness and appropriate application of motivation and incentives in business and industry globally. The goal is to increase the understanding, effective use, and resultant benefits of incentives to businesses that currently use incentives and others interested in improved performance.

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