Top 10 Trends for Travel, Reward and Recognition Programs.

Washington, DC (February 14, 2018): The Incentive Research Foundation is pleased to announce the release of its signature study, The IRF 2018 Trends Study. The study highlights ten key trends that will affect organizations, their products and services, and the workforce in 2018. From market optimism to concerns about risk and safety, the study identifies key areas of change and their implications for workforce engagement, incentive travel, and recognition.


“The IRF 2018 Trends Study clearly demonstrates that professionals in the non-cash rewards industry continue to experience a tremendous amount of change,” said 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.”


The Top Ten Trends for Incentive Travel, Reward and Recognition Programs in 2018 are:

  1. Building a Brand-Asset Culture Becomes a Business Imperative
    With over 80% of businesses’ value in their intangibles, the IRF expects non-cash awards to grow as the focus on brand, culture, and innovation becomes even more critical to business success.
  2. Market Optimism Leads to Budget Growth 
    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 4% increase.
  3. Regulatory Pressure Drives Changes
    Over 70% of respondents to the IRF’s Regulations Study said they had made changes to their programs’ design, communications, rewards, and/or reporting in response to regulations.
  4. Cost and Time Tensions Continue
    Although incentive travel budgets were up again in 2017, 60% of respondents said costs are rising faster than budgets. 
  5. Increased Focus on Managing Risk and Ensuring Safety
    From PCI compliance to concerns over the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), ensuring program participant data is secure and appropriately used is a central concern for all types of non-cash award programs.
  6. Expanding Capability with Increasingly Predicative and Intelligent Technology 
    Predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality capabilities will be a fundamental requirement for the effective incentive, rewards, and events business partner.
  7. Wellness Hits a Tipping Point: Expectations for Comfort & Healthy Options
    The largest number of net increases (38%) reported by IRF trend respondents was the inclusion of wellness/well-being components, focused on fitness, food, and comfort, in their programs.
  8. Unique Destinations Gaining Popularity
    Planners are interested in new and different sub-destinations. Whereas Rome may have been the primary consideration in the past, Puglia, Italy is becoming an attractive option.
  9. Merchandise Awards Move Toward the Meaningful
    There is a strong desire in 2018 not for more choice, but for more meaning. Impactful products may have local sourcing or organic roots and be easily personalized and customizable.
  10. Gift Cards Gain Momentum 
    Mid-size firms on average spend almost half a million dollars annually on gift cards across all programs, while the largest firms each spend over $1 million annually.

To view or download a copy of the full study, please visit: