The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) has released its 2019 IRF Trends Study, which highlights 10 key trends that will affect organizations, their products and services and the workforce in 2019.

“The IRF 2019 Trends Study reports very positive trends for incentive travel, merchandise and gift cards—and also highlights areas of concern,” says IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. “As economic and technological changes continue to accelerate, the IRF is tracking shifts in the industry and providing insights into how to anticipate and respond to these changes to gain a competitive edge.”

The 10 trends identified in the study include:

  • A strong economy and robust merger and acquisition in the hospitality and incentive house markets will impact how the incentives industry conducts business and runs programs.
  • Both physical and data security remain a top concern not only when planning incentive travel and motivational meetings, but also when administering gift card, merchandise and points programs.
  • Executives’ goals are shifting to focus on rewards aimed directly at building relationships, encouraging inclusion and knowledge-sharing, and promoting engagement.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already being used to understand who is drawn to which types of rewards, personalize rewards and encourage greater participation, and it will continue to develop at a rapid pace.
  • Expanding budgets, increased participant eligibility and improved internal and public perceptions all point to growth of incentive travel programs.
  • Market optimism in the non-cash reward and recognition market continued its climb in 2018, with the IRF’s net optimism score reaching a peak 43 percent—a score only previously seen in 2013.
  • Gift cards continue to be a popular option, with high utilization for open loop cards and brand-specific cards. Restricted-use cards, vouchers and e-gift cards continue to gain momentum.
  • An increasing need for cost containment, concerns over terrorism, high transportation costs and trade restrictions will impact incentive travel and merchandise programs.
  • Transformational travel—incorporating concepts like wellness, community and personal fulfillment—will continue to push and extend the experience economy even further.
  • Program designers will need to adopt the test-often, fail-fast, customer-centric nature of design thinking to keep pace with ever-changing technology and content expectations.

For the full study, click here.