IRF 2021 Trends Report: We asked the One10 Experts

Mar 10, 2021 | Incentive Travel, Incentives & Recognition

IRF Study

One10 Experts weigh in on IRF’s 2021 Trends Report

You know that giddy feeling you get when your favorite show drops another season on Netflix? In our world, that moment is now. The IRF 2021 Trends Report is out and we couldn’t be more thrilled!

Just like we binge watch our favorite show, our team of One10 Xperts poured through the IRF report details. Much to our enjoyment, we’re ahead of the game. Here’s the One10 take on 2021 trends and what we’re doing to meet client needs in 2021 and beyond:

IRF Trend: Increase in Individual Rewards

We’ve lived through a lot of change. The pandemic, quarantines, work-from-home, and travel bans have uprooted our lives and forced us to think differently. According to IRF, these external forces have allowed us to re-examine the value of individual rewards as a way to connect differently with our teams and recognize employes effectively in a virtual world.

Our team of experts couldn’t agree more. Judging by the success of our own platform – Rewarding You – we know our clients desire not only individual rewards, but greater choice in what those rewards are. One10’s Rewarding You reward platform allows individuals to choose from more than one million gift options which are easily viewable in a convenient, user-friendly online catalog. In 2020, we experienced a greater uptick in redemptions of both gift cards and merchandise from our reward platform.

Are gift cards better than merchandise? Our Xperts explain that understanding your audience is the key to success. Gift cards equate to cash or a store discount. Merchandise, on the other hand, forces your incentive program participants to make purchases using points they’ve accumulated for a job well done. Participants choose their reward, so it’s tailor-made to their lifestyle and their needs. Moreover, their choice of merchandise is either practical or aspirational. Either serves an important purpose, but merchandise is much more memorable and gratifying. Top gifts we’ve seen redeemed from our Rewarding You platform included sporting goods, tools, cooking and home office.

We know incentive travel will be back, and we couldn’t be more excited for the day we get to snake through an airport security line. But will travel be the same, or will it take on a more individualized approach? Travel has definitely changed as a result of the pandemic, and our Xperts are already seeing this change unfold. Our clients are requesting smaller group travel or moving to regional events instead of one large event at least for the foreseeable future. We’ve always had our eye on the prize of cultivating an exclusive travel experience, but we’re taking this to another level in 2021. Instead of securing large hotels in a metro area, we are looking for opportunities to buy out entire villa-type hotels in more remote locations. This “bubble” concept allows smaller groups to gather on larger grounds for a unique incentive travel experience.

IRF Trend: Large Group Events Deferred, but Still a Priority

According to IRF, organizations will continue to value incentive travel award programs. Companies are already committing to rescheduling many of the large group travel events that were cancelled due to the pandemic. This group incentive travel will most likely take place in the second half of 2021 as a result of greater vaccine distribution.

This is a trend our experts are witnessing as well, and a cautious approach is important. Companies must weigh the pent-up desire for group incentive travel and the need to reward their teams with the comfort level of their incentive group travel participants. If the majority of the program winners aren’t comfortable traveling to the planned destination, or it’s too soon in their minds to travel, then group travel won’t be an effective reward.

The demand for group incentive travel is so great that space is filling up fast. Due to rebooked programs from 2020 and 2021, our team of experts is seeing the market tighten for securing venues even into 2023. The hotels that are especially sought after include smaller, boutique hotels and larger hotels that offer ample outdoor space to allow a large number of guests a level of seclusion, if they desire.

So should you change your incentive program rules and eliminate group incentive travel as a reward option? No. Remember, group incentive travel is just one motivator for your overall incentive program. Group incentive travel isn’t driving the program rules. It’s okay, especially in the short term, to change your rules structure to fit your business model and adjust your group incentive travel reward. But in the end, you should also offer an equally compelling motivator for winners. This is key to building an effective incentive and recognition program that encourages behavior change from your team and leads to positive results that increase your bottom line.

IRF Trend: Moving the Middle

An impactful incentive program is built around the notion of rewarding the top performers. According to IRF, smaller reward amounts can be used to “move the middle,” which raises the overall performance of the organization.

Our experts agree that successful incentive programs should build in steps throughout the program to encourage repeat behavior and continue motivating your teams all along the way. Merchandise and gift cards are effective motivators. Your incentive program can ensure the level of effort required in order to earn the merchandise and gift cards is attainable and in alignment with the value of the award offered.

IRF Trend: Personalization and Choice Increase Impact of Reward

IRF states that a simple ‘one size fits all’ approach to reward and recognition doesn’t motivate employees. Personalization is important, whether it’s a personalized gift or a personalized travel experience.

One10 experts have been saying this for years. Incentive travel is an experiential gift that has an immense impact on our psyche. Travel is a universal motivator, so it makes sense to include incentive travel in your reward mix. But not just any travel experience will do.

We aim to build an incentive travel experience that your employees otherwise couldn’t craft on their own. In doing this, we tap into your employees’ desire to experience something new and unique, just for them. These once-in-a-lifetime moments create memories that will last a lifetime, and these are true motivators that lead to incentive program success. From chartering a private jet for a personal tour of Cuba, to creating a “clan dinner” in a castle with each family dressed in tartan, we know what experiences will resonate with your team.

IRF Trend: Contracting and Contingency Planning Are More Important Than Ever

As planning disruptions became the norm in 2020, the contracting process is becoming more scrutinized and contingency plans are a necessity. This is where Destination Management Companies (DMCs) come in, and our team couldn’t agree more.

DMCs are the “insurance policies” for our One10 experts. DMCs have unparalleled knowledge of the destination that we can utilize to create exceptional travel experiences for our travel participants. DMCs have also fostered meaningful relationships with local businesses and travel leaders, which helps us craft a memorable experience. Even before the pandemic, we simply wouldn’t have been successful without the help of DMCs.

Now that the face of travel is changing, DMCs are even more important. We will continue to utilize DMCs to ensure high-quality activities and a “white glove” experience for our travel participants. But now, we must also rely on the DMCs to ensure their travel recommendations fit within social distancing and other health-related protocols. Only a team well-versed on the local area can deliver all of this.

IRF Trend: Digital Delivery and Virtual Engagement

As the workforce moved to a virtual environment, we were able to see the power (and limitations) of virtual engagement. For many companies, virtual meetings were the only option to gather either due to physical limitations or reductions in budget. This required event planners to adapt their strategies and retrain themselves to be able to continue producing high level events in a virtual way.

There are many benefits to virtual events. One such benefit is the immense opportunities to gather important metrics throughout the event. No longer do you need to wait for the post-event survey results to piece together how successful your event really was. With a virtual event, you can quickly determine the level of engagement of your attendees during the event or easily identify how often the material was accessed on-demand after the event. This measurement is crucial to enhancing future program design and continuing to create events that inspire and educate your teams.

Even as restrictions are lifted and attendees are more comfortable with gathering in person, virtual events in some capacity are here to stay. This is why hybrid meetings are more important than ever. But, transitioning from an in-person to a virtual event isn’t easy, and adding a hybrid component to the mix only adds to the complexity. This is where experts with a proven track record in the industry are essential.

Pivoting from the known to the unknown throughout 2020 was challenging, but it was also exciting. These trends show that we accomplished a lot. We modified our strategies, we learned knew skills, and in some ways, our industry became more inclusive than ever with the ability to reach new audiences virtually. In this new normal, we are confident our industry will not just continue to evolve, but we will thrive.

Samantha Decker

Samantha Decker

Samantha Decker is the Marketing Director at One10. Decker oversees marketing initiatives for all three of One10’s business segments – travel and events, incentives and recognition and marketing services. Bringing unique marketing experience to One10, Decker has led rebranding and growth efforts for every organization she has been a part of and is a strong advocate that purpose and profits can coexist in business. Decker was named a Corporate Connect 40 Under 40, has been published in industry articles, and is currently a member of Team Women in Minneapolis.