IMEX America 2022 partners group photo
Article published 22/02/2023
In the second instalment of our 2023 markets outlook we caught up with our Senior Corporate & Incentive Manager - The Americas, Richard Knight, to discuss the landscape for the US market this year.
According to Knight, unique experiences and natural beauty are at the top of planners' lists, but tighter budgets will be the main driver behind final decisions.
"There are two major trends to highlight: the VisitScotland Business Events team pivoted from short lead time enquiries, to what is considered 'normal' again - longer enquiry lead times, around 18 months," says Knight.
"Secondly, many incentive opportunities are using new product experiences within destinations, and are smaller in group size, around 50-70 people, rather than the hundreds that were previously the trend.
"As we get back to normal business, it's apparent that after the pandemic, planners are far more interested in sustainability in programmes they design and in leaving the destination better than they found it."
In focus groups with Development Counsellors International (DCI), VisitScotland Business Events' North American agency, Knight notes planners emphasise that there is strong pent-up demand for corporate and incentive travel post-pandemic. This demand has led to shorter turnaround periods to plan meetings which, is leading to a busy early-2023.
"Wider market research supports this trend of rising demand. Northstar's Incentive Pulse Survey from November 2022 found three times as many planners were booking new programmes compared to one year prior, with around four times more currently planning future programmes in Europe compared to the past year.
"Some planners indicated that they have struggled to find destinations that can meet their requirements. This is supported by Northstar's Incentive Pulse Survey, which found hotel and venue availability to be the top priority for planners for current programmes they are developing. The availability and cost of accommodation were deemed the factors most affecting incentive programme planning decisions."
Planners agree in focus groups with DCI that incentives that can help offset costs help justify that location to companies and make them feel special. Sydney, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai were cited as examples of destinations with strong incentives.
"First, from DCI's focus groups and surveys of planners, providing unique experiences appears to be a top priority when selecting destinations, with many wanting to take attendees to places and activities that they haven't experienced before," says Knight.
"The Incentive Travel Index, published in October 2022, found rising demand in incentive travel for new and unique destinations, with 66% of North American buyers and 62% of buyers from the rest of the world increasingly looking for new destinations that they haven't used before."
He notes that with a rise in hybrid and remote working, the most important activities for successful incentive programmes are those that promote relationship building, with 72% of respondents feeling they are key to a successful programme.
Knight adds that there remains from the effects of the pandemic a preference for incentive trips providing natural beauty and wellness rather than large city destinations. "For example, according to Northstar's Incentive Pulse Survey from November 2022, beach destinations are in highest demand, with 83% of planners currently considering one for an incentive programme, followed by mountain destinations (53%). Large cities came in third with 41%," he says.
"Incentive Travel Destination Preferences & Their Impact On Motivation found having "ample time to relax" is the most important trip attribute. Beach, adventure travel, and mountain trips were the top three ranked destination experiences."
Due to rising costs, particularly in terms of airfare, and concerns of an upcoming recession, planners have reported some caution among clients regarding budgets and costs of MICE travel. Knight cites the AmEx 2023 Global Meetings And Events Forecast, which projects the cost per attendee for all meeting types to rise, by a low of 1.5% for small and simple meetings to a high of 3% for conferences and tradeshows.
"The Incentive Travel Index, published in October 2022, found rising costs / inflation to be the greatest challenge facing incentive travel professionals. Similarly, Northstar's Meetings Industry Pulse Survey from December 2022 found higher costs to be the top concern, increasing steadily throughout the year," he says.
"Large publicly traded companies may find it difficult to justify sending hundreds on large international trips to shareholders from a financial perspective. This said, the industry outlook remains positive overall, the Meetings Industry Pulse Survey, for example, projecting meetings levels to surpass 2022 levels this year."