Northstar Meetings Group’s annual Global Incentive Summit — taking place this week at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland — saw incentive travel buyers and representatives from destinations, hotels and destination management companies gather together to hear the latest trends in the incentives market. 

Padraic Gilligan, CMO of SITE, kicked off the trends panel with insights on the incentive industry. “Spend is the bellwether to see if the market is healthy or faltering,” he said. “There is more investment in incentive travel.”  

The presentation was based on the findings of the Incentive Travel Industry Index, a collaboration between SITE, the Incentive Research Foundation, and Financial and Insurance Conference Professionals, the largest-ever survey undertaken into the incentive travel industry. Gilligan also cited an Index finding that revealed a big increase in programs in Asia Pacific. “We should start taking seriously Asian visitors coming to Europe as incentive travelers. Australia and New Zealand are also going to be big for incentive travel in the future.”

Average spend per person amongst buyers in North America increased from $4,000 in 2018 to $4,508 in 2019. The big increase was in the Asia Pacific market which rose from $2,000 in 2018 to $3,453 in 2019. The Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) market remained flat at $2,000 for both years. The number of North American buyers who said they plan to send winners to Western Europe more frequently increased by 21 percent for 2020 and 2021.

The study also revealed more incentive travel programs are focusing on metrics beyond sales goals. “It’s about improved engagement and better relationship-building… to deliver value to the employees leading to a refocus in company culture,” Gilligan said.

Fellow panellist Nicole Trottier, director of group sales for Leading Hotels of the World, said: “I still feel like we are working in a very collaborative market [between planners and hoteliers] and negotiating rates. My suggestion is to be very upfront about budgets and we can find a solution with the best offer and to work with you as a partner.”

Global Incentive Summit—Northstar meetings group global hosted buyer event for the incentive travel industry—brings together the most highly-qualified incentive travel buyers with top incentive destinations, hotels/resorts, cruise lines, DMCs, DMOs and tourism offices from around the world. Attendees participate in one-on-one pre-scheduled appointments, gain industry insights from guest speakers and network with this exclusive group of incentive specialists, This uevent is hosted by Northstar Meetings Group’s leading brands—Successful MeetingsMeetings & Conventions, and Incentive magazine.

Of the destinations to look out for, Trottier said: “Portugal is coming up. It’s an incredible value. Clients who have been to Lisbon are now venturing out to Porto and the Algarve. In Italy, clients are looking at Puglia. Greece is coming up — that’s a big one for us. Japan is also on the radar and Ireland will always be hot.”

Panelist Neil Brownlee, head of business events for VisitScotland, observed that clients are looking for strong and memorable experiences. “The cultural exchange is something we can dial up,” he said.