On first looking into… Incentive Travel Industry Index Edition 2020

Expert Opinion News World
On first looking into… Incentive Travel Industry Index Edition 2020

Pádraic Gilligan, chief marketing officer at SITE, breaks down the associations recent survey of the incentive travel industry.


It’s certainly a stretch to attempt a solid connection between that sublime poet of the Romantic era, John Keats, and a modern day survey of incentive travel, but here goes regardless!

Keats’ stunning sonnet ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’ tries to capture the poet’s astonished reaction to the poetry of Homer, (not the character from the Simpsons, for the avoidance of doubt!) as rendered into English by his translator, George Chapman.

Keats calls out how Chapman’s brilliant translation teases out the fascinating novelty of Homer’s world, making him feel like “some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken …”

And therein the connection. ITII Edition 2020 yields up many fascinating insights for ‘watchers of the skies’ anxious to discern the nature, purpose and direction of incentive travel as our global ongoing battle with Covid-19 extends into the latter end of 2020.

As of late October 2020, the survey is still live and heading for 3,000 submissions, making it, by far, the biggest ever study of incentive travel.

A joint venture between SITE Foundation, Financial & Insurance Conference Professionals (FICP) and Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), interim results have already been shared during PlanetIMEX’s October event last week. Like Chapman’s Homer, ITII 2020 is full of surprise and delight but, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, not all the surprises are delightful and not all the delights are surprising!

It’s no surprise that 2020 is a disastrous year for incentive travel professionals with global averages for 2020 at 23% of the 2019 levels – that’s a 77% fall in activity. Globally, this is expected to improve in 2021 (59% of 2019 levels), 2022 (88% of 2019 levels) before full recovery by 2023.

If we single out Europe, however, a bleaker picture emerges with recovery not happening until at least 2024 and 2021 only reaching 46% of 2019 levels. In fact one of the striking themes of the survey is an ever widening dichotomy between sentiment in the US and sentiment elsewhere, driven, undoubtedly, by diverse views on the likely evolution of the pandemic.

To illustrate this further, the table below sets out how US, UK, EU stack up against the global average responses to ‘Once we reach post-Covid conditions, how quickly do you anticipate incentive travel will recover’:

  Within One or Two Years Three to Four Years Five or More Years
Global Average 67% 31% 2%
USA 74% 24% 1%
EU 55% 41% 4%
UK 57% 39% 5%


US incentive travel professionals are significantly more optimistic regarding recovery than other regions and countries.

On the delights side, however, buyers remain wholeheartedly committed to incentive travel albeit stating that changes are needed to mitigate any travel-associated risks. On average, only 1 in 5 buyers state that it will be necessary to re-justify each incentive travel programme on its own merits. Ever cautious, this figure is 1 in 4 when we consider EU buyers only.

And there’s good news for the DMC sector, too, with “the presence of a good DMC” ranked third out of 18 possible ways that incentive travel programmes will shift in the light of Covid-19. If recent years were characterised by pervasive disintermediation as buyers sought to purchase direct in destinations and bypass the local expert, Covid-19 reverses this by prioritising things like overall participant safety and health security, items not so easily commoditised.

These are just some of the surprises and delights that await incentive travel professionals on first looking into… ITII Edition 2020.

Stuart Wood is a news reporter across the Mash Media editorial portfolio. He writes for CMW alongside sister publications Conference News, Exhibition News, Access All Areas and Exhibition World.

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