by Lisa A. Grimaldi | January 20, 2017

The Incentive Research Foundation's Top 10 Trends for Incentive Travel, Reward and Recognition Programs in 2017 was revealed today at the morning education session of Incentive Live, Northstar Travel Group's inaugural buyer/supplier event for the incentive market. IRF president Melissa Van Dyke presented the following key trends:

1. The increasing demand for non-cash rewards and recognition. The number of U.S. businesses using non-cash rewards has risen from 26 percent in 1996 to 84 percent in 2016

2. Mastering the changing and challenging regulatory environment. Almost 60 percent of respondents in the latest IRF Pulse Study said they agree or strongly agree that government regulations are making it more difficult to design reward and recognition programs.

3. Incentive travel market: growth and challenges. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. businesses now use incentive travel to reward and recognize their top performing employees, salespeople and channel partners.

4. Merchandise and gift-card expansion.
 Merchandise and gift-card programs continue to expand in the United States with 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of all U.S. businesses using these reward types.

5. Shifts in safety perceptions and more frequent disruptions.
 Zika. Terrorism. Hurricanes. Almost 60 percent of planners have experienced some form of disruption in their events, estimating that almost a quarter of their events have been affected in some way

6. The emerging "next level" of experience: individualized experiences and the importance of emotion.
 Tapping emotional engagement through a strategic choice of rewards and incentives is a powerful way for businesses to motivate their stakeholders.

7. Technology changes.
 Almost 90 percent of large businesses report having technology in place to support their incentives and reward programs. Technology trends include a drive toward social, wearable, predictive and view-altering technologies.

8. The evolving design of reward and recognition programs.
 The Incentive Federation measures over 12 different reasons organizations are running employee reward and recognition programs and nine different objectives for sales programs.

9. Industry consolidation.
 The incentives and rewards industry continues to consolidate, not only on the supplier side but also among incentive houses and meeting-services providers.

10. Globalization. Once thought of as only affecting the incentive travel side of the market, globalization now influences all types of reward and recognition programs -- merchandise and gift cards included.

To view or download a copy of the full study, head here.