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by Lisa A. Grimaldi | January 01, 2012

The economy continues to have a negative impact on incentive travel program planning, according to the Fall 2011 Incentive Industry Trends Survey, conducted this past September by the St. Louis-based Incentive Research Foundation. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of the 138 incentive professionals surveyed said economic woes still are taking a toll on their incentive programs.

The findings represent a significant change from the more optimistic results of the IRF's spring 2011 poll, when only 25 percent of survey respondents viewed the economy as negatively affecting their incentive programs. The last time the economy was considered such an overwhelmingly negative factor for incentive travel programs was in a July 2009 IRF trend survey.

Among other key findings of the recent study:

• Budgets will remain steady, overall. While 28 percent of those surveyed expect their incentive travel budgets to decline this year over last, 45 percent anticipate no change and 27 percent foresee an increase.

• Reward trips will be shorter. Forty-one percent of respondents will be reducing the number of program nights this year.

• Programs will be close to home. More than 80 percent of respondents said they will hold incentive programs in the United States this year, 55 percent will send groups to the Caribbean, 52 percent will bring winners to Europe and 29 percent have selected Central America for their travel rewards.

Fewer than 18 percent of those polled plan to hold incentive programs in Asia, South America, Africa or the Middle East.

"In general, respondents anticipate that most incentive program elements will remain essentially unchanged for this year, reflecting a slower return to growth than originally anticipated," said Melissa Van Dyke, president of the IRF.

The organization has been conducting its biennial trend studies on incentive programs since 2008.

The full survey findings are available online at theirf.org.