The Incentive Research Foundation has announced the release of its signature study, The IRF 2019 Trends Study. The study highlights ten key trends that will affect organizations, their products and services, and the workforce in 2019.

“The IRF 2019 Trends Study reports very positive trends for incentive travel, merchandise, and gift cards—and also highlights areas of concern,” said IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. “As economic and technological changes continue to accelerate, the IRF is tracking shifts in the industry and providing insights into how to anticipate and respond to these changes to gain a competitive edge.”

The Top Ten Trends for Incentive Travel, Reward, and Recognition Programs in 2019:

1. The Economy and Merger & Acquisition Activity
A strong economy and robust merger and acquisition in the hospitality and incentive house markets will impact how the incentives industry conducts business and runs programs.

2. Physical and Data Security Are Still Paramount – With More Resources Coming
Both physical and data security remain a top concern not only when planning incentive travel and motivational meetings, but also administering gift card, merchandise, and points programs.

3. C-Suite is Creating a “Talent Culture”
Executives’ goals are shifting to focus on rewards aimed directly at building relationships, encouraging inclusion and knowledge-sharing, and promoting engagement.

4. Predictive Analytics and Artificial Intelligence
AI is already being used to understand who is drawn to which types of rewards, personalize rewards, and encourage greater participation, and AI continues to develop at a blistering pace.

5. Incentive Travel on the Rise
Expanding budgets, increased participant eligibility, and improved internal and public perceptions all point to growth of incentive travel programs.

6. Merchandise Spending Projected to Increase
Market optimism in the non-cash reward and recognition market continued its climb in 2018, with the IRF’s net optimism score reaching a peak 43%—a score only previously seen in 2013.

7. Positive Outlook for Gift Cards
Gift cards continue to be a popular option, with high utilization for open loop cards and brand-specific cards. Restricted use cards, vouchers, and e-gift cards continue to gain momentum.

8. Countercurrents to Incentive Travel, Merchandise, and Gift Card Growth
An increasing need for cost containment, concerns over terrorism, high transportation costs, and trade restrictions will impact incentive travel and merchandise programs.

9. Transformational Experiences
Transformational travel—which incorporates concepts of wellness, community, and personal fulfillment—will continue to push and extend the experience economy even further.

10. Agility, Experiences, and the Design Imperative
Program designers will need to adopt the test-often, fail-fast, customer-centric nature of design thinking to keep pace with ever-changing technology and content expectations.

To view or download a copy of the full study, please visit: