Show Notes

With more than 15 years of experience leading incentive travel programs, Justin Myers discusses the evolving incentives landscape. Utilizing insights from our strategic partnership with SITE and his own knowledge, Justin explains how to create personalized, transformational travel experiences. Topics include: 

  • Bishop-McCann's partnership with SITE
  • Benefits of leveraging incentive travel for corporate success
  • Challenges, solutions, and strategies for incentive trips
  • Incentive travel trends and the future of the industry

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Host: 0:00 

Hi, and welcome to The Events Experience, where we take a deep dive into everything event planning. I work for Bishop- McCann, an agency devoted to creating JOY through meetings, incentives, and events for big name brands. On this podcast, myself and our company's experts will discuss all things events, so keep listening to hear all about the latest tips and trends for virtual, live, and hybrid events. 

Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Events Experience! Today, we are delving into insights and trends for incentive travel, and we'll be discussing this topic with our Vice President of Client Development and Marketing, Justin Myers. Justin has more than 15 years of experience leading incentive travel programs and heads up our strategic partnership with SITE, the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, and will be able to provide excellent insights into what's going on in this space currently. Thanks for joining the podcast, Justin! 

Justin Myers: 0:59 

Thank you so much for having me, Brenna! As you know, this is one of my favorite topics, and the timing is actually perfect because I just came off of a client's incentive program. I'm going into another client's incentive program next week, so it's that time of the year. We're doing a lot of incentive programs with our clients. So a great time for all of this to be really top of mind for me, and I'm excited to dive into it with you. 

Host: 01:24 

Awesome. So first, can you tell us a little bit about our recent work with SITE? 

Justin Myers: 01:31 

Yeah, SITE is such a great organization, and Bishop-McCann has been working with SITE for years and years. They have great education and great research. Their certification programs, their CIS and CITP certifications, we've leveraged over the years. We've attended their incredible industry events like SITE Night. I had the opportunity to attend SITE Global, and so we just continue to invest in our partnership with SITE, becoming a strategic partner of theirs. And it's all about elevating our people, investing in our people. Continuing to focus on ensuring that Bishop-McCann is best in class and that we're at the forefront of everything that we're seeing across the globe from an incentive travel perspective. 

Host: 02:16 

Right. I know how important it is to us to invest in our people, and it's great that our partnership with SITE is helping with that. I'd love to hear more about your overall experience at SITE Global. 

Justin Myers: 02:30 

Yeah, so SITE Global was an incredible event. First of all, it was hosted in Istanbul, Turkey. So it was my first time to Istanbul, and that was an incredible experience. You know, with Istanbul they talk about how it's where East meets West. It's the meeting point of the world. The Istanbul airport is one of the most traveled airports in the world. And it was an incredible experience sitting in the city experiencing some of the culture. The theme of the event was "Building and Bridging Cultures," and the event in particular brings together over 500 attendees from 48 different countries. So with a theme like "Building and Bridging Cultures" in the place where East meets West, it was just an incredibly dynamic event with great education and great networking, and we took a lot of key learnings back from that event. 

Host: 03:24 

Awesome. So while you were there, what were some of those key insights or takeaways for you personally? 

Justin Myers: 03:31 

Yeah, we'll talk about some of those things as we go through the podcast. I'm sure it'll continue to come up because it's so fresh for me. But if there's one thing I would call out, and I see this every time our industry comes together (in particular from an incentive travel perspective), but just the community and the commonality in this industry. You know, everyone working toward the betterment of the industry itself, the betterment of incentive travel. It's really powerful to see, especially when you talk about that number of attendees coming together from 48 different countries, all of the different cultures, diversity, and perspective. It's a powerful, powerful thing to bring a global industry together like that and just to see the knowledge shared, the knowledge gained, and that community that exists within SITE. 

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Host: 04:21 

Right, I love that. So looking at the incentive space from a client perspective, are there any new challenges corporations are facing that incentive travel can help solve?

Justin Myers: 04:33 

Yeah, it's a really good question, Brenna, and one that we're constantly looking at. While it's not a new challenge necessarily, it's a challenge that companies continue to face: the ever-changing workplace. The shifting dynamic from remote work, which that evolution happened so quickly in the pandemic, but now we're shifting back to hybrid. We're back in person, remote still is around, and so just that landscape of having a dispersed workplace causes a lot of challenges. And really attracting and retaining top talent continues to remain one of the top priorities, and companies are looking to incentive travel to help them solve for that issue. 

It really is our responsibility as incentive travel strategists and leaders to align the value position of incentive travel with those changing corporate priorities. Companies are focused on revenue security and revenue growth. There's been a lot of change in the economy. So they're looking at, you know, the employee experience equals the customer experience. And so really focusing in on that employee experience and building out their employee value proposition. Again, this all ties back to attracting and retaining top talent. But your employee value proposition is that promise that a company gives of what that experience is going to be working for them, plus the lived experience, and then multiply that by the community perspective, and you get your employee value proposition. 

In addition to that, there's also been more of a focus from corporations on employee well-being, and this is really in a lot of different areas. I think a lot of times you think about maybe a financial well-being, ensuring that compensation is aligned and competitive. But they're also looking at the physical well-being, the emotional well-being, and the social well-being. Again, your social well-being when you think about a remote workplace and how you solve for that is very different. There's just so many correlations with those challenges and how incentive travel can help companies bridge the gap and solve for those issues.

Host: 06:42 

Right. So looking at the incentive industry as a whole, what incentive travel trends are you seeing that we need to be keeping in mind right now? 

Justin Myers: 06:53 

Yeah. One of the big ones - and this kind of is a great segue from the last question - is just we're seeing more and more incentives designed with the goal of promoting company culture. It's harder to experience a company culture with a dispersed workforce, so that is becoming a bigger priority with incentive travel. There has also been a shift of soft benefits versus hard benefits as it relates to the value of incentive travel. If you look at the Incentive Travel Index, which is an annual study produced in partnership with SITE and IRF, 68% of those respondents agreed that there has been a major shift from hard benefits to soft benefits, with soft benefits becoming more and more important. Now, that being said, hard benefits (especially in North America) are still the top reason for using incentives. But as planners look at future programs, keeping in mind that shifting dynamic and the cultural benefits and those soft benefits that come from incentive travel are going to be really important. 

Then technology, of course. AI, AI, AI. Everybody's talking about AI. It's a buzzword, and generative AI in particular. But we're starting to absolutely see use cases of AI for the design and the execution of incentive programs, and we're only going to see more here. Another thing is we see costs continue to rise. Obviously, inflation has an impact on that, but so does demand. Demand from a leisure travel perspective, as well as demand for incentive travel, overall meetings and events continues to rise and is projected to continue to increase. So as those costs continue to rise, budgets and spend have to rise accordingly. You know, we've seen a lot of creative budgeting and deciding, "What are we prioritizing as far as the most impact for the spend?" 

And then another trend is looking at the makeup of the audience for an incentive travel program. It's looking at multigenerational attendees. I mean, Gen Z is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the workplace, and you have potentially three, if not four generations, that could be attending an incentive program. So how do you design a program that can reach those attendees in a variety of different generations? But those attendee expectations are changing with the audience changing. We see from research that attendees are looking for more cultural experiences. They don't want to be overscheduled. They want downtime. They want to network on their own terms. They want to have time with their guests, their spouse, or significant other. 

The other thing that we see as far as attendee expectations is that recognition is still really important. It's highly valued. So those aspects of your program that specifically recognize - whether it's your awards dinner or specific touch points throughout the program - be sure to pay special attention to that recognition aspect. And then personalization. Attendees do not want a cookie-cutter experience for an incentive program. They really want to feel like the program has been designed around what their desires are and what they're looking to do. It's really hyper-personalized to them and in recognition of the incredible work that they've put in to earn the trip. 

Another thing is that destination appeal continues to be a top priority for attendees. Another stat from the Incentive Travel Index is that 71% of buyers are looking at destinations that they've never used before. So it's great to see that alignment with buyers looking for new destinations that align with the destination appeal that is a top priority for attendees. Also really focusing on that cultural experience that we know attendees are looking for. 

So the net of all of that - our focus at Bishop-McCann is really designing an incentive travel experience around the attendee, focusing on our audience. It's not a one-size-fits-all program, but you really have to keep the audience's expectations and the audience's desires in mind when you're designing a program. 

Host: 11:15 

Right, and I think that's so important to keep all of those pieces in mind when planning upcoming incentives. So are there any overall challenges that the incentive travel space is facing currently, and if so, what are the possible solutions to those problems? 

Justin Myers: 11:35 

Yeah, so there's a lot of things. You know, a couple of the things I just talked about are definitely not only trends but also challenges that we have to think about. But when I think at a macro level, obviously the geopolitical landscape right now is causing challenges. When you think about looking at destinations - you know, the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East - and travel. This is a continued issue that we are going to face. But it's something that while we can't solve for it, I think incentive travel has a great opportunity going back to the theme of SITE Global of "building and bridging cultures" that really is the power of incentive travel. when you think about the challenging geopolitical landscape, it's really interesting and intriguing to think about what incentive travel can do to attendees' perspectives of the world and experiencing different cultures. 

Sustainability is a bigger and bigger priority. Climate justice. Actually, if you look at the Fortune 100, over 50% of Fortune 100 executives have ESG goals built into their comp plans. So what that means is that you're going to see more measurement, you're going to see more requirements. How does that impact incentive travel? How does that impact destination selection? Looking at the carbon footprint of your program. This is going to continue to be a focus area for the industry. 

Supply chain challenges are something we continue to see. It is improved significantly coming out of the pandemic, but obviously, depending on the destination of your program, we're continuing to see those challenges from a supply chain perspective. Inflation and cost. We talked about it's a challenge that we have to continue to keep an eye on. Inflation is coming down in most areas, so hopefully we continue to see improvement as it relates to that. And then I talked about seeing strong demand. I think we're still seeing short planning cycles with incentive programs. A lot of that was coming out of the pandemic and kind of quickly turning travel programs back on. So again, another thing that hopefully we start to see ease as we can build out longer planning cycles and get back to sourcing programs out multiple years like we were pre-pandemic. 

Host: 13:51 

Right. So considering these potential issues that the industry is facing and all of the trends that you discussed previously, what do you think the future of incentive travel looks like? 

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Justin Myers: 14:04 

Yeah, I think we are going to start looking at incentive travel differently. We've already started to look at incentive travel differently, so there's going to be a bit of a redefinition of what incentive travel is. I mean, we talked about the mix of soft benefits versus hard benefits. So it's not only that redefinition, but it's the repositioning of incentive travel. I think that's really important that we involve that value proposition for incentive travel to align to those corporate challenges. And the end result of that is a different perspective and a different view of what incentive travel is. 

Secondly, I think we're really focused on making incentive travel experiences transformational. Obviously, whether it's a soft benefit or a hard benefit, an attendee experiencing something that they can't experience on their own is really the value and the power that incentive travel can have. If you think about the experience economy, a service versus an experience. So you go get a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven, you're paying for that cup of coffee. You go get a coffee at Starbucks, you're paying for the same cup of coffee, maybe a little better cup of coffee, but you're paying more for the experience that you get. You're paying for the barista. You're paying for the environment. 

So we have to continue to shift incentive travel to be more focused on being transformational - giving attendees, again, the cultural experience that they're looking for and something that really changes their worldview, changes their perspective. Those are the stories that attendees tell year over year when they get to have that immersive experience. When we think about the design of incentive programs and about immersion, the more senses, the more control/curation we can have, and the more design impact we put into our program, attendees will be even more immersed - immersed in the experience, immersed in the destination, immersed with other attendees. 

As we think about transformation, it's creating the right experience at the right time for the right person, and you get transformation. So yeah, I think those are some of the things that we're looking to in the future. I think we're seeing projections for a lot of growth in the industry. It's a really exciting time to continue to rethink incentive travel and the challenges that it solves for, and we love to be a part of that by working with our clients at Bishop-McCann. 

Host: 16:36 

Well, it's great to hear that the industry is projected to grow and that we can be a part of that. So we always like to end our podcast bringing it back to what it's all about for us, and that's JOY. What has been your favorite JOY moment from an incentive program that you've experienced while working with Bishop-McCann? 

Justin Myers: 16:57 

Yeah, you're right Brenna. We create JOY as our mission is never more true than when we're on site at an incentive, and we get to see the attendee reactions. There's so many moments over the years that I could point to, but since I'm coming fresh off of a program, I want to reflect on that. We talked about the importance of recognition earlier. With this particular technology client of ours, I was at the awards dinner, and they played this incredible video that showed personal photos of all of the winners and played upbeat music. Everybody was excited. As the photos of each winner came up, the audience was standing and clapping. People were cheering for people at their table. You could see spouses, significant others, and guests so proud of each winner, and you could just feel that in the room. 

And I think that is really what the incentive travel experience is about. It's, "What is that takeaway for those attendees?" When they leave that program, they feel celebrated. They feel like they had a transformative experience, and they're motivated to get back there next year. I mean, I think those are the things that we want to ensure every incentive program does, and it was so great to have the opportunity to see that at one of our programs. 

Host: 18:17 

I love that! I feel like that is the perfect way to wrap up this podcast. Thank you so much for being here and sharing all of that excellent information regarding the incentive travel landscape. 

Justin Myers: 18:28 

Thank you so much for having me, Brenna! 

Host: 18:31 

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Events Experience. Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast, and create JOY wherever you go!   New call-to-action

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