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January 31, 2012

ELLEN SAXE:Incentive travel is on the comeback trail

The vice president of Carlisle Incentives says the future's looking brighter for motivational events…

Incentive travel is beginning to surface again after some very difficult and challenging times, however it’s not yet returned to the good old days of a few years ago. In our company we’re seeing shorter trips and smaller budgets. Despite the economic downturn, many costs have remained flat and in some cases actually increased, however it’s not being reflected in client budgets.

To meet today’s budgetary environment we have clients doing incentives within driving distance to avoid the cost of airfare and still retain the “incentive quality” experience that’s so important.

Cruises and all-inclusive resorts have grown in popularity. They greatly improve the client’s control over the budget and make planning simpler.

In that same vein, certificates for individual incentive programs are now an important part of our business mix. Like cruise ships and all inclusive resorts, they provide tight budget controls for our clients and tremendous flexibility for participants who earn them.

We’re also seeing more clients seeking out smaller incentive houses based on their perception of better value for their dollar. They feel smaller incentive companies are more efficient and streamlined and as a result, can provide more for the money than some of the major companies in our industry. That’s not always the case, however the phrase, “perception is reality” has been integral to our industry for years.

Today there’s also a great emphasis on incorporating meetings into events for tax purposes and in some cases, events that were previously labeled as an incentive trip are now called a, “meeting” to give them a more businesslike appearance. This decision is probably also affected by media scrutiny of incentive travel during the height of the financial meltdown.

Lead times for all of the above continue to shorten putting more pressure on us to respond and produce results in a shorter period of time; a trend that’s been with us for quite awhile.

It’s nice to see improvement, however we still have a fair distance to travel before we’re back to where were.

Ellen Saxe is vice president of Carlisle Incentives

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