When it comes to industry research, what we hear differs from association to association, supplier to supplier, and survey to survey—yet it’s all about the same industry. And much of it seems out of touch with what our readers are experiencing.

The CEO of a major incentive house was recently quoted saying that his company expects double-digit growth in 2012 and that the sluggish economy and the uncertainty of the European markets weren’t really affecting his clients’ programs. Yet, in our just-released Incentive Trends survey (done in conjunction with the Incentive Research Foundation), about 60 percent of respondents expect their 2012 budgets to decline or stay the same. Per-person spending fell for the third straight year. And 27 percent said they would move from an international to a North American destination in 2012. I guess they’re not his clients.

The Incentive Travel Council’s Web site declares that “Incentive Travel is Recovering from a Belly Flop” and 52 percent of the respondents to IMEX’s last global insights report said they were “feeling more optimistic about the industry’s prospects.” Yet over at the IRF, 62 percent of respondents to the latest Pulse Survey said the economy is having a negative impact on their incentives—numbers that haven’t been this high since July 2009. Which is it? What’s really happening out there?

I asked my online focus group of 50 readers about their top concerns for 2012. Here’s what I heard: Their jobs aren’t getting any easier, responsibilities for planning travel/meetings/incentives are merging, and to say it’s not the economy is, well, … stupid. The economy is still having an impact on their budgets, staffing (both whether they should outsource and whether they will be outsourced) and, yes, incentive programs. And those whose departments are not profit centers are seriously concerned about their viability.

The foundations of Site and Meeting Professionals International recently collaborated on a joint survey around the convergence of meetings and incentives—their first joint survey. Why not bring all the associations and research entities together to get their arms around the state of this industry, just like the Convention Industry Council did to gauge its impact on the U.S. economy?

If we don’t, questions about what’s really happening in our industry will only grow in 2012.

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