If you’re hoping that your incentive travel programs will make qualifiers feel appreciated and increase their loyalty to the company, there’s good news in this year’s data from “Incentive Travel: The Participant’s Viewpoint,” a study conducted by the Site International Foundation and the Incentive Travel Council of the Incentive Marketing Association.

At a panel at the Site Florida chapter meeting earlier this year, three executives (shown above, from left to right: Mary MacGregor, Carlson Wagonlit Travel; Fay Beauchine, Aimia; Steve O'Malley, Maritz; and moderator Betsy Bair, MeetingsNet) from some of the country’s largest incentive and meeting management companies analyzed the latest research, which surveyed a large sampling of end-users from a number of different companies in varying industries from all over the world. The results give credence to some tried-and-true program elements, yet yield some surprises for organizers about what truly motivates. Interesting, too, is that the research also looked at the preferences and sensibilities of employees when they didn’t qualify for a travel incentive award.

The presenters on the panel, all past and former Site Global or Foundation directors, spoke about the groundbreaking research, and about the power of data to prove the validity of incentive travel as a motivator. “In the past we’ve surveyed to death both buyers and sellers about what they think about incentive travel, so we know what hoteliers think motivates; and we’ve gotten the select end corporate buyers’ views, which is critical for suppliers and the intermediary,” said Steve O’Malley, senior vice president, Maritz Travel Co., and 2011 president of Site International Foundation. “But what’s been missing up until now is the participant’s view, especially in a post-recession era. We now can understand how incentive travel is influencing the human behavior of people in the program,” he told the group assembled at the The Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach, Fla., in April.

“We have general business statistics that tell us that 95 percent of executives are concerned about retaining their key employees; 47 percent of top performers are looking for a job; and one in three employees are feeling dissatisfied and disloyal. Against this backdrop, we needed to prove that incentive travel really is a business asset that can be used for employee engagement and retainment. It’s no longer just about the trip fulfillment, it needs to be about driving business performance and results,” he said.