Though the Incentive Research Foundation Invitational, which took place last week at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, historically has focused on golf (and this year’s attendees did get to play the TPC San Antonio Golf Club's Oaks Course, home of the Texas Open, and the Westin La Cantera), the IRF has broadened its mission to include education and, now, community service.

Headlining the education program was gamification guru Dr. Michael Wu, Ph.D, principal scientist at Lithium Technologies and a well-known author, speaker, and blogger on the connection between game science and motivation. Other speakers included New Orleans CVB President Steve Perry, who shared the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board’s latest efforts to create an international tourism strategy (attendees got to view the first-ever U.S. tourism commercial, which airs this summer and features an original song by Rosanne Cash); Rodger Stotz, chief research officer for the IRF, who presented an overview on the foundation’s research efforts; and a panel of corporate meeting managers, including Dahlton Bennington, director, meeting services, at Randstad, Janice Heaney, vice president of incentive management at Ameriprise Financial and Kenneth Welch, senior manager, global recognition, Cisco Systems.

An outstanding community service program organized by Ira Almeas, president, Impact Incentives and Meetings, allowed attendees to donate cans of food for the San Antonio Food Bank (which were then used to build a miniature Alamo in one of the meeting rooms). A teambuilding event had groups designing tote bags from used banners (donated by Freeman Exhibit Services), which would then be assembled by a team of seamstresses and either sold to benefit another local nonprofit, Havens for Hope, or donated to the food bank.

This annual event, in its 19th year, is the major fundraiser for the IRF and included both a silent and a live auction of of trips to dozens of destinations around the globe. Among the many research projects the IRF does each year are two surveys with Corporate Meetings & Incentives magazine, an incentive travel trends survey each January and an incentive merchandise trends survey in September. Upcoming IRF projects include what Stotz called a “deep dive into a company’s incentive program,” as well as a benchmark study of the use of prepaid gift cards in the incentive space, a survey of game mechanics in incentive programs, and an exploration of the trend of merging meetings and incentive trips.

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