Now in its third year, the annual ITII (Incentive Travel Industry Index) is fast becoming an indispensable report on the state of incentive travel, providing stakeholders with empirical data on its current and future evolution. This year’s findings are timely and meaningful as the industry prepares to recover anew in a post-COVID future.

In this section of the report we examine how buyers expect to choose destinations moving forward. We analyse the differences in destination choice from 2019 to 2020 and consequentially which markets suppliers should focus on.

Top Factors in selecting a destination

One of the biggest changes we have seen from the ITII 2019 report and the ITII 2020 report comes down to the choice of destinations. When buyers begin to host incentive travel programmes again, where are they travelling and why? The differences are remarkable, with destinations that top the rankings in 2019, falling completely off the radar in 2020. This shows that while incentive programmes may not change so much in how they are run, they will definitely change on where they are going.

When we look back at ITII 2019, we can see the three biggest considerations when selecting a destination were;

  1. Safety
  2. Appeal
  3. Infrastructure

However, due to Covid-19, there has been a shift in how buyers are selecting destinations – with health & safety, as well as distance from the host region, becoming fundamental deciding factors. Destinations perceived as safe from a health perspective are coming out on top – i.e. destinations that have a proven track record in tackling Covid. Overall safety comes in second position, followed by domestic locations and destinations with a shorter distance from the host origin coming in 3rd and 4th positions respectively. This is the same for both European and North American buyers.

Interestingly, the use of Cruise ships (down 72% and 68% for North American and European buyers respectively) and large urban destinations (Las Vegas, etc) (down 48% and 53% for North American and European buyers respectively) have all decreased massively. Instead, buyers look to more rural and remote destinations which have been shown to be safer from a health perspective.

Therefore it is no surprise that the top 10 ranking destinations for buyers in Europe and North America have changed so drastically. While in 2019, buyers were looking for new emerging, exciting destinations, now buyers are looking for domestic, close to home, safe destinations.

If we look at European buyers, the United States was ranked second in the destination listing in ITII 2019. In a Post-Covid future, the United States, have not only fallen out of the top 10, but is actually bottom of the entire list. Instead, European buyers are staying local or looking at countries who fared well when it came to the Global Pandemic – such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, or Oceania. If European buyers are considering travelling across the Atlantic, they are looking at Canada and Alaska as possible destinations.

In relation to North American buyers, the overall sentiment is the same – stay local – with Western Europe falling from second place in 2019 to 9th in 2020 – and the likes of Canada, and Hawaii rising in the rankings.

This is extremely interesting for suppliers and may help with marketing plans for the future.

European suppliers:

This data is extremely interesting but potentially worrying for European suppliers who rely heavily on the North American market. While North America has been shown to be an extremely lucrative market, it is important to look beyond this and into other markets, but also to remember that these changes are only temporary. It is vital to keep a presence in North America so that your destination is still front and centre when buyers do consider more international destinations again.

When we separate out the North American market out, interestingly enough Western Europe is still ranked 6th for Canadian buyers, so retaining a presence in Canada would seem prudent.

On the positive side, there is now more opportunity to win European business. Incentives that were going to Thailand are now staying closer to home within Europe, so there is a whole new growing market to look at. However, buyers need to be proactive and showcase how their destination is the safe choice moving forward.

North American Suppliers:

The same can be said for North American suppliers – the main target audience is now North America itself. These buyers will be the first out, and when they start to book again, it will be in domestic rural locations. The likes of Canada, Hawaii and Alaska have all increased in the rankings – showcasing a safe destination is vital.

Written by Gráinne Ni Ghiollágain, SoolNua, for SITE Global

To read Part One of the ITII report – How Buyers in Different Markets approached the Pandemicplease see January’s entry on Motivate here.

To read Part Two of the ITII report – North American and European Buyer Predictions for a Post-Covid Futureplease see February’s entry on Motivate here.

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