Motivation Excellence Looks Ahead to 2022 – What You Need to Know Now for Future Incentive, Meetings & Travel Plans

Sky Capriolo

By now, we’re used to the rocky road. We’ve adjusted our shocks and readily brace for the bumps, tight turns, and hilly climbs. There’s good news up ahead as our industry continues to recover from 2020, but likely, it’s not fast enough for most. Patience is key, along with innovation, flexibility, and timing. 

I chatted with members of our executive team covering travel, program design management, and sales. We’re happy to share our insights with you as you look at 2022, and beyond. President and CEO of Motivation Excellence, David Jobes, is hopeful for a smoother ride in the coming year. 

“We are excited to have incentive travel and meetings and events starting to operate again the last quarter of this year, as well as a very busy 2022. I’m sure there will be a few adjustments along the way, but our clients are excited and prepared to start getting together again with their customers and employees. Our advice is to be aware of current situations in the destination you will be traveling to and keep in contact with your expected travelers to gauge their expectations.”

Air Travel

Air traveler numbers certainly indicate an uptick in consumer desire to fly this year over last year, with that trend expected to increase in 2022.

On November 14, 2021, the TSA reported 2,150,150 air travelers. This is up more than double from 2020, but still a bit below the 2019 number of 2,396,681. Domestic air travel is expected to increase in these last 6 weeks with holiday travelers taking to the sky once again, with the New Year poised to continue the bustle. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts 2022 will see air travel demand get to 61% of pre-pandemic levels. 2021 was at 40%. 

The New York Times reported that more than 200,000 international travelers from more than 30 countries previously banned from entering the United States due to COVID policies, poured in on Monday, November 8 – the first day coronavirus restrictions were lifted. However, international travel still is lagging for understandable reasons. For comparison, a typical day in 2019 saw more than 371,000 international travelers arriving in the United States. 

Even with International travel opening up, the likely trend will be to stay closer to home for business initiatives. While we do have programs planned for Thailand, Mexico and the Caribbean in 2022, domestic destinations are on the schedule and less likely to change due to coronavirus mandates and concerns. Brad Hecht, VP Travel, says size of group, time of year, and distance for travelers should all play a factor as you decide your tolerance for travel in 2022…and realistically speaking, 2023.

“Companies are just now starting to ease the caution flag and focus on travel rewards again.  There are domestic and international destinations that provide a safe environment for their guests.  Now is a great time to get something in place for 2022, if space allows. Really, you should be looking at 2023 too, and the early bird will get their requested space.  The compression of space from the last 20 months pushed groups out to future dates and the full selection has been reduced somewhat.”

Meetings and Events

Earlier in November, our industry welcomed IMEX America back after a two-year hiatus. Travel, meeting, and event planners and partners were excited to be together in person and discuss a more robust future. The road ahead may be a bit slow, however. 

According to a report in a recent post, two-thirds of 500 meeting planners surveyed expect their 2019 meetings schedule to be back by the second quarter of 2023…more than a year away from now. Planners also reported that 40% of their meetings in 2022 will be all in-person, another 40% will have a virtual component and the final 20% will remain totally virtual. The good news here is advances in tech and event planners’ knowledge of how to best use it has increased substantially since 2019!

Cvent, C&IT, and Third Sector published their findings after a recent “Big Questions Live” event in the U.K. on the future of the events industry. Their participants agreed that flexibility, technology, and human connections are critical components to successful events. When they discussed localized meetings and hybrid events, they chose to highlight the sustainability aspect of not flying people across the world. Planners now need to have contingency plans, embrace the additional data they acquire from virtual settings and design human connection into everything. 

Something we’re seeing right now with clients is a desire to gather but within a short time period. Rhonda Brewer, VP Sales, says there are some great advantages to this. 

“We are also seeing more last-minute meetings pop up as businesses determine they need to get their teams together. These do create a lot of work very quickly but it also provides the opportunity to get great last-minute value at great hotels with openings. It doesn’t allow for a lot of options or changes, and decisions do have to be made quickly in order to secure space, but if you can be flexible it’s a winning solution!”

Alternative Awards

As we’ve mentioned, flexibility is key to sustaining a rewards and recognition program when travel is not always a certainty. Northstar Meetings Group conducted a survey in late October that showed alternative awards will continue to thrive in 2022. Gifts and gift cards are the most popular alternative awards to travel. 

The Incentive Research Foundation just published a paper on the Psychology of Points. In their online survey of more than 1,000 employees, they found that on average, respondents who work for a company with a rewards and recognition points program in place, had:


  • Higher intrinsic motivation
  • Higher employee engagement
  • Greater satisfaction with their rewards and recognition
  • Greater preference to continue working for an employer who offered a points program

We’ve found participants in our programs who shifted to alternative rewards, or started out that way in the first place, are highly satisfied with the personalized reward experience.


“As for incentives with alternative awards to travel, this has continued to be strong and was significant during the pandemic. Being able to offer award points in lieu of incentive travel has been extremely well received and gave attendees the opportunity to shop for very personal needs such as replacing windows, or providing for a child’s private education.  In addition, lifestyle types of gift packages such as whole-home entertainment systems, home fitness packages, or small kitchen appliance refreshes have been awarded and will continue to appeal. These have also worked well for quarterly spiffs,” Brewer reports.

For a more detailed look at alternative reward options please read our white paper From Mystery Destinations to Alternative Awards Options to Keep Your Incentive Program Alive and Well.

Get Started

While we obviously don’t know exactly what the future will hold, we do know the sooner you start, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Whether you’re planning future incentive travel, a meeting or customer event or some type of loyalty or reward program, the first step is deciding what it is you want to accomplish. Motivation Excellence is here to help. 

When you look at the goals you want to achieve with a program or event, also look at the audience and the budget parameters. Bob Graham, VP, Client & Technology Solutions, says things get a little tricky now when looking at historical data to help fill in details. 

For both employee and customer initiatives, we have to remember we don’t have reliable baseline information anymore. Customers may be gone or new ones have stepped in over the pandemic time frame. Employees are a scarce resource base in some industries.”

Graham says secondary information can help support the initiatives to rebuild engagement, loyalty and future growth. He says you can look at this time in history as a positive for your business goals. 

“Customers need more support than ever before. It is an opportunity to step in and be that support. Training, supply chain issues and labor shortages are a challenge for a lot of industries, and a program right now could be the difference between building loyalty and growth and being stagnant.”

Having a trusted partner to help guide you through all the twists and turns of our COVID-infused world is critical. Reach out to us at with any questions you may have about renewing your stake in the travel, meetings and incentive landscape. We can ride shotgun and steer you around the obstacles we’re so familiar with now. Who’s ready to ride?

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