“The Art of the Experience.” And that it truly was. Miami wanted to showcase itself as a premier incentive destination – and if there was any doubt before, it’s likely been eradicated. The execution was flawless as all the sponsors and partners worked tirelessly behind the scenes to pull off an incredible experience for all. Although summer in South Florida can be quite wet, the rains held off to allow for fireworks on South Beach. And to cap off the four days of education, networking and memorable experiences, Flo Rida performed for a multi-generational audience all hosted at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.

A Model Incentive Program – for Incentive Planners

A self-confessed, hard-to-please crowd was engaged in all of the typical incentive program elements – including a CSR project to support underserved communities in Miami, and an over-the-top welcome reception featuring Miami neighborhoods with more Instagrammable moments than one could count. The day of education allowed for ample networking (one of the top reasons people attend business events) and of course, inspiration and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. Here are some highlights:

Scott Burrows started the day with his inspirational keynote and he encouraged us to “keep dreaming in full color,” and to ask “what” questions in order to move forward and uncover solutions to problems. IRF President, Melissa Van Dyke, reminded us that 84% of all US businesses use non-cash rewards and recognition but many corporate program owners do not know the incentives industry even exists. Some breakout sessions included experts in the technology industry and the Vice President and Partnerships Leader of Superbowl LIV.

Education and Peer-to-Peer Knowledge Sharing

The technology session focused on the importance of integrated technology and the participant journey. Some might see the implementation of technology into meetings and events as a cost – but when used correctly, it’s actually an investment into the ongoing engagement of the audience. The Superbowl presentation helped remind us that meetings and events should be used as a platform to amplify important messages. They leave lasting impacts on the environment, the community, and the economy and such power should be used deliberately and with care.

In the afternoon, sessions included a panel discussion with corporate program owners and tips on how to integrate wellness into meetings and incentive travel. Research from the IRF found that many planners confirmed that standard wellness practices don’t require additional budget and can be implemented quite easily with the partnership of the banquet staff. Simple things like nutrition cards and “spa water” can help people make healthy food choices and drink more water. Not only was this reported, but it was put into practice throughout the entire Invitational. What’s more, is much of the food was organic and/or locally sourced.

The panel of corporate program owners was particularly interesting. They shared different perspectives on their work and explained how IRF research has been beneficial in their role. IRF research arms corporate program owners and business unit leaders with the data necessary to defend their programs if they come into question (by new company leaders, consultancies, etc). It also provides best practices and benchmarking against top-performing companies. A point of emphasis was made that if used properly, incentive programs attract new talent and high-performing talent actually want to attend incentive travel programs (whereas low-performing talent would prefer to just have time off, away from any work environment.)

Education day ended with a call to action by Simon T. Bailey to create a SPARK. He shared ideas on how to be thoughtful, caring leaders and explained why businesses that put purpose over profit will thrive. He invited us to “hug people with your words,” and to tell employees you love them (watch out HR!).

Raising the Bar

The rest of the invitational was chock-full of networking, networking, and oh-yah – networking! Activities and hosted dinners around Miami, a live and silent auction to raise money for the foundation, a poolside “tradeshow” and a Summer Solstice indoor “beach” party with floor-to-ceiling, 360-degree video of Miami Beach rounded out the events of the 2019 Invitational. The supplier booths proved that experiences are key as popular stops included a live fashion sketch, hair braiding, beach activities like parasailing and wave runners, and a mobile spa just to name a few. And don’t forget the merchandise gifting experiences like nightly room drops with accompanying description cards to fit the program theme.

It was said on the final evening that our competitors and clients help us raise the bar on our own work – and the bar has definitely been raised at the IRF’s 26th Annual Education Invitational.


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