THANKS TO ITS international membership, the Chicago-based Society of Incentive & Travel Executives brings a unique world view to the incentive industry. Here, Bill Boyd, CMP, SITE president and head of Irving, Texas-based Sunbelt Motivation & Travel, takes us on the road with incentive events.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What are some of the pressures on incentive events now — travel hassles, fuel costs, etc.?
BILL BOYD: The global incentive community continues to be under performance review. Corporate upper management wants quantifiable measurements relating to return on investment. Properly constructed incentive programs provide the returns these managers are looking for. Therefore, the industry continues to grow and expand. Security concerns are real, but tempered with the reality that none of us are, at any time, immune to events beyond our control. Because of that reality check, incentive programs are once again locating to international destinations. Europeans are traveling abroad again, as are Americans, the two largest incentive marketplaces. The rising cost of fuel will ultimately impact budgets. The cost will take away from other areas of the program, but with improving economic conditions to help offset these rising costs, the effects are not expected to be dramatic.
Q: What types of incentive trips are the most popular among corporate clients now?
A: As younger generations begin dominating the incentive winner spotlight, more attention is given to individual activities on-site. There are more “adventure” type activities than in previous years. Too, there has been a significant rise in the use of spa programs.
Q: How has the incentive industry changed since your company, Sunbelt Motivation, got its start in 1980?
A: The incentive industry has in the past 25 years experienced periods of both euphoria and embroilment. From the relative calm of the beginning years (1980-1995), there were intermittent periods where turbulence reigned — the gasoline shortage, the first airline bankruptcies — but the industry grew at a steady pace. From 1995 (the beginning of a boom global economy) until 2001 (economic free fall and Sept. 11), the industry was euphoric over the amount of business transpiring on a global basis. Meetings and conferences were increasing at a staggering pace, incentive programs were flourishing and taking place all over the world, hotels were full, airlines reported profits, and the industry was bolstered by good news from almost every sector of the marketplace. A friend once told me, if you could not make money between 1999-2000, you shouldn't be in the incentive business! By the beginning of 2001, however, distressing economic patterns were developing, and global corporate scandals began to be uncovered, especially in the U.S. Then, following the events of Sept. 11, an almost universal “lock-down” occurred in our industry. Then in rapid succession came more bad economic news, the airlines teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, threats of war, SARS, Iraq and the subsequent insurgency, bird flu, Madrid bombings. From 2001 until 2004, survival was the catchword. Meetings, conferences and incentive programs were held, albeit domestically and in smaller numbers. We have come full circle as an industry. While the “boom” times of 1999-2000 have not yet returned, improved productivity through technology has made it possible for all of us to not only sustain ourselves, but also grow our companies and add to our profitability — although working on smaller margins than in 1999. The good news for the future is that it appears that this economic cycle for the incentive industry is sustainable.
Q: What important information came out of the SITE Executive Summit in Beijing earlier this year?
A: The Chinese outbound incentive industry is just beginning to flourish. As such, the serious practitioners have many questions relative to best practices. They are just learning how to work together to represent the destination to its full potential. The Beijing summit answered many of their questions and sparked interest in developing a Beijing chapter of SITE. Helping to educate suppliers on the value in working together to open new markets to outbound incentive travel is key to growing our industry.
Q: What value does SITE membership give incentive producers now, and how will that change in the future?
A: When I see a SITE logo associated with a person I am seeking to do business with, it immediately creates a common denominator for me. We speak the same incentive language, are dedicated to the betterment of the industry and have common education goals to constantly improve our skills. When one is serious about becoming an incentive professional, there is no better place to establish one's credentials than within SITE.
SITE's Web address is www.site-intl.org.